What is Free Bleeding?
Free bleeding is exactly what it sounds like— bleeding without the help of menstrual products like tampons, cups or pads. But why in the world would anyone do that? — you're probably wondering. How messy! How inconvenient!
People have had to bleed without absorbent aids since the dawn of humankind, all over the world. But free bleeding as a movement kicked off in the 1970s as a reaction to toxic shock syndrome from tampons, and the growing activism surrounding menstruation as a result of second-wave feminist movements. It’s also around the time the iconic book Our Bodies, Ourselves was released, so people were REALLY feeling empowered when it came to their periods.
Why free bleed?
Ultimately, bleeding without the invasiveness or annoyance of period products is an act of resilience for people who participate. Free bleeding primarily aims to tackle the stigma around hiding a natural process like menstruation, but there are other aspects to it as well— including the recognition that purchasing period products over and over (and over) again is a high financial cost for a lot of people who menstruate. It’s an acknowledgement that sometimes, people have no choice but to free bleed.
But there’s also one other main reason that free bleeders free bleed: the environmental burden of tampons and pads.
The impact of disposable menstrual products
Ready for some quick math? A single menstruator typically uses more than 15,000 disposable period products (tampons, pads), in their entire lifetime. According to National Geographic, that adds up to 5,800,000,000 tampons used in the United States in 2018 alone.
And that’s just one single year. Menstrual products and their packaging have been filling up landfills since the first disposable pad was introduced to the world in the late 1800s. Plus, so many of these products contain chemicals like chlorine, rayon and dioxin that eventually get soaked up by the Earth and cause water and air pollution. Click here to learn more.
A race to better free bleeding alternatives
Even though the ideology of free bleeding has been in cycle for a while, it was thrust back into the spotlight in 2015 by a 26 year old marathon runner and Harvard graduate by the name of Kiran Gandhi. On the day of the London Marathon, her period arrived unexpectedly. Instead of backing out of the race, she decided to go with the flow— ditching her tampon and pad to free bleed the entire 26 mile run comfortably, You can read more about Kiran’s experience here.
Images of Kiran went viral, which sent sparks flying across the world— with people in the deepest, darkest corners of the internet debating what was “acceptable” when it came to menstruation. A conversation starter that involved every aspect of accessible healthcare and well-being when it comes to people with periods, Kiran made it clear that environmentalism was a vital aspect of her impromptu activism:
If we cannot talk about our own bodies comfortably, how can today's best innovators know what we even want, and then go and build a better and more eco-friendly product? Women's bodies have never been burdensome to the Earth, and the products we use to care for ourselves should not be either.
What free bleeding looks like in 2021
There are quite a few sustainable alternatives to tampons and pads (notably the menstrual cup) which you can check out here— but “modern” free bleeders often opt for period underwear. Although it’s not going completely commando, they curb the waste build-up of disposable period products, and are a more accessible and cost effective option in the long run. They’re also simply more comfortable, which is a win for people who don’t like the feeling of tampons or pads.
Super Leakproof Underwear like the ones Tonya are wearing below completely eliminates the need for pads and tampons, which is a great option for new (and old) free bleeders alike.
There is no right or wrong way to have a period, and people who menstruate are free to use products that make them feel good— both physically and emotionally. Try out free bleeding as an environmental alternative (even with the help of period underwear), and let us know how it goes over on @knixwear!