“Once we get the ball rolling, it's only a matter of time before [other] people are like, ‘Yeah, like they're doing it. This is right.’”
Anaya Balaji, 13, is just at the start of her teen years, and she’s already really over period stigma. “More than half of the world menstruates, you know?” she says passionately on a Zoom call from her room. “You need to be able to talk about it, because it's normal.”
Heading into ninth grade, she’s heard some stories about how “rough” high school can be when it comes to period shame. It’s all the more reason, she says, for young people to speak out. “Our generation, we're the next generation where the people are going to bring a lot of things to light. We're going to fix a lot of old misogynistic ways,” she says. As the middle school lead for The Inner Cycle, a menstruation-focused online forum created in association with the newly-launched Gen Z-founded period brand, August, Anaya spends her spare time chatting with teens like herself and making sure that they have all the information and support they need to deal with their periods straightforwardly and openly. She says, “I'm here trying to make sure that the middle schoolers have all the correct terminology, [and] they feel comfortable” talking about their periods.
Those values — accurate information, comfort with your body, and an inclusive, accepting, community — are the driving force for August, which takes its name not from the month but rather the idea of dignity and reverence. The period care brand, which launches on June 10 and provides menstrual supplies like pads and tampons via a mail-order subscription service, was founded by Gen Zers Nadya Okamoto and Nick Jain and developed its core ideals with input from the 1,100-plus-strong community of its The Inner Cycle forum.
“[We] have daily Zoom events and community conversations to identify, ‘How do we feel about periods?’ ‘What questions do we have about periods?’” says Okamoto. “What are the gaps, and why don’t we like our current period products?”
Okamoto, 23, knows what she’s talking about when it comes to changing the conversion about period care. As a teen, she founded the menstrual activism group Period. to combat period stigma and period poverty, which she left in early 2020 in order to kickstart August. “We took a lot of what we've learned from our time in the social activism space and applied it to the company,” she says. “If we're trying to create a solution for this group of people” — young menstruators in their teens and 20s — “they need to be really represented at the table” on issues they care about, like sustainability and inclusion.
The approach allowed the community of The Inner Cycle to really weigh in on what they wanted from a period brand designed for them, including volunteering to test products. Anaya, who joined August in November, was able to test some of the pads and tampons (“So soft!”) and talk through concerns with others. One of the teens Anaya spoke to shared that a big priority for her was how the pads and tampons would be sourced, and whether it would be ethical and sustainable. “She didn't want to be a part of [exploitation],” Anaya says. It’s the kind of feedback that prompted the brand to share publicly all steps of the process: where materials for pads and tampons come from, as well as the certifications for the facilities that produce them.
That openness isn’t limited to the product itself, either. “The community has allowed me to have a voice in a space that I've always belonged in, but never felt properly included in,” says Max Payne, 26, a community lead for The Inner Cycle. They recollect standing in the so-called “feminine hygiene” aisle at the drug store and feeling so uncomfortable with the gendered expectations of who buys pads and tampons. “[The Inner Cycle] allows me to communicate my trials and tribulations as a trans person in this space and educate people on what that's like, and how they can do better.”
Having joined the Inner Cycle community in October 2020, Payne has experienced the community both as a member and a moderator. Inclusivity is a big part of how the community wants to reframe the conversation around periods for a new generation — not everyone who has a period is a woman, and members of the community are particular about using “menstruators” instead of gendered words. Payne estimates that about 11% of Inner Cycle’s membership is trans or gender-nonconforming, and sub-communities in Inner Cycle like the “Gender Diversity” room build inclusivity into the community.
“Diversity needs to happen for people to be themselves, you know?” Payne says. If communities like Inner Cycle don’t start that trend, who will? “When do we get period underwear that’s full boxer briefs for trans folks? When do these developments happen without a catalyst? So we're starting that change, right? Once we get the ball rolling, it's only a matter of time before [other] people are like, ‘Yeah, like they're doing it. This is right.’”
Honesty around the menstrual experience, in all its diversity, is part and parcel of the way Okamoto says August wants to give Gen Z a voice about period care. Their product launch video, shared with Elite Daily, doesn’t have a hint of sterile blue liquid or women dressed in white laughing in a flowery field — something that Okamoto says cost the company, as many platforms won’t run ads that show realistic menstrual blood.
Still, they made the choice to go ahead with an advertising video that shows what it’s really like to get your period, knowing that it might not be able to run on the social media platforms that are most valuable to building a brand. “We want to, from the very beginning, make clear that we are a brand that will stick by our values,” she says. “And our value is being real about period care.” On June 10, the launch video was removed from TikTok in under an hour, with the platform labeling it “violent and graphic content.” Elite Daily reached out to TikTok for comment on the video’s removal, but didn’t immediately hear back. The video later reappeared on August’s page.
“We're trying to create a culture of being open about periods, and how are we supposed to do that when we’re too scared to say the word ‘period,’ right?” says Okamoto of the launch video. “We didn't want the reactions, once you show the menstrual blood, to be like, ‘Oh, f*ck... I hate my period.’ But we also didn't want it to be unrealistic, like, ‘Oh, yay! My period is here!’”
That push and pull — the acceptance of a community that wouldn’t deny their worst enemy a tampon, and the simultaneous acknowledgment that getting your period doesn’t feel like twirling in a field of white daisies — is, maybe, the best metaphor for what it really feels like to get your period. And for a community that wants to change the stigma around periods, to make it better for Gen Z and the generations that come next, it’s not a bad place to start.