February 12, 2019
From quinceañeras to bat mitzvahs and sweet 16s, a girl's transition from childhood to womanhood is celebrated in a bevy of ways across cultures. But some parents feel like there's a specific milestone that these existing traditions fail to acknowledge: a young woman's first period. In turn, period parties are having a moment.
In 2017, then 12-year-old Floridian Brooke Lee made headlines for her period party, which featured a chocolate cake decorated with red icing, as well as a pizza, pads and tampons. Her mother Shelly told BuzzFeed that she decided to plan the party upon learning that her daughter was "worried" about starting her period. Brooke's cousin Autumn Jenkins shared photos from the event on Twitter, writing, "Brooke started her period today & my family is super extra.”
Since then, buzz about the concept has taken off. In August 2018, comedian Bert Kreischer told Conan O'Brien that his daughter asked him to pick up supplies for her period party, explaining that "all the girls are throwing them." For her special day, Kreischer's daughter wanted red velvet cake and icing to decorate it with the “name” of her period, which she designated Jason, because she got her first menarche on Friday the 13th.
“I had the best time of my life! I got beet juice, pomegranate juice, pasta with marinara sauce, ketchup and fries, red velvet cake, red wine!” Kreischer recalled. “It was awesome. I hope to God you hear it in a positive manner, and you fathers get to throw your daughter a period party.”
The Trend Isn't Exactly New
Although viral stories like these have inspired parents of adolescent girls to stock up on red balloons and red velvet treats, celebrations aimed at taking the stigma out of menstruation are far from novel.
Tyra Banks wrote in her book Perfect Is Boring that her mother Carolyn London threw her a period party when she was 15, sharing, "I appreciate that my mother never wanted me to be ashamed of anything, or to think that there was something bad or dirty about my body. ... Most of [the girls there] had never talked about their periods so openly before, and in between the ‘yucks’ and giggles, they asked questions about everything from whether using tampons takes away your virginity to wanting to know if other people can tell if you’re on your period.”
At a spoken word event in 2014, poet Dominique Christina read "The Period Poem" and discussed her 13-year-old's period party: “And so then my daughter, she starts her period, and she’s stricken and walks out the bathroom looking like she’s died or something. And I wanted to undermine that,” Christina said. “So I threw her a period party, my homies rolled up, dressed in red, and there was red food and red drinks. It was great. All red everything.”
What Moms Are Saying
Ashley T. from Catonsville, Maryland tells Parents.com her daughter is almost 10 and is "very excited to get her period, and when she does, unless something changes in her level of comfort, I’m sure we will have a little party. It will just be our family and probably a cake with a few presents to make her more comfortable—like [a] cute heating pad, bath bombs, etc. I want this part of her life to be celebrated for her and 100% normalized for her brothers." Because she "grew up in a household where we could never talk about periods," she says she wants her kids to know better than she did.
Brittany H. from Nashville, Tennessee says her husband's side of the family has a tradition in which "the grown women get together and take the girl who had her first period to Olive Garden, but it's set up like a 'women's day out,' and it's basically meant to welcome them to becoming a woman to make it less scary for the girl."
Other moms look back fondly at the events that marked their own first period and want to give their daughters a similar experience. Carrie S. from Clover, South Carolina recalls, "I was the last girl in my class to get mine. I called to finally tell my friends, they all got me gift bags full of different tampons and pads and then asked me what I was craving. I picked Taco Bell. We all went to eat there. I kid you not, to this day I still eat Taco Bell right before I get my monthly!"
That said, plenty of parents are taking a hard pass on the trend. Alyssa Y. notes, "When I was younger, my period was a totally awkward subject for me, and had my mom thrown a party for it, I would have been so embarrassed. Definitely not something I'll be doing with my girls."
What Experts Say
Jill Whitney, LMFT, founder of Green Tree Professional Counseling and KeepTheTalkGoing.com, tells Parents.com that while a menstruation-focused fête is one young woman's proud moment, it's another's worst nightmare. "Period parties work for some girls, but for others they are horrible. Several young adults have told me about their parents having thrown them a period party and it being one of the most awful, mortifying experiences of their preteen years," she warns.
Whitney suggests that before jumping on the period party bandwagon, parents consider the celebration from their daughter's perspective. "You may be excited that she's reached the menarche milestone, but is she?" she notes. "How comfortable is she with the changes happening to her body? Most preteens are extremely self-conscious about their changing bodies. Anything that calls attention to that makes them want to crawl into a cave."
To really get at the "why" behind the bash, Whitney recommends parents ask themselves questions like:
Then, communication is key. "Ask your daughter what would make her feel loved and special, since that's your goal, and what would be embarrassing or overwhelming," Whitney suggests. "When you listen to what she prefers, you do two important things. One, you strengthen her trust that she can rely on you about emotionally complex situations. Two, you reinforce that she has sexual agency—a right to make important decisions about her body and sexuality, and that her choices must be respected by others. In this case, you; later, by romantic partners."
Whitney acknowledges that throwing a period party can help normalize a part of female life. She also notes that, judging from her clients' experiences, "very small, low-key" celebrations are often the most positive.
"One young woman said her parents made a special dinner for just their immediate family and gave her a gift bag with a book on puberty, pads and tampons, condoms, and a couple small cute gifts," she shares. "I remember my own mom finding a moment when no male relatives were around and telling my aunts and grandmother that I was 'a woman now.' They smiled, offered gentle congratulations, and that was that. I felt acknowledged."
No matter what it ends up looking like on the big day, a period party can positively reframe an aspect of life that's often regarded as taboo and aggravating. But as Brittany Freeman Jean-Louis, LPC, a therapist and CEO of A Freemans Place Counseling, LLC, points out, the ultimate goal of any celebration should be to show support for the guest of honor.
"It is important for young ladies to know that they are supported, validated, and affirmed," Jean-Louis notes. "This will increase self-esteem and self-worth which is hugely important around this time of change and transition."