Freya Slack started the Instagram platform DON’T CRAMP MY STYLE based out of Manchester in the UK! She’s tackling the periods and placing books in public bathrooms offering a free and accessible period education for those who have periods. An interactive arts student at Manchester Metropolitan University, she’s organized different events to raise awareness about periods.
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Alice: Yes. Hi, everyone. I’m Alice, the Social Media Manager of Jubilance. And today, I’m talking with Freya Slack. Freya started the Instagram platform, Don’t Cramp My Style based out of Manchester in the UK. She is tackling the taboo on periods and placing books in public bathrooms offering a free and accessible period education for those who have periods. An interactive art student at Manchester Metropolitan University, she’s organized different events to raise awareness about periods. And we’re so excited to have you on today. So, thank you for being here.
Freya: Thank you so much. Thank you.
Alice: You’re welcome. So, we kind of just start off with some more fun questions.
Alice: So, what is your must-have essential items in your purse?
Freya: Well, I kind of have to say tampon, don’t I? Yes, because I have the implant, so my periods are completely irregular, I never know when I’m going to start, it’s the worst thing in the world when you don’t have anything. Yes, I’ve always– I’m just filled with tampons in my bag, to be honest, yes.
Alice: That’s perfect. Yes. What’s the best book you’ve read on the plane or a train?
Freya: Best book I’ve read? I’m reading a book at the moment called My Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, they made it into a movie. It is a true story about a father whose son became addicted to, I want to say, crystal meth?
Alice: Oh, God.
Freya: And it was about the way that families deal with drug addiction and stuff like that. I don’t know why, it’s a really, really sad book, but it’s really good, so I’m reading that one right now.
Alice: Oh, that’s great. What are you currently watching?
Freya: BoJack Horseman.
Alice: Oh, it’s so good.
Freya: BoJack Horseman is the greatest show on the planet. Me and my housemate, I live in a flat in Manchester with my friend Molly, and we are absolutely obsessed with the show. We’re watching for, maybe, the fourth time?
Alice: Oh, my God, that’s amazing.
Alice: That’s so fun. So, can you talk about Manchester? What’s the best thing to do there?
Freya: So, for those of you who don’t know the UK, so Manchester it’s in England. It’s a city in the North, I grew up in the South, so I grew up in Devon so in the countryside so where we’re– this was a farming and stuff. But a lot of my family are based in Manchester, so it was the best decision to go art school here, there’s loads of colleges and universities so it’s filled with students and it’s got a great night life and there’s weird cookie bars as well like NQ64 which is a gaming arcade bar. There’s a big history of arts as well, we’ve got The Whitworth and the Manchester Art Gallery and the Chinese Contemporary Art Gallery as well. There’s a lot to do in Manchester there really is, yes.
Alice: Oh, that’s amazing. What’s your favorite part about it?
Freya: My favorite part in Manchester? Probably, the northern culture. So, the northern culture, it’s like– how can I explain it? There’s all sorts of pubs and bar, obviously in England everybody loves pubs. So, there’s load of bars, there’s loads of pubs and there’s all these awesome shops, and there’s a place called Affleck’s Palace which is filled with all this crazy stuff like retro, everything, retro clothing and old typewriters and cameras and gaming stuff. So, that’s my favorite place in Manchester.
Alice: Yes. That sounds awesome. I have to go visit.
Freya: Yes, no, definitely.
Alice: Yes. So, can you talk about your winter traditions? Are there any specific traditions to the UK for the holidays?
Freya: The best tradition and it’s something that when I was out in the States and I remember, because when I worked to come to America, I remember a lot of the kids asked me, they’re like, “What’s this thing called Guy Fawkes Night?” So, we have Bonfire Night on the 5th of November. And I love bonfire nights because I love fires, I love fireworks and everything. So, the whole tradition, I’m not very good at the history, so if anybody wants to make a comment and fix it, please go ahead. But a long, long time ago, a man called Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament, we’re going back hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years ago, I don’t know what it is about the fifth of November but people make a Guy Fawkes and they stick on a bonfire and then we set up fire to it and then there’s lot of fireworks and everything. And Manchester in the UK, where I live, I live in a student place called Fallow Fields. We have this huge park and we watch all the the fireworks, we watch Guy Fawkes burn, it’s one of the weirdest British traditions, but we still do it.
