Did you know that your first period is your “period”? It’s pretty appealing, as opposed to “at least one panic attack and/or a seriously stressful event involving tampon-related magic.” (I had NO idea how to put the damn thing in.) If you’re in your 20s now, Menarche — pronounced MEN-ar-kee — is probably a distant memory for you. But science tells us that the age at which you get your period (or Visit Aunt Flo, Monthly Gift, Eve’s Curse, etc.) is an indicator of many things related to your life, nutrition, and even health.

Menarche has been important to many cultures for centuries. This is quite an important event – it marks the girl’s “womanhood” or puberty and childbearing years. Medical Daily reports that communities in several countries, including Sri Lanka and Ghana, hold elaborate menstruation ceremonies to mark the occasion. Ironically, according to Ritualwell, which tracks Jewish rituals across cultures, some Orthodox Jewish women are slapped in the face by their mothers during their first period. (Apparently, the slap is expected to be the worst pain you’ve ever felt as a woman.)

But your menstrual cycle may tell you more than you think. Your first month’s age depends on a huge number of factors, including up to 100 genes in your body. In Western countries, the average age at first month has dropped from 17 a century ago to 13 today. This may be due in part to good nutrition, which means we can put on more weight at a younger age, so our bodies can cope with childbearing earlier. But researchers continue to argue that this could be due to genetic changes, increased levels of hormones in our diet, or other environmental factors. Either way, it seems like your first period could be a big factor in your life. So what does this mean?

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