Menstruation, but make it fashion. That was the name of the game for 25-year-old period activist Nadya Okamoto who recently turned heads by wearing earrings that look like used tampons on the red carpet.
“It was super last minute, but it felt very on-theme,” Okamoto tells Yahoo Life of her accessory choice for the premiere of Amazon Prime’s new mini-series Dead Ringers, which is based on the 1988 psychological thriller about twin gynecologists. “I would have done it anyway. Even if the theme wasn’t around gynecology. I want to get rid of any sort of period shame and inaccuracy around how we talk about periods.”
The attention-grabbing earrings, a gift from a friend, were most applauded, according to Okamoto — however, she did get a few jabs from male photographers joking about their “heavy flows.” She was quick to respond with a teaching moment.
“I’m very gender inclusive about the language that I use around periods. I was like, ‘OK, I’ll give you a super tampon. Men could menstruate too, so I’m not going to assume what genitalia you have? ” she says.
For Okamoto, menstrual education isn’t a one-off. In fact, she’s been working in menstrual activism for years.
“I got really into the period space when I was 16. I started a nonprofit called Period: the menstrual movement, which is still going and growing,” she says, recalling that learning about the harsh realities facing those who menstruate while living in poverty inspired her. “Hearing about what people had to use, like trash, when they didn’t have period products and the general lack of period products in different human services programs around the city, I became obsessed with the issue.”
Okamoto has since co-founded August, a lifestyle period brand aimed at providing accessible period care for everyone.
In addition to selling menstrual care products with no tampon tax, Okamoto has built a community of young Gen-Zers who share their own stories through a community group chat.
“We have like, 3,500 people in our Geneva chat, and it’s a very intimate tight-knit community where people are talking about not only their periods but also like uterine fibroids and pain and discussing even sociological matters,” she says, admitting she herself is often in awe at the community she has created.
“Just hearing how they were inspired by my content and took it upon themselves to be involved in actual grassroots organizing around period poverty and getting period products in their schools. I think that’s one of the things that I’m very inspired by,” she says.
In conjunction with her brand, Okamoto has also made quite the name for herself on social media as a period-positive role model, proudly displaying her pads and even her own period of blood online. But she is not always this brazen in her approach and credits her alter ego “Period Fairy” for giving her the confidence to wear symbols of menses so proudly.
“Beyoncé has Sasha Fierce, I have Period Fairy. I still get nervous talking about periods if I’m not tapped into my period alter ego,” she says.
Miss Period Fairy seemed to be in full effect last summer when Okamoto shared a video of herself rocking a visible pad and thong during a music festival.
“I was at a music festival called Electric Forest, like a full-on rave in the middle of nowhere. But I was actually on my period, so I was like, ‘Let me wear this mesh thong with a pad on. And I think it just took away any inhibition about my period or talking about periods publicly,” she says.
Of course, this did not sit well with the more than a million people who watched her dancing TikTok, with many viewers asking why.
“People were so angry about it. I got so much hate. Like, ‘Nobody gives a f***.’ ‘Nobody wants to see this,'” she says. Alternatively, many people have embraced the unconventional displays of menstruation and she has become quite a clutch for those in need of menstrual products at raves. “People will see me and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re the tampon girl. Do you have a tampon?'” she says.
Dealing with supporters and critics alike has become quite common for the founder, who now has more than 4 million followers on TikTok. But while she’s used to critics of her activism, sometimes the hate can get out of hand, and she explains she has even been on the receiving end of death and rape threats.
“There is this association that when women talk about periods or sexual health, it’s inviting some sort of attention. And that I may be ‘asking for it,’ and that’s definitely harder to deal with,” she says.
But for the most part, Okamoto is able to tune out the noise and focus on her main goal: fostering open, honest and accurate communication about menstruation, something she says the period industry has lacked for years.
“Like the use of blue liquid to show absorbency in commercial pads. Not only does it reinforce stigma around periods, but it’s also inaccurate. Your period blood isn’t just liquid like water. Sometimes it’s thick or there are blood clots and it’s not just a watery liquid,” she says.
As for her next big fashion dream, Okamoto is manifesting a major first Monday in May: menstrual style.
“I really want to wear a dress at the Met Gala made of pads with red glittery paint on the whole bottom. I love the idea of using art, fashion and culture to break the stigma around periods.”
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