Excerpted from The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World by our Co-Founder Madeleine Shaw
A lot of people ask about the earliest points of inspiration for Lunapads (our company’s and product’s original name): where did the idea come from, back in the early 90s, long before it hit the mainstream radar?
To go way-way back, as a pre-adolescent girl in the late 1970s, like Judy Blume’s classic character Margaret in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, I was fascinated by the idea of becoming an adult woman. I was obsessed with all of its physical trappings: breasts, hips, hair, and of course the ultimate indicator (in my mind at least) - periods. To me, the idea of becoming an adult woman was akin to becoming an astronaut or Prime Minister, kind of like “Who, me? Really?!?”. They seemed like exotic birds: tall, confident, glittering, wise and hilarious. Listening to them laugh at one another’s witty comments conspiratorially at my parents’ dinner parties, I ached to be one of them, to be included in their dramatic sisterhood.
Further to the club idea, I secretly hoped for some form of initiation rite, where I would be warmly welcomed into such a circle, where I would be warmly welcomed and shown the ropes of womanhood. This never happened, however the yearning for it never left me and has certainly manifested itself through Lunapads, as well as G Day.
My anticipation crumbled when my period finally arrived: a sweltering July day while on holiday with my family. I was in bed for days with what I thought was appendicitis (my Mom, bless her, gently rubbing my back.) When the true cause of my cramps revealed itself, I was mercilessly mocked by my younger brother and his friend, and I burned with humiliation. My cherished fascination quickly morphed to shame and disappointment, and I let go of my childish imaginings and got on with the less-happy reality of being a too-cool-to-care-about-such-things teenager.
Within two years I was taking hormonal birth control pills, which lessened my bleeding, however, more importantly, further eradicated my already-tenuous relationship with my cycle. I started using tampons around this time in order to minimize my experience of bleeding, and my consciousness around anything meaningful to do with my cycle or period was brought to zero. Looking back, I am deeply saddened by how patriarchal culture was able to co-opt my power and sexuality. Rather than celebrating and honouring my cycle, I internalized the idea that I was ‘liberated’ from this monthly chore.
I’ve often heard it said that many of our life choices are the result of unresolved personal issues, and in my case, it’s no different.
Fast forward to my early 20s, when - thanks to a Women’s Studies degree - I was waking up from my hormone-induced lull. I decided to go off the pill after 10 years of continuous use, and the impact was stunning: suddenly my body was so… wild. Ups, downs, blood, lust: all of it. It was like a brand-new ride at the amusement park. I was fascinated. Another shift: my trusty applicator-free tampons were driving me crazy, with bladder infections arriving pretty much within 24 hours of the onset of my periods.
Around this time, I also happened to see some washable cloth menstrual pads that were being made on a nearby coastal island and was intrigued. I bought some, however, they were very large and required sewing velcro strips into the user’s underwear (as a lifelong sewer, this was not a huge hurdle for me), and I found them to be bulky, uncomfortable and unattractive. The basic idea, however, still appealed to me and so I decided to make my own version, as well as an all-in-one pad/panty style.
What happened next literally changed my life. Washing my own pads and period underwear (aka doing one of the grossest, most transgressive things imaginable in that day and age) was like being Alice walking through the looking glass. Or Dorothy pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. Which is to say that I had my eyes mightily opened, was completely set free and experienced the deepest sense of compassion for my bleeding body.
What came to me was that disposable products - especially tampons - are the opposite of gentle: they are foreign, extractive and even toxic. For the first time in my entire menstruating life, I was simply supporting my body in doing its thing on its own terms, without modification, judgement, resentment or shame. I wept with rage and regret for not having realized this sooner, for having forced her into all manner of “choices” that were really about patriarchal ideals of femininity, sold back to me as false-feminist “control”.
In this newly awakened state, I started to do things like attending women’s circles and tracking my cycle, as well as the cycles of the moon, to get to know not only my bleeding patterns, but everything: moods, arousal, creativity, intuition. I became a rapt student of my sweet home: my fascinating, powerful, mysterious, amazing body. Menstruation had transformed from being an irritating inconvenience to being a fascinating gateway to self-knowledge, self-care and personal liberation: what a gift!
It was this feeling of reverence, compassion, love, and awe that led me to want to commercialize Lunapads and Luna Undies: I wanted others to have their own version of this feeling, if it was available to them. I registered my first company - a sole proprietorship called everyware designs - in 1993 and enrolled in a local entrepreneurial training course and wrote the first business plan for Lunapads in 1994.
Gendered language aside (I would say ‘menstruators’ today), the company’s original mission statement: To create more positive and informed relationships between women, their bodies and the Earth still rings true for me, and I am proud to say that over time its central intention has never wavered.
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