Meet Natalie Byrne: Drawing periods, busting taboos and fighting for inclusion
Natalie Byrne is a woman after our own hearts.
Her brilliant work within the illustration space covers a whole spectrum of important issues in the modern world. From sexual assault and mental health to intersectional feminism and, of course, all things periods!
Back in 2018, Natalie published her book PERIOD. Talking (and drawing!) openly and honestly about bleeding, it’s full to the brim with practical tips and myth-busting facts that everyone should know. Frankly, we think it should be essential reading whether you menstruate or not. That’s why we feel so lucky to have collaborated with Natalie on a set of illustrations recently, which shared how yoga can be used to ease menstrual pains and have a generally more peaceful period.
Since we’re all about opening up the conversation around menstruation, we wanted to sit down with Natalie to learn more about her journey towards becoming the period pioneer she is today...
Why did you start drawing periods?
I started drawing periods because no one else was doing it.
I've always had really bad nausea and cramps that made working an office 9-5 very difficult. When I started drawing about my life and my own personal struggles, my period was naturally one of them!
It was very nerve-racking though - hitting “post” - as I was still so ashamed about it all. In the caption, I wrote that I have always had really heavy periods and how difficult I’ve always found them.
What were people going to think? Probably that I was gross and it was TMI! But the response was overwhelming.
I had people I went to nursery with, my mum’s friends and so many other people DM me thanking me for sharing my experiences, as they also had heavy periods.
Quickly after that Bloody Good Period found me and asked to repost the picture. That’s when I first heard about period poverty, which really lit a fire under me and made me realise that I had to push this further.
What do you think about the fact 1 in 4 women around the world have no decent toilet, to help them change and stay clean on their periods?
It's awful and unfair, and that’s before looking into everyone who has a period that doesn't identify as a woman, too. There are a lot of people suffering from this widely unfair problem, that no human should have to face.
Why did you decide to write a book about periods?
Because there wasn't one!
Not one that talked about everything surrounding periods.
Having a period is so much more than learning how to use a pad. Your body changes, it's emotional, it's also complex and different for so many people. Additionally, now there are so many different period products that are more sustainable. Managing my period so I could get through my office workday involved avoiding certain foods like dairy or caffeine as they caused me to cramp really badly. It meant making sure I was taking care of my mental health. It meant using the products that were right for me, as tampons have always made my cramps worse. No one was talking about all of this!
Not to mention in my first year of university, I didn't have a period for 8 months. No, I wasn't having sex at the time so I definitely wasn't pregnant, before you ask! Later I then had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder and panic attack disorder. My anxiety being so out of control had made me miss my periods. I didn't once think that my mental state could affect my period. But it did.
I was quite frankly annoyed that I wasn't told about all of it. So, after a long time being frustrated, I decided that waiting around for someone else to write the book that I wanted was never going to happen.
Period. was born!
What did you learn from the process of writing Period.?
I learnt that I could draw 260 illustrations if I put my mind to it!
I learnt a lot of what’s in the book while I was researching, as I discovered more.
I learnt that I wasn't alone in my experience of feeling lonely.
I always felt like my period was bizarre or not normal. The more research I went forward with, the more I realised that even though all our experiences can be very different, there are many that find their period really debilitating and find it hard to keep up with daily work life when they are on.
Since you started working in this space, what's the most shocking thing you've learnt?
At the beginning, becoming aware of TERFS (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) was really shocking. I had a nasty experience before my book came out: I was at a women’s protest with Bloody Good Period, and a TERF who claimed to be a journalist at the BBC came up to me and screamed at me, while I was handing out stickers. Having quite severe anxiety at the time and finding crowds difficult, I just cried.
Many TERFS will pull out their money from charities who use inclusive language, and it's disgusting. There are so many people who need our help, and who are really suffering. TERFS are adding to that pain and making things harder and pushing back on progress.
And what's the most encouraging thing you’ve witnessed?
The way this book has affected my own personal relationships. Particularly with my mum. I've watched my own mum grow and learn about trans issues because of my book. It’s been beautiful to see and reminds me that if a Catholic Latina woman in her 60s can become a passionate trans ally, there’s always hope.
For more inspiration and information around all things periods, be sure to pick up a copy of Natalie’s brilliant book. You can also show your support for menstrual equality by following Natalie and Fempowered over on Instagram.