This month we talk to Hazel Mead (AKA Taboo Tackler and Illustrator) about why she wants to break down the taboos in life, including the menopause.
There was a lot I had growing up being ashamed of – periods, body fat, body hair, masturbation, to name a few. As a child I was carefree and bubbly, as a teen noticing all these changes, I became insecure. When bullies and boys would discuss and joke about such matters you quickly came to learn what was acceptable and what was not in the status quo of secondary school. “Periods – disgusting! Body fat – so unattractive! Body hair – gross! Female masturbation – bizarre, dirty.”
This shaming was of course not only present in the school corridors, it was also deeply ingrained in the media we consume. Periods were displayed as blue liquid on period products in adverts, even ads for shaving products were shown to be shaving an already hairless leg. Magazines mocked a celebrity’s age which instilled this idea that ageing is something to be feared. Even well-meaning relatives who would greet each other with compliments about weight loss reinforced this idea that fat was bad, thin was good.
The constant body shaming creates taboos and shame about some things that are absolutely natural and normal.
It was at Coventry university, where I was studying Fine Art and Illustration that I realised I loved social commentary and making provocative pieces with a message. When I was introduced to Bloody Good Period I was inspired by their drive and messages and started to make art about periods – breaking the taboo, speaking out against tampon tax, highlighting the issue of period poverty. It felt like there was such important work to be done and I also found myself talking about periods, sharing funny period stories that once I would have been mortified about.
That’s the thing I’ve learnt about topics that are seen as taboo in society – once you share and someone else relates, it is freeing. It’s no longer a part of yourself you have to hide whereas before it felt like a shameful secret.
Freeing people up from shame and allowing a space to see that they are not alone has been a great driver for my work. The piece that gained me popularity was ‘Things you don’t see in mainstream porn’ – which is less about porn but more about what real sex is and can look like. It was based on a talk by JetSetting Jasmine and King Noire who discussed porn literacy and how it is made for entertainment. In this piece I wanted to explore humanity and realness and how humans are messy and sex can be awkward and funny and emotional and it’s not always this perfect sexy scripted sex show and that’s fine.
My favourite pieces are the ones that tackle real life in this way. A commission about postpartum bodies for Elvie felt so important, yet was really intimidating to tackle as I have no personal experience. The same for the menopause illustrations. In these cases it’s all about talking to people who have experienced it to create more real art.
I think it’s so important to talk about openly and often to normalise and destigmatise. I’ve seen the destigmatisation happening with periods slowly in the UK and I’m just starting to see a shift in more people talking about menopause, more books and events (before COVID) about menopause too. For me that’s so encouraging because I have experienced the feeling of isolation in thinking ‘it’s just me experiencing heavy periods’, ‘it’s just me experiencing vaginismus’, ‘it’s just me experiencing bad mental health’, so when it comes to menopause I’d like to be able to speak about it openly with a supportive group – and of course, I intend to illustrate it all.