Alice: Wow. That’s so fascinating.
Freya: It’s crazy.
Alice: Yes. We have nothing like that, I think.
Freya: No, no. It’s completely different I remember having to explain it when I was out in the States and I was like, “I don’t even understand what it is, to be honest.” But we still do it.
Freya: Just burning everything.
Alice: Moving on to Don’t Cramp My Style. Can you talk about what got you interested in starting this platform and what it is?
Freya: Yes. It’s quite a long kind of story but I’ll shorten it. I do this course called interactive arts at university and interactive arts is, it’s a very strange course, there’s not many of us on it, it’s very small, it’s very niche. So, to describe it is to destroy it?
Freya: So, that’s the whole thing, so we kind of do– everybody does all these, everybody does a different art there’s a girl he does taxidermy and then there’s me who does like public–
Alice: Oh, my God.
Freya: Yes. There’s me who does public health stuff and there’s somebody else who is being dragged performance and there’s all this– it’s a very broad amount of people in one small space, that’s kind of how I would describe my degree. So, I was in my second year of university and I was still trying to figure out my art style and it was becoming really frustrating because I just couldn’t figure it out, I couldn’t grasp anything. And then I just was thinking about women’s magazines and how women’s magazine are, I’m talking Cosmopolitan and Elle and I can’t say anything, I actually love Cosmo, but we got this really terrible TV Guide magazines here in the UK. I’m sure you, guys, have, probably, got the same as well, and it’s all about gossip nature and trying to–
Freya: It’s just like kind of tearing apart women but selling it to women at the same time. And I just didn’t like that and I thought there was something just not very nice about it. So, this idea of making a magazine which is educational and I got started thinking about periods, so going back a couple of years before that, I was on the train from Birmingham to Manchester. And there was a magazine on the chair which I booked and I got bored and I was reading through it and there was this whole thing about period poverty and I started reading into it, I was just like, “I can’t–” because we have a lot of– homelessness in Manchester Is a very big problem, it’s a very big problem. And it’s one of those things you start to think about, I don’t think about my period, when it comes once a month, I’m, “Okay we’ll deal with this.” And then I’m off my period and we’ll just crack on with life. But to think that some people can’t afford sanitary products who are below the poverty belt in the UK it’s heartbreaking.
So, I have this idea of like, “Okay, how can I make something which is educational?” So, this idea that the British Government– I was never told about periods at school, I spoke to a lot of other people, they weren’t really taught about it. So, if the UK government and UK schools aren’t teaching period health in schools, then how can we educate people about their periods? So, this idea of publicly making education accessible to the public. And the whole thing, it goes in a public bathroom because, I’m sure, when you are on the toilet and you’re on your period, you ran your period and you are there dealing with it and you’re changing a tampon, changing your pad pouring a moon cup how you might make a bit of a mess. It’s you and your period., it’s a private kind of exchange between you and your uterus as it were.
The book to go in public bathrooms, it just made sense, to kind of, “You’re there with your period, and here’s a book on menstrual health education.” It goes in women’s bathrooms, men’s bathrooms, unisex bathrooms. Because not all women have periods and not every person that has a period is a woman, that’s a very important thing to remember. So, that’s just kind of how it came about, it was a university project so I ended up doing really well with it and I started to get recognition from my university and from different organizations in Manchester. And yes, and then I ended up getting funding for it.
Alice: That’s amazing.
Freya: It kind of took off. And now has taken over my life
Alice: Wow. That’s wonderful. So, is it a magazine? Is it a publication that’s continually coming out? Or is it a book that–
Freya: What it is, is– it is just a little book. It’s about this big the whole idea it goes in your handbag, do you know what I mean? It goes in your handbag, you put in your back pocket it’s tiny, it’s not that big. But it’s riso-printed, so there’s a process called riso-printing, as far as I know and I don’t remember the history of it, it was invented in Japan. And it’s a cheap and environmentally-friendly way to mass print something, so one screen can print 100 to 200 pieces of paper.
