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#interview

Meet Chelsea VonChaz, The Woman Behind #HappyPeriod

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5 min read

Meet Chelsea VonChaz, The Woman Behind #HappyPeriod Photo

by Toni Brannagan | September 24, 2020

Part of our mission at Thinx is to create social change, and one way we do that is by aligning with like-minded organizations through our GiveRise program. One of our partners is #HappyPeriod, a nonprofit dedicated to ending period stigma and period poverty through providing period products and menstrual hygiene education to underserved communities.

#HappyPeriod was founded in 2015 by Chelsea VonChaz, after a personal experience inspired her to change career paths. We’ll let her tell the rest of the story. Chelsea also shares more about giving people options when it comes to menstrual care, how working in the period space has shaped her relationship with her flow, and why everybody needs to step up for Black people with periods.

Thinx: can you tell us about the history of #HappyPeriod, and how you got your start?

Chelsea VonChaz: The seed was planted after I witnessed a homeless woman who looked like me cross the street with a period stain on her butt. It just made me so mad — if you do have a period, what do you do, where do you go? I reached out to a bunch of shelters and maybe one rep called me back, and she told me they’re not required to provide period products. 

After I got off the phone with her, I emailed all my girlfriends and told them I wanted to do something. One of them worked for another nonprofit, and she told me they were handing out sandwiches the next weekend, so we decided to link up. We packed period kit bags, brought them to Skid Row in Downtown LA, and people were really responding. 

One day, my dad was volunteering with me, and this lady ran out of the Union Rescue Mission — I was walking towards him, so I saw her come outside but I wasn’t part of the conversation. She approached him and was like “Oh sh*t, did I miss the #HappyPeriod bags? Do y’all have anymore?” 

My Dad had some in the trunk, which he gave her. By the time I got over to him, she’d already run back into the shelter to do what she had to do, but my Dad was lowkey crying — he had realized how important this was, and he was having a moment. So I was just like, well I guess I should go ahead and make this a thing. It was a moment where we saw how this was a real need based on how she reacted. 

what inspired the name?

CVC: You’ll have to ask my mom, she named it. When she first said “happy period,” I was like this is so lame, I hate it, but when the first page when I Googled it was all these articles about feminist groups that were pissed at period product companies for campaigns centered around women having periods and being happy and jolly all the time. People commenting like “How dare they tell us how to have a happy period, happy periods don’t exist, women are not happy when they’re on their periods.” Yada yada — all negative.

When I saw all that, I realized this is clearly something that makes people uncomfortable but maybe there’s a way we could change it. Talking about periods doesn’t have to be hostile. And my mom pointed out maybe a few years down the line when you Google the words, it would just be us, or it would be something more positive about periods. That’s pretty much what you see if you Google “happy period” now!

what was your experience being educated about your own period?

CVC: I had a tribe—my mom educated me, my grandma, my aunties—I was prepared. My fifth grade teacher prepared us, if we were comfortable telling her we were on our periods, she’d be a bit more understanding if we had to go to the bathroom or stay in class and not go to PE or whatever. I just had a great support group when it came to learning I just had the space to ask questions. That definitely reflects in my work now, for sure.

it seems like you’ve always had positive experiences with your period, but has working in the period space changed your relationship with your flow at all?

CVC: Yeah, definitely, I’ve continued to do the research, and have learned so much about menstrual health in general. I look at my period as a fifth vital sign. That’s something I teach, not looking at it as this once-a-month thing that comes and inconveniences you, but like it’s another language your body has.

That’s the relationship I have with my period right now where it’s positive. It’s not always good, but it’s an important relationship. It’s something I deal with all the time — even when I’m not bleeding, I’m working towards my flow or my experience being a little bit better because I’m eating the right foods or exercising or practicing more self-care.

what has #HappyPeriod been working on this year?

CVC: We have ambassadors all over the country, who volunteer independently — due to the pandemic, I was just more comfortable suspending volunteer events until further notice because of safety. From that, I’ve held our brand partners (including Thinx) more accountable. I’ve let them know this is what we have to do, and this is how we need you to show up for us. That means donating directly to our charity partners, to shelters we work with, to community centers we work with, so the product gets to who needs it directly.

We also pivoted our menstrual health program, where we go to schools to teach students about periods and give them free period products. We also do period care pop-ups in underserved communities, and bring brands into the hands of folks that usually would not purchase or know about The Honeypot Company or Thinx or anything like that, really presenting them with  reusable options that they may not afford or have thought about. 

I’m well aware that there needs to be an advancement for Black menstruators specifically — we’re kind of behind when it comes to menstrual health and period care. It’s still not encouraged for us to have good experiences with our periods or for us to even know and talk about our periods. We’re still kind of behind when it comes to this taboo and stigma. It really hurts us.

preaching to the choir — but it’s obviously so important not to treat menstrual equity as something that’s one-size-fits-all. Can you speak to that?

CVC: It’s just not the same experience. The neighborhoods that are predominantly white aren’t reaching out to me telling me their budget was cut so they no longer have a nurses station. It’s the underserved schools in predominantly Black and brown communities that get hit hard when it comes to their budgets being cut. One of the first things to go is the nurse’s station, and a lot of people don’t know that stuff. 

When I announced I was making a menstrual health program to serve underserved communities specifically for Black menstruators, people really got mad at me! Somebody said to me “We all bleed the same!” and I was like “Hell no, sis, no we do not!” Yes, we have different color folks with periods who have all these conditions—dysmenorrhea, fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS—but white women do not have those stressors that come from racism and the other factors stemming from these issues. Therefore, we do not bleed the same. 

using period products also varies so culturally, and sometimes what you’re learning at home is different from what you’re taught at school — how do you think that affects predominantly Black communities?

CVC: Most of us use what our mothers taught us to use, who use what their grandmothers taught them to use, so on and so forth. It’s very natural for you to just stick with that, unless somebody else tells you what other options you have. It’s learned. That’s where we’re extremely behind too, because no one’s going back into our communities to share information so we have a better understanding of what these products are, how to use them, or how they can best suit different people.

That’s why a huge reason why with #HappyPeriod, I’ve never been into telling people to just drop disposables for reusables — you can’t colonize people’s bodies, or use the Earth to colonize people’s bodies! The #HappyPeriod kit doesn’t have just pads or tampons in it, it has everything — pads, tampons, liners, wipes, soap, a pack of period underwear if we can. We also give them the option to give them a menstrual cup, and we’ll tell them how to use it. We’re all about showing them these are your options, you pick what’s best for you, or what you want to try. 

why do you think issues with period education and access to period products exacerbated for Black people with periods?

CVC: I think a lot of people should understand that we don’t even have the space to even talk about our issues when it comes to the system, so how would we get the space to talk about our periods? Dealing with racism has really trickled down into our experience when it comes to our periods where we feel like we’re not even allowed to talk about them. If we’re not talking about our periods, we’re not talking about our pain. Even the fact Black women get more fibroids — why is that? No one wants to connect that to the stresses related to dealing with racism. A lot of us don’t even get to a fibroids diagnosis until we’re like 30-something and the fibroid is the size of a grapefruit because no one was available to educate us about our periods. 

If someone was there to educate us, or maybe if we had a shame-free space to actually talk about periods — in my mind, that is actually the huge difference. I honestly feel like, if I am doing this work—teaching folks about period health, educating them on all the symptoms that come with periods, how to track their periods, how to pay attention to their periods for the sake of their health—that would be the difference in how our experiences are.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You can learn more about #HappyPeriod on their site and Instagram. You can also follow Chelsea @chelseavonchaz.

by Toni Brannagan

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