My Little Red Book
When something is already a little bit scary, feeling like you are alone in the experience or that it is something you should not talk about makes it all the more terrifying. Rachel Kauder Nalebuff’s My Little Red Book seeks to demystify and universalize one such potentially scary experience: the first period. Like its namesake, The Little Red Book, My Little Red Book seeks to strengthen a cultural movement; in Kauder Nalebuff’s case, away from shame and fear about periods, and towards open dialogue.
The book contains more than ninety stories from a wide variety of women telling the story of their first periods. The women range from teenagers to the very elderly, and their stories take place between 1916 and 2008. They are academics, students, writers, filmmakers, household names (at least in some circles), and directors of NGOs, amongst other things. The women’s first periods occur all over the United States, as well as in other countries (Turkey, Australia, and China, to name a few). The stories are sweet, touching, funny, and sometimes a little baffling. They are as different as are the women that provided them. There are stories of shame, pride, excitement, and terror. Yet within most stories, there is similarity. This similarity is good for universalizing the experience of the first period, but does make the book somewhat repetitious at times.
As a concept, My Little Red Book is brilliant. As a set of stories read one after another, it did not entirely work for me. As I was reading it, I felt it was missing the very dialogue that it is intended to promote. I found myself wishing that the women’s stories within the book conversed with and responded to one another, such as would occur in a conversation amongst friends or a documentary. However, this is a small complaint and does not greatly detract from Kauder Nalebuff’s goal.
At the very least, the book provides readers with the knowledge that no matter what her first-period experience, there is someone out there that has felt the same way. Hopefully, though, My Little Red Book’s readers—particularly those readers who have just experienced or are about to experience their first period—will take the dialogue beyond the pages of the book.
On that note, here is my contribution to continuing that dialogue. My first period arrived a few months after I turned eleven. Like many of the women in the book, I called my mom into the bathroom when I discovered it. Similar to Sarah Rosen in My Little Red Book, who gets her first period during her bat mitzvah, the timing of my first period is interesting to me: it came while I was trick-or-treating on Halloween, a holiday in which there is a rather firm line between children and adults. Although the first period does not have that clear of a demarcation between girlhood and womanhood, it does mark a change in a girl’s life, and it deserves to be discussed. My Little Red Book is a positive step toward that.