At age seven I found one in my mom’s cabinet. I sat cross-legged on the icy marble flooring of her bathroom and eagerly stripped the plastic wrapper off of what I thought was advanced candy. What I found inside left me quietly stunned; the shiny plastic bullet was the symbol of a world of tiny things that I was not allowed to know of yet, and its blatant uselessness mocked me. Inedible, impenetrable—it shared some relationship with my mother, maybe my father, their mere owning it upheld my growing suspicion of all that they were hiding. It was there in my hand yet wholly out of reach; it hinted in that moment of some gross reality that I was ashamed to not yet understand.
And at age 21, the tampon remains alien, never having lost its pompous mystique. It is an aerodynamic jet plane, inert yet insinuating high speed; it is a clinical injection. Two innocent white threads peak out the exhaust pipe and a slight push on the plunger reveals an equally pearly cotton spear. Push harder and there comes a full protrusion, a violent launch that feigns innocence through the factory fresh luster of its remaining outer shell. Why the fruity perfection? Pale yellow and playmate-pink chasten my body for smothering a clash of deep red. Look what you’ve done to me, it laughs upon its gory exodus. A new one awaits the same fate.
At once it is invader and pacifier, sliding gently into lips. It is a placeholder and it remains inseparable from this inherent intimation. In itself it is a challenge, a potential for acuity in newfound adulthood, there will be no submission to menstruation. Monarchs and menarche, youth fluttering to toilets and landing meekly into a squat for the battle, clutching onto their missiles of cotton and plastic. It is the skinny elite, it is tight pants and thongs and self-control; Playtex Fit, like milky latex seeping out of freshly snipped spurges, congealing and coagulating in sunny daylight, mingling with strength, speed, accuracy, sucking dry, five miles on the treadmill in the morning. Its aura is so strongly soaked in fluid, in flower-patterned labels and in advertisements of light-blue blood.
It is a submarine, an absorbent of corporeality bloating and warping through submersion.
Alexandra Neuman is currently a senior at Washington University in St. Louis with a double major in Performance Art and Anthropology. Her performance work is often created through anthropological or research-based lens, focusing on the embarrassing materiality of existing in a body. I hope to work and travel for the next two years before pursuing a degree in Visual Anthropology.