Menarche (mə-NAR-kee) refers to the first menstrual bleeding or period, the onset of menstruation. This month at re: Cycling we will explore menarche from many points of view.

I think how we talk with our daughters and other important girls in our lives when they get their first periods truly will influence their experience of menarche. I don’t think you could find a better role model than the fictional character Roseanne, who, in an 1989 episode of the show named for its star Roseanne Barr, aces the first period talk with her daughter Darlene. Fortunately, this three-minute scene is immortalized on YouTube.

Roseanne walks in to her daughter’s bedroom to find tomboy Darlene bagging up her sports equipment. Darlene thinks her life as she knows it is over, but her mother makes a compelling case for why it’s really just beginning.

Re-watching this scene I love how Roseanne avoids the stereotypical first comment on a girl’s first period: “Now you can have a baby.” Yes, menarche implies fertility, but Roseanne, wisely, doesn’t go there at first. Instead, picking up Darlene’s baseball glove and ball, she tells her daughter “these are a girl’s things Darlene as long as a girl uses them.” My favourite bit is Roseanne’s reply to Darlene when she says, “I’m probably going to start throwing like a girl now anyway.” Roseanne, tossing the baseball in Darlene’s mitt, doesn’t miss a beat. “Definitely,” she says, “and since you’ve got your period you’re going to throw a lot farther.”

Roseanne is absolutely right. Menarche means that as a girl’s hormonal cycle kicks in and she starts to ovulate consistently her bones and her muscles will get stronger. When a young athlete or dancer gets her period, she needs to hear from the important people in her life that menstruating will make her stronger, that getting her period will ultimately make her a more capable athlete or a dancer who can jump higher and leap farther.

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If a girl is into creative endeavors, then we can frame menstruation and its accompanying cyclic hormonal changes as a pathway to maturity. She’ll have more to write about, sing about, paint about as she gains access to deeper emotional experiences. Maybe your daughter or young niece likes to cook or play the flute. Tell her now that she’s got her period she’ll cook with more “flavor” and play with more feeling. That’s what Roseanne would have done.

This is not to suggest we ignore that menarche brings with it sexual and reproductive pleasures and challenges. We’ll discuss all of these aspects this month on the blog. Roseanne finds a neat way to reference the fertility that comes with menstruation near the end of the scene. I hope you’ll watch to find out what she says. With her “heart-and-soul” humor, Roseanne keeps it real.

The original article appeared here as a part of series called re:cycling by Laura WershlerLaura is a veteran sexual and reproductive health advocate and writer, SMCR member, and editor-in-chief of re: Cycling.

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