Tefi Levy is a yoga instructor based in Orange County, California. Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tefi contributed to our Everywhere, Period series, where we’re aiming to demystify periods everywhere.
How old were you when you first got your period and what was that experience like?
I was 11 and in the 6th grade. It was horrible because I was at school and I had no idea what was going on. It was traumatic because I was walking down the stairs to band rehearsal and something happened and unfortunately, I didn’t know what was going on. I don’t remember getting much sexual education—we had it after I got my period. Friends or a teacher or someone must have given me a pad before the school called my mom to take me home. I had gotten blood on my uniform so I was embarrassed but when my mom came to pick me up she was super happy about it. She wanted to call my whole family, and I was begging her not to. My dad called me on the way home and I was so embarrassed and mad at my mom. My two best friends also said they were both congratulated, but for them it happened at home so their experiences were a lot better.
In your community, is there much weight given to a girl getting her period? Any rituals or traditions?
Everyone was happy you became a lady but it wasn’t a huge deal as for us, your quinceañera more about becoming a lady. My whole family did call me to say congratulations—I may have gotten flowers or something but mainly I just remember feeling embarrassed.
Do you remember the first product(s) you used to manage your period?
I used pads for the longest time because I didn’t want to introduce anything into my body. That part seemed weird to me. We never had classes or anything to teach us about these things and even though my mom is a social worker—she works at a public hospital in Buenos Aires helping young women who would walk in with traumatic experiences like coat hanger abortions—she hadn’t told me what to expect, either. Although, she says she told me a million times to use tampons but I guess I had no sexual education;l I didn’t want to put my finger in my vagina, it was scary.
My mom was like, “Tefi, one day you’re gonna get something bigger in your vagina.”
I used my first tampon when I was 17 or 18 because I was done with not being able to get in the pool in the summer. We don’t have tampons with applicators in Argentina. You can only find OB tampons. I didn’t know where to put it. I called my mom one day, and she was like, “OK I’ll walk you through it. I’ll show you!” I told her no so she was like, “Get a mirror, put one leg on top of the toilet, put the mirror underneath you, and look.” That was my first introduction to seriously staring at my own body. But I didn’t know what to do. My mom was like, “Come on, there aren’t that many holes. You’re not gonna put it in your ass.” I was still freaking out, like, how do I know if it’s inside!? What if it doesn’t come out? One day I got it and I never went back to pads ‘cause it was the best thing in the world.
How has your experience with your period changed over time?
I was lucky enough to mostly never experience pain. I had hormonal problems when I was younger but I instantly took birth control, which was really strong so maybe that’s why I never had pain. For me, it just any other day. I didn’t get moody or bloated. It wasn’t a thing. I didn’t understand what people went through. In California, I decided to change my pills because I didn’t bring them from Argentina. It was horrible—I guess that’s what people feel. The pain was so bad I couldn’t think or get out of bed. Everything reversed in my body—I had laser on my legs and my hair was growing again, I had pimples everywhere. I was like, what on earth is going on!? I stopped those pills and went back to Argentina to get my old prescription; then I was back to being me. Apparently, the U.S. doesn’t prescribe a dosage as high as the ones I take. I met this random girl at Sephora one day, she was from some country in Central America and she said the same thing happened to her. The Pill we were both on was called Diane, at 35mg.
Have you tried or do you use different products to manage your period now?
I first came to the states at 18 to work as a ski instructor in Aspen. At ski school, I was with four friends from Argentina, and one of them was like, “I just got my period does anyone have anything?” We told her to ask our boss, and she comes back with a tampon with an applicator and we had no idea what was in the package. She was like, “Guys, this is giant! This isn’t going to fit in me!” We were all like, OMG that’s enormous! We’re all staring at it like wow, are vaginas that big here?
We opened it and saw a plastic thing and were like, what do we do with it!? We’re gonna die if we put that inside of us!
We couldn’t find OBs in Aspen, so then every time I went to the U.S. I got like a million boxes of OB and brought them with me cause I didn’t want to put plastic in my body. Why would you put plastic in your body? No, I’ll just use my finger I know my finger. I bought applicator tampons once at an airport and took it out and used it as an OB. I think it’s a waste of plastic.
Do you have any special rituals, like a hot bath, using essential oils, or eating certain foods during the week you’re menstruating, that help you manage your period?
Now, I keep going like a normal day because I never felt anything. I don’t get moody! Maybe I’m hungrier the week before my period. While I’m on my period I usually don’t want to eat at all. But last year when it was horrible, I didn’t know what to do and I was in an Airbnb and my host told me to eat chocolate, which helped. I don’t know if it was the iron or if I was just happy to be eating chocolate.
Do you have any advice for a girl who has just gotten her period?
I wish I had known what a period was. I hope people get more education on it. Don’t be embarrassed. Girls should be educated much younger, like when they’re 10. To moms: teach your kids. Tell them the truth when it’s appropriate. There’s an age, probably around 9, you should tell them what might happen so they aren’t scared when it happens and then think they’re bleeding to death. Because when you’re young and you think about when you bleed, it’s when you get hurt. That’s scary.
Thank you so much, Tefi!