As the nation is caught between a progressive judgement and a mindset that refuses to evolve, we find ourselves once again discussing women’s bodies and what they mean to our society. With mobs blocking women’s entry into the Sabarimala Temple, and women ministers badmouthing our bleeding uteruses, it is important, now more so than ever to teach the younger generation about the natural changes which occur during puberty, by demystifying menstruation. This is what Spreading Your Wings, written by Ariana Abadian-Heifetz and illustrated by Pia Alize Hazarika, achieves beautifully. It normalises the scary changes that a body goes through during puberty and equips young minds to be prepared for it.
The book, which is published by Young Zubaan, is in the form of an infocomic that is reader friendly and relatable to not only the preteens, but women of all ages. When Pooja and Anjali’s cousin Sonali (who is also a doctor) comes home, she gives her cousins a book on menstruation. She asks them to read it carefully and promises to answer any question that they might have. Pooja and Anjali share the book with their friends, and their mother helps their friends’ mothers be okay with letting their children read the book. This not only leads to young minds learning new facts about their bodies but also the older generation unlearning what they believed to be true about menstruation.
Spreading your wings is in the form of an infocomic that is reader friendly and relatable to not only the preteens, but women of all ages
Spreading Your Wings helps young girls in knowing about different ways to dispose sanitary napkins, especially when there is no access to bathrooms. And it then moves beyond and educates them on how to make sure their schools provides them with the necessary access. It also helps readers become aware about alternate menstrual products, how to identify which suits their needs, and how to use them in a sanitised way.
The book provides all the information on menstruation and even moves on to talk about how to maintain our bodies during our periods. From what food helps our body best to how to manage cramps, the book does not dismiss any issues related to menstruation. It talks of the difference between UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) and RTI (Reproductive Tract Infection) and knowing its symptoms and the importance of visiting a doctor when these symptoms occur. It breaks the notion that pain is something we as women must put up with and encourages us to take care of ourselves better.
One of the best things about the book is how it normalises the entire process and does not shy away from debunking any myths on its way. Right at the beginning, Sonali talks of menstrual blood or endometrium as being full of nitrogen, minerals, and vitamins. She points out the function of endometrium which nourishes the foetus, when a woman becomes pregnant. She even points out that period blood is an excellent fertiliser as it is replete with nutrients and can be used for gardening. Any child is going to have a tough time to feel ashamed of their period blood after getting to know of its amazing qualities. Sonali also normalises blood stains and takes away any stigma associated with it.
Spreading Your Wings helps young girls in knowing about different ways to dispose sanitary napkins, especially when there is no access to bathrooms
Sonali talks to these children and their mothers about common beliefs surrounding menstruation. She points out that those beliefs were probably a cause for concern in a different time and a different context and holding on to them in this day and age is uneventful. Even the burning questions like “Is menstruation god’s curse?”, “Does menstruating women entering temple make god angry?”, and many more are boldly explored in the book. While Sonali gives many reasons for those beliefs, she also points out how unfounded they are. In the end, she say, “We can’t know the truth about how a higher power might feel, so we should each feel comfortable practising our religions and connecting to god in whatever way we feel is appropriate and respectful.”
The book highlights the importance for boys to understand these changes that girls their age go through. Segregation between genders only furthers lack of information among young people which makes them less prepared to make informed decisions in life. There is a constant encouragement of friendship between girls and boys in the book. It even points out that an average girl might have more in common with a boy than with another girl, as gender does not determine a person’s interests and their personality, unlike what is widely believed.
In one of the instances, when a child asks Sonali about what happens when sperm and egg meet, it was highly unrealistic that it did not lead to questions regarding sex. Perhaps the topic has been reserved for an infocomic of its own, or so I hope.
My most favourite part was in the end, when Sonali asks the girls to draw their own imagined image of the uterus, as one generally would with hearts. The result was a thing of beauty. The children drew their own versions of uteri incorporating leaves, flowers, bubbles, fishes, symbolising their personal views on womanhood. The book also gives space for the readers to do the same, literally, in the last page, inviting the reader to experience the magical journey along with the children in the book.
Spreading Your Wings normalises the female body and helps young minds connect with their body without any intrusion of patriarchal notions of womanhood. Gift it to your daughters, sons, nieces, nephews, and cousins, and help them get in touch with themselves, right at a young age.
Also read: Menstrupedia Comic: A Review
Featured Image Source: Zubaan Books