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Guaranteed to Bleed: how fashion supports the menstrual health movement

Documentary Director Lauren Anders Brown chooses to wear a conversational clothing line by Natalie B. Coleman inspired by menstruation.

While we’re all craving the globe trotting travel days before Corona, it doesn’t take much for us to miss overnight flights in economy if only to wake up outside our current four walls. It is hard to believe about a year ago I was caught in a sleepless battle of defending my wingspan with my in-flight neighbour too close for social distance comfort. I was off to continue filming my documentary on menstruation in Africa, WOMENstruate. The most discomfort I felt on that flight though was when one of the flight attendants asked me about my shirt.

“Guaranteed to Bleed. Bleed where?”

I first learned of Natalie B Coleman’s fashion line ‘Sisters’ when she unveiled it at London Fashion week. With feminine fringes and strong storylines she chose to dedicate the ‘Sisters’ line to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. I must admit one of my guilty pleasures is dipping into the world of fashion from time to time. It had a circadian rhythm that would spring up usually around September every year-when Vogue would release their biblical yearly issue.

Fun fact, up until recently I had a full collection of 10 years of Vogue September issues before passing them on to a fellow fashionista when I let go of my NYC apartment.

After discovering Natalie B Coleman, while her Sisters collection would seem more my style, I actually ended up gravitating to the ‘Guaranteed To Bleed’ shirt, which Natalie dedicated to Plan International.

I admit at times in the past year it has been uncomfortable even for myself to wear the shirt- and not because it’s made with uncomfortable materials but because it forces people to ask or have the conversation. The first time I wore the shirt was the 2019 Sheffield Doc Fest, and when I posed to take a photo in it a man yelled out,

“What’s guaranteed to bleed?”

I’m terrible at hiding my true feelings so he surely saw some hint of an eye roll at that moment when I was forced to yell back across the openness of Tudor Square,

“Women every 28 days.”

And before I could worry how he would react he said next,

“…until they’re about 48.”

I smiled and with the expanse of the public space and screenings starting every few minutes, I escaped further conversation.

Now, back to this pre-corona plane I was on for the next 6 hours and stuck in a queue for a toilet I felt the uncomfortable conversation beginning.

“Guaranteed to Bleed. Bleed where?” “It’s in reference to a woman’s menstruation. I am doing a documentary on it.” “Oh, wow. Is that the name of it? Women go through a lot, it’s a good thing you’re making that.”

And then the man behind me in the queue spoke up, and began telling me about a former partner he had who had difficult menstrual cycles and who he believed used them as a reason to act crazy every month. Regardless of how odd the conversation got I became more comfortable as time passed.

By the end of it I was thankful, and not just because it was my turn for the toilet, but because we were able to even have the conversation in a public space. I finished the documentary WOMENstruate in 6 days, symbolic of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It premiered at the Global Health Film Festival and participated in FIFDH Geneva and will go onto the Berlin Human Rights Film Festival in September. At every screening, I’ve worn one a piece from the Natalie B. Coleman collection now hoping to keep the conversation going on menstruation.

Fashion becomes the statement, and the statement creates the change.

Natalie and I have been in touch, and we’ve even talked about collaborating on a fashion line inspired by the film WOMENstruate. In the meantime, take a look at her current lines, including her fashionable face masks. Watch the trailer for WOMENstruate, which has received distribution and look for it being broadcast near you. Follow Lauren’s work online, on twitter and instagram and WOMENstruate twitter and instagram for updates.

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