Jessica Biel Talks to Her Sons About Her Period. She Wants More People to Do the Same.

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When Jessica Biel was determining her next project, writing a kids book about periods was not high on the list. Frankly, it wasn’t even on the list. But when she and her producing partner, Michelle Purple, went in for a meeting with the founder and CEO of A Kids Co. to see about collaborating, suddenly the producer, actor and style icon found herself adding “children’s author” to her list of jobs.

“It was a total accident,” Biel tells Glamour over Zoom. “I’ve always been interested in the female reproductive health and wellness space, and how I can be involved a way that feels authentic and helpful for me, my family and other people’s families. And it was just one of these weird kind of kismet moments where we were asked what we wanted [to talk about and explore]. Michelle and I thought, ‘Well, the first thing that really comes first for young women is your period.’ And even as a 40-something, I still don’t know that much about it on some level. I don’t know why my cycle does the things that it does. And it’s crazy that I feel that way at my age.”

And so, A Kids Book About Periods was born. Biel, who is married to Justin Timberlake and a mother of two sons, knew that she wouldn’t work on this book alone, which is why she teamed up with period.org, a global nonprofit which strives to eradicate period poverty and stigma through service, education, and advocacy, to write it, in addition to their staff of experts.

“We didn’t want to make it sound like, ‘Aunt Flo is coming this month! She’s here to visit,'” Biel says. “Kids can handle the language. They want to know the truth. And if you normalize the language early on, then it doesn’t sound weird. Why not tell the truth about how our bodies work?”

The result is a straight-forward, easy-to-understand and informative book that parents and adults can give or read to kids. And it’s not just for young girls; Biel hopes that dads and young boys will read it with the intention of changing the conversation around a very misunderstood female experience.

Here, Biel opens up about the exchanges she has with her own sons about tampons and periods, how she copes with her most painful days, and why Timberlake wasn’t at all surprised by her newest endeavor.

Glamour: The book is dedicated to your two sons, Silas, 9, and Phineas, 3, who you call “very curious and compassionate.” I would imagine the older one has asked about periods, unless the younger one has, too?

Jessica Biel: My 3-year-old has already asked, “What is this?” [because] he sees my tampons around. I’m not hiding them. They are in all of my bathrooms in my house, in case anyone ever needs one. So he wants to play with them like they’re toys and shoot them like they’re little guns and stuff. Then, the nine-year-old for sure, because I barely can go to the bathroom on my own. I’m like, “You guys, I need some privacy please.”

But I’m not going to stop my life or my personal menstrual hygiene. If they’re in the bathroom, I am going to do what I need to do. So they’re curious what [tampons] are. They’re finding them in my bag.

So what did you tell them about your period?

They want to know what’s going on with me, so the other day actually, I said to my son, “You know what? I’m on my period. I’m pretty frustrated and I’m just feeling a little emotional today, so I just wanted to give you a heads-up.” And he goes, “Okay, thanks, mom.” And he didn’t ask me anything further than that. But I think we are on the precipice of sharing more information. And I needed tools. I didn’t know necessarily how to have these conversations with them. I remember when I was taking sex ed when I was young, they separated boys and girls. There was all this intrigue about what the boys were being told and all this intrigue about what the girls were being told. It just wasn’t transparent.

How did that affect you?

I think it sort of helped to create maybe that feeling that we shouldn’t tell everybody everything, which I just don’t think makes any sense. I think if boys don’t understand what’s going on or people who are not getting their periods or don’t have a period are not understanding what’s going on, how can they be compassionate to people who are experiencing that? So my feeling is to just give everybody real information so it’s demystified, it’s destigmatized, and we can all support each other as we’re experiencing this very normal, beautiful and powerful menstrual experience.

What is a ‘normal’ period like for you? Does it take you out of commission for a few days?

My period is definitely kind of intense and extreme for a couple of days. I have a lot of symptoms like bloating, fatigue, frustration, some anger and short temper and being sad. I go through the range of emotions the first few days and then it kind of calms down. But it does sometimes feel like I am out of control for the first few days. And kids are so sensitive to your emotions. They’re feeding off of our energy way more than we realize sometimes.

We need to reframe how we talk about periods, too. The number of times I’ve heard, “Oh, you’re PMSing? No wonder you’re crazy today.” Or “Watch out, she’s on her period.” All of this just contributes to this unfair generalization.

