To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, we want to highlight members of our community who are driving change. Annie Sanderson, is actively breaking the stigma and silence surrounding menstruation through her book ‘Tapua’.
Here, we are chatting to Annie all about her inspiration behind the book and how it is breaking the period taboo.
Tell us about yourself
I’m Annie, I’m 22 and I have just finished a Bachelor’s degree in Press and Editorial Photography. I studied in Falmouth which is right near the bottom of Cornwall and I absolutely fell in love with living down there. I am originally from Bristol so I will be moving back for a while to try and figure out what I would like to do next. My original plan was to go travelling but that isn’t going to be possible for some time.
What are your top 3 period essentials?
My top 3 period essentials are firstly, a hot water bottle. It becomes my best friend during those first few painful days. I suffer from really bad periods pains so I will usually have a tens machine for the first day or two to help disrupt my cramps. If you haven’t come across one before it is a little machine with sticky patches that you put on your back and it sends little electric pulses through your back to interrupt the pain messages to your brain. Finally, constant supplies of cups of tea. Tea is one of my day to day life essentials, a good cup of tea is like a hug in a mug, I don’t think I’d survive my periods without tea.
What inspired you to create Tapua? What does it mean?
In summer 2019, I had just handed in my second year of work and began to turn my attention towards my dissertation. I am very lucky that my degree course covers so many areas and I had a lot of freedom when deciding which topics I wanted to write about. I am highly dyslexic and I was dreading having to write, so I knew that the topic I decided to research had to be something I am passionate about. For about 10 years I have suffered with painful periods and it has always baffled me why people aren’t comfortable talking about them. It is a topic I have had to deal with a lot throughout my teens, for example having to explain why I often missed a day of school, no one seemed to understand.
My dissertation ended up being titled: “There should be no shame surrounding menstruation. Period. Is the way western media communicates about menstruation contributing positively to fourth wave feminism?”
As I do a creative degree, alongside writing this I had to find a way to creatively and visually interpret this topic. I decided that the idea of ‘taboo’ and the way we communicate about periods was what I wanted to talk about. In my research I discovered that the one of the original words for taboo is ‘Tapua’. I have created a book called Tapua as a space to share experiences about periods. It is a safe space that is creative, inclusive, fun, real and full of lots of different stories and some period info you might not know. The inspiration behind Tapua was to create a positive space to encourage people to talk and learn about periods.
What can I discover when reading Tapua?
The heart of Tapua is sharing different peoples period stories. It covers a wide range of experiences and includes female, trans and non-binary as well as male perspectives of periods. It is fun, colourful, creative, honest and real. As well as these stories it is full of period related info. This book is about challenging the stigma around periods and encouraging conversations.
Why do we need a resource like this in schools?
I believe something needs to change in order for society to communicate honestly about periods. One of the aims for Tapua is to get it into schools. If teenagers were encouraged to speak more freely about periods and puberty, to develop a curiosity and to know it is okay to have questions, to be taught respect for their own bodies as well as their peers, we could have a generation of young adults who weren’t afraid of talking about ‘taboo’ topics. People who respected and empathised with those around them. How incredible would that be?
I am currently exploring ways for Tapua to be used alongside the PSHE curriculum and I am in the process of developing Tapua into a teaching aid and resource pack that can be easily applied to a classroom either online or in person, as well as adapting different versions for different year groups.
What is a standout story for you in the book?
All the stories in the book are so different that it is so hard to choose just one. I have known James pretty much my whole life as our parents were at Uni together. A few years ago I was driving him back to his house and we were chatting along the way and got onto the topic of periods. I explained that I had started to use a cup and what they are and how they work, followed by the story of how I once couldn’t get it out and convinced myself I was going to end up in A+E (thankfully after calming myself down it came out no problem!) I remember how refreshing it was to be able to have a conversation with a man about periods and he was genuinely interested and inquisitive – it made me wish this was the norm.
James then went on the tell the story that is in Tapua about seeing a tampon expand for the first time. It made me chuckle then and I think it fits perfectly within in the book. You don’t have to have a vagina to talk about periods – periods affect everyone. You either have them or someone you love and care about will have them. James’s story will, I hope, encourage more men to ask questions and talk about periods.
How does Tapua play a part in challenging period stigma and taboos?
Tapua doesn’t sugar coat periods. It is honest and up front about what they are like, how they affect different people and their challenges. It is diverse and inclusive. By having an inclusive and honest voice, Tapua can challenge the stigma around periods and encourage a community of people to do the same. Tapua is an evolving project. In the future I hope to not only publish this addition of the book but continue to add more content and continue to tell period stories. If you want to keep up with Tapua you can find it on Instagram at @tapua_
How do we access this? Are there hard copies?
Tapua is currently available online for free due to the pandemic we find ourselves in (it works best on a laptop screen). While on that website you can also sign up to a pre-order list for when the book is published physically. I hope you enjoy reading it and I would love to hear any feedback!