Freya: Yes, so that’s how it works. So, with riso I printed these books, so one screen will print out 400 copies of the book and then I put it altogether in my Uni, so it’s just a little paper booklet. It’s got a card cover, it’s quite basic, it’s got a red card cover, it’s white paper on the inside, there’s illustrations, there’s designs. Silly enough, I don’t actually have I don’t got my book on me to show you because they were all taken also, my mother has taken quite a few as well so she stolen them. But it’s not very big, it’s quite basic, I’m going to be redoing the illustrations making them a little bit better.
Freya: Yes. So, it’s not really magazine quality, but yes, that’s the whole idea. If it’s free but it’s jam-packed with so much information in it.
Alice: That’s amazing. And can you talk about what period poverty is for our listeners?
Freya: Yes. So, period poverty is when people can’t afford sanitary products. And that’s young people; that’s young girls, that’s young trans people, non-binary people, gender number four people. It can affect everybody, and it doesn’t matter about your gender if you have a period and you can’t afford sanitary products, you’re in period poverty. And it’s quite sad to hear that a lot of people will turn to– so, instead of being able to buy tampons and pads, menstrual cups, all of that kind of stuff, they will, instead, use toilet paper. Or they’ll use cardboard or cloth even socks as well. A big thing in the UK is what I’ve experienced, I’ve got a couple of books by some American authors who talked about periods. Basically, one in 10 girls who go to school will not go in that week that they are menstruating, because they cannot afford sanitary products.
Alice: One in 10.
Freya: Yes, so one in 10. And that is a lot, that’s a lot of people, and you think that these young women, these young people, they deserve the best start in life. They deserve to go to school to feel confident, to feel great, to feel clean, and to be
it’s finding it’s, yes and it’s incredibly sad thing. So, the reason we talk about period poverty in the UK and also in the USA as well is, so period poverty exists and there are a lot of period charities in the UK. I could name so many who donate pads and tampons to food banks, to schools, Red Books Project was one of the biggest ones in the UK they’re brilliant and I raised money for them as well, they’re lovely. So, this period poverty and these low charities that supply period products to, like I said, food banks and blah-blah-blah, but then at the core of that is the lack of education. And the lack of education of something is what causes the taboo and then a taboo is what is creating this poverty. So, if we can get to the core, if we can educate people about their periods, it’s there in their toilet, it’s there in the guy’s toilet, it’s there in the unisex toilet, a woman’s toilet. If you can normalize this chitchat about periods and you can bring it into your home and you can bring it into schools, bring it into podcasts, all these kinds of stuff, that is how we could get to the core of period poverty and make it something that it doesn’t exist anymore.
Alice: That’s amazing, Freya.
Freya: Yes. Thank you.
Alice: Can you talk more about what you’re doing to normalize this taboo? I read a paper that said you were working on embroidery or working on different artistic events that were–
Alice: — trying to start this conversation. Can you talk more about that?
Freya: Yes. So, okay, so going back to when I was in my second year of uni, we do something called the “unit X” which is that one of our units at uni, and the unit X is all about collaboration and doing something. And I was like, “I’m going to put on an event, I’m going to do it.” And I found a free venue in Manchester, I had the stage, I had lighting.
Alice: That’s amazing.
Freya: And we did this event called Don’t Cramp My Style. I love social media. I’m part of a generation that uses social media all the time. I mean, we even met on social media as well, so–
Freya: Exactly. So, social media is great and it’s fantastic to be able to talk about periods on social media with somebody’s there holding up their pad and taking a selfie, “I did this.” I think that’s great and I think it’s empowering and I think it’s brilliant. But it is not a face-to-face conversation, so Don’t Cramp My Style kind of works in a two-pronged approach. So, there’s the books which they go in the bathrooms, they’re free, you take them away, you read about it. You learn about periods and then there’s also the kind of art side. I don’t want to be biased as an art student but I think art speaks volumes, more than words can and I think on a topic that is so personal, something that can be difficult to talk about, I think art is a great way. If you sit in silence in front of the piece of artwork and you can relate to it. So, I run this an event called Don’t Cramp My Style under the same name. And I put it out on Facebook and social media, I was like, “Anybody who wants to make some art about periods feel free.” We had somebody paint with their menstrual blood, we had a wife and her husband get up and do poetry about period sex. It was fantastic, and we raised 300 pounds for Red Box Project, it went really well, it went really well, and I did another event in October as well called You Are Right Down There which is about starting periods.
Alice: [laughter] That’s amazing.