Yeah, it’s all surrounded with shame. It’s so normalized in our life as women who grew up in a time where it wasn’t normal to talk about it, that I still do the same thing. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the truth, right? Yes, everything can be frustrating and that’s fine, but I think what happens is when we’re on our periods, the hormones that we’re experiencing in our bodies and the chemical equations that are going on are really exacerbating everything. But when someone says some comment like, “Oh, are you on your period?” It’s like a shameful comment. Or “you’re going to be crazy because this thing has got you.” It’s not looked at as like, “Oh wow, you’re really, truly experiencing a lot of different feelings and it’s not just in your mind.” We really do have to change the language around it because our young girls who are starting their foray into womanhood, are still getting the remnants of how people used to talk about it in such a negative and insulting way.

In the book, you say, “periods are cool.” And as I sat there reading it—PMSing badly, actually—I thought, “I want whatever Jess is on that made her write ‘periods are cool.’” Because when the valet took 20 minutes to pull my car up today and then made me late for another meeting, I kept telling myself, “but remember, periods are cool!” [Laughs]

Mantra, personal mantra, “Periods are cool!”

And you write that “periods are powerful.” I’m like, “Damn right, they’re powerful. I could move a car right now with my frustration and adrenaline.” So, explain.

Right. Well, I have to be honest. I don’t always feel that way either when I’m on my period. Boy, it doesn’t necessarily feel cool, but I think what I meant by that was cool in connection with the word powerful. Your body’s ability to have a period means your body is able to bring life into this world. It’s a pretty amazing thing. That’s pretty cool. And to cleanse your body every month. It’s a wild and weird experience, but it’s cool and powerful, too. And, to your point, changing the language around it. My midwife always used to say to me, “Pain with purpose,” because when I was in labor, at home, trying to get this baby out, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, the phrase just kept coming up, “Pain with purpose. Pain with purpose.” Sometimes that’s how I feel about a period. There’s a major purpose behind it.

So how do you take care of yourself when you’re PMSing or on your period?

It’s a process. I feel like I’m still not the best at it, but every time I have a big event or a work experience, I’m looking at my calendar going, “Oh my God, it’s going to come at this moment or around this time.” It shakes your world and you don’t want to have to deal with those things. So I just try to give myself a little grace, like, “I don’t have to necessarily be physical today. I don’t necessarily have to make it to my Pilates class or to the gym. I can rest.” I think giving ourselves some space to just hibernate a little bit can do wonders for the way you’re feeling because you’re acknowledging the fact that you’re not your vibrant, dynamic self today.

And it’s not a bad part of who you are, it’s just what your body’s doing right now. I’m still trying to reorganize my brain around that time and not feel that I need to push through and make big decisions or work extra hard those days. Just kind of being able to sit back a little bit and support myself mentally…taking a little bit of rest and knowing that I don’t have to go full tilt today or tomorrow or even the next day. That way I feel so much more ready to eventually pick back up. But that hibernation time is actually a super sacred time.

Since you didn’t plan on writing a book about periods, what was your husband’s reaction when you told him?

I don’t specifically remember his reaction other than he was like, “Yeah, well, that tracks for you, so great.” He is so supportive of everything I do, and he hears a lot about my period at home, so I think he wasn’t surprised at all.

Also, it’s important that men, husbands, fathers, read this book, because they’re the ones that usually don’t understand how the female body works.

[In some ways], the book is more important for people who are not menstruating to have a tool to read to people who will be menstruating at some point. It’s meant as a jumping off point, like, “Here’s the pathway in, let’s open the door together.”

You can either look at this book and it helps you, or you can throw it out the window and find your own resource or a way forward, but I really wanted it to be part of a toolkit for someone like me so I can hand it to my husband, and I can give it to my guy friend and my brother. My brother has a daughter. So it’s even more important for someone who’s not experiencing [menstruation]. I wouldn’t know how to talk to anybody about it if I wasn’t experiencing it. And even though I am experiencing it every month, I don’t have all the language.

I hope you have a book launch party and make everybody come in their most comfortable sweats. Be like, “Period or not, dress in the most oversized sweats you can find.” The anti-Met Gala.

That’s a great idea. I don’t have a party plan, but when we plan one, you’re coming, and that’s what we’re doing.

Available wherever books are sold, A Kids Book About Periods is one of the newest additions to the “A Kids Book About” series.

Jessica Radloff is the Glamour senior West Coast editor and author of the NYT best-selling book The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series.

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