Freya: But we’re going to keep going on with these art events because even if maybe you’re not arty, you’re not an arty person and you don’t really understand art. When you go into a room as a menstruator, there is going to be something in that room that you can relate to somebody can go in and they’ll have endometriosis and maybe they haven’t met somebody who’s got endometriosis or knows many people and there’ll be some art about it, and they’ll be like, “I get that and I can relate to that.” And I think that’s the best thing about periods. Periods are so different for everybody, they’re different for you, they’re different for me, different for my housemate, for everybody. So, to be able to relate to something, I think it brings a lot, maybe, calmness. Kind of paints a better picture about you and your health, so yes, that’s kind of what we do.
Alice: That’s amazing, Freya. Actually, I’m a theater director in my off time from this job.
Alice: Yes. I studied performance studies which you also cannot define–
Freya: Yes, yes. You kind of–
Alice: But, yes, my work is about creating stories for female artists and I’m creating more space for women playwrights and shows. But I’m so inspired by this work that you’re doing with periods and I wonder how I can implement that into my work.
Freya: Have you ever heard of the Vagina Monologues?
Alice: I have. Yes. I’ve seen them a bunch.
Freya: Oh, that’s amazing. I have this idea on my head to do something called The Period Monologues.
Alice: Oh, my God. That would be amazing.
Freya: I know. I’m not a performer myself but, my God, I could talk about periods. I, probably, will be for the rest of my life, to be honest.
Alice: Yes. What’s so cool about the Vagina Monologues is it’s done every February all over different universities of the world.
Freya: I love it. I love it. Yes.
Alice: And it’s just–
Freya: All over the world.
Alice: –women’s stories.
Freya: And I think it’s probably less.
Alice: –period projects, Period Monologues.
Freya: Period Monologues.
Alice: That’s awesome. So, I was also wondering, do you have ideas for women who can– you can start with the activism and start with talking about this taboo? What should we be doing as women and as people now?
Freya: Yes. I think it’s a really difficult thing to do, I never thought to myself, I identified as a feminist when I was in my late teens and then I once decided, “You know what? I’m absolutely out.” Trying to figure out what that was. And now that I found my grounding and like, “Okay, I want to launch a web periods.” I think if you deep down you’ve got something, there’s something inside of you that you want to tackle, you can do it, you can do it. I’m a girl who’s from Manchester, I wear a lot of turtle necks go to the university, I work in the pub. You can do, you can change so much and start in stepping stones don’t dive into the big thing, never compare yourself to these other organizations. I had somebody messaging me from the Philippines, actually, a couple of months ago asking how can I start a period poverty charity? And I was like, “Whoa, big question.” So, I was just like, “For instance with periods if you are from an area– maybe, there’s a food bank near you or a school.” Think of the USA, if you go to a school, maybe you can talk to them about like, “Do you have young people who experience period poverty?” If they don’t know, you can do a collection, you can talk to your local supermarket. I know that in Tesco and in Saints Breeze they do local charity collections. I’m sure Walmart does the same as well, I remember seeing it when I was out there, they do these big charity events. You can find a place where you can make a collection, start gathering stuff, make a social media, be active on social media, that’s kind of all the things I can really say. I was a university student and then my project just took off, so I was like, “Oh, well, oh, well, here we go.”
Alice: That’s amazing. What do you see for the future of your projects? Or what’s next?
Freya: What with Don’t Cramp My Style?
Freya: Well, now, we’re in the USA no, I’m just kidding.
Freya: Wow! So, I finally figured out my art style, I finally figured out what I want to do in the future, funny, I was like, “This is me.” I come from a family of nurse, so my mom and my granny are both nurses. And, obviously, I go to art school but if I could’ve done nursing, I think I’d absolutely would’ve loved it. But I figured out my art style and I think, for me, it is about making public health accessible so, obviously, we have free healthcare in the UK.
Alice: Wow. Dream.
Freya: I mean we can dream we’re just being, we now got a tory government, it’s slowly starting to sell it off so, yes, that’s kind of really upsetting. Might have a free NHS depending on when you’re listening to this, our national health service, it’s kind of bridging a gap between the way that the NHS in the UK can support and educate people on their health whether that’s mental health or physical health. So, I’m in my final year of university.
Freya: And I’m doing a project on virginity, “Is it a social construct?” do you know the rapper T.I. and he made an announcement during a podcast– so there’s a rapper called T.I. and he’s an actor as well, I think. He made an announcement during a podcast that he takes his daughter to have her hymen checked once a year to check if she’s still a virgin.
Freya: And it’s quite shocking. And virginity testing is still present in the USA, it’s present in the UK as well, I read into it, it’s not illegal but they hymen itself, it doesn’t prove anything, it doesn’t–
Freya: Going back to periods, I mean, if a woman is on her period or her cousin on her period, and they use a tampon, that can break her hymen do you know? So, I’m doing this project on if we educate people on virginity and we talk about it if it’s a social construct. But you got to be really careful, because virginity is such a personal topic so if we can educate people on virginity can we end virginity testing? So, I’m going to think of new ways to educate people, and I’m thinking of, “How can this be brought into a classroom, where can this go in the public?” So, I’m going keep going with Don’t Cramp My Style and I’m very interested in sexual health and reproductive health and the way that we can educate people on this because it’s shocking actually, how little people know. It’s, actually, shocking how little I know about periods from when I started the project, it’s crazy. So, that’s kind of where I’m going right now, it’s just going to keep going with the books but going to do a new project on virginity now. So yes.
Alice: Wow, Freya. That’s, absolutely, amazing.
Freya: Oh, thank you.
Alice: You have to keep us updated on what’s–
Freya: Yes, yes, yes.
Alice: Yes. I just have a couple other questions for you.
Alice: Okay. Perfect, yes, so just the question that we ask everyone on this podcast is, what does it mean to be a woman today? And, of course, there’s so many caveats to that and the definition is forever changing, the definition of “who” and “what” a woman is, is changing. But for you what does it mean to be a woman at this moment in our history?
Freya: Yes, I think for me, I would probably say that, I’ve been thinking about this actually quite a lot because a lot of my friends a lot of young people I’m surrounded by also identify as feminist and I would say that– hold on a second let me just close my door, as somebody who, when I started to get into feminism, so I started learning about it and I was very interested and I was reading books and I was like trying to figure out what it meant to be a feminist, is that what it did teach me was the way that I look at other women and the way that I look at myself and I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot, I’m like, “I’m really grateful for feminism.” And I’m trying to put it into words really, I don’t really know what it means to be a woman but what it means to be a feminist it’s broadened me as a person, it’s made me not judge people like I did before, it’s made me see beauty in different ways, it’s made me feel great about having a period, I didn’t have that at the start, and now when I’ve done this project, I do. I don’t know if that answers your question or maybe some list will may relate to that but–
Alice: I think that’s great, thank you.
Freya: Yes. So, what it feels to be a feminist, we’re all changing, I’m 22 years old, I’ve got a whole life ahead of me and it’s something that’s, it’s intangible and it’s constantly changing so, yes, I’m not really sure to be honest, I hope that’s a good enough answer.
Alice: I think that’s great. And then I just have one other question. So, if a woman were to come up to you on the street and you had a sentence or something to give them, a piece of advice, what would it be?
Freya: I’ve always loved that quote, I don’t even know who it’s by but it’s like, “One woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own.” And I think that’s something that’s so lovely, because I went through school and people made comments and in the old– I’ve got to figure out me and what I looked like and all this kind of stuff and sometimes you look at other people and you’re, “I wish I looked like that!” But actually, another woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own. And everybody has beauty in their own different ways, and I think that’s a really lovely quote, I saw it on Instagram.
Alice: That’s wonderful, yes, I think that’s really great, I’ll take that away today.
Alice: Yes. Is there anything else you want to add?
Freya: Follow me on Instagram follow Don’t Cramp My Style, that’s it really, I think it’s probably less to be able to be part of this, so thank you so much.
Alice: Yes. Thank you so much for being on today.
Freya: All of that, just, I’ve absolutely loved it, it’s been fantastic. Yes just, if you want to follow Don’t Cramp My Style, if you want to see what the books look like give us a follow. Yes, we’re still growing, we got more funding coming, so we’re going all over, so hopefully it’ll keep growing.
Freya: So, if you want to follow our journey, give us a follow.
Alice: Thank you so much Freya.
Freya: Thank you, thank you so much.