The Story Of How One Girl’s Scary Diagnosis Created An Inspiring Feminist Not-For-Profits

At 16 Tasha was told she wouldn’t be able to have sex, a period or give birth, but that was the beginning of her story, not the end...

The Story Of How One Girl's Scary Diagnosis Created One Of Britain’s Most Inspiring Feminist Not-For-Profits

by Tasha Bishop |
Published on

The Pants Project began with a lie. At 13-years-old I was the last girl in my year to start their period. I was so utterly embarrassed that I wasn’t a member of the menstruation club, that I fabricated my monthly with a bottle of red food colouring down the toilet and a trusty spot of acting.

Although it’s quite amusing to look back on my mastermind deception now, by the time I was 16 and still without a real-life period, it was pretty traumatic telling my mum that the three years worth of pads and tampons she’d bought me had been used as little more than emergency blister plasters. However, being the Saint that she is she smiled lovingly and promised me it would be okay – a promise that despite everything, she has been devoted to ever since. Many months, doctor’s appointments and invasive treatments followed but I was finally given an answer. Until then I was blissfully unaware that I was a specimen of rare abnormality. It wasn’t until I had an ultrasound did the answers start falling into place.

The GP had said that my scan had nothing on it (at this stage it’s worth mentioning that when they said there was ‘nothing on it’ it was because there was literally nothing inside me). In just 20 minutes, I was diagnosed with life-changing Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome.

MRKH affects 1 in 5000 women and means that I was born without a womb. I’d never have a period, I’d never give birth and if I wanted to have sex, I’d have to undergo an invasive long-term treatment. Put that in your 16-years-old-and-already-super-anxious-about-everything pipe and smoke it.

I can remember the Doctor’s room going very silent as if I’d become momentarily deaf. The words I’d just heard sank into me and embedded themselves. I’d never really expected something to actually be wrong. As a farewell gift, the doctor added: ‘At this point, we assume you have a normal female chromosome pattern,’ glancing at my breasts, ‘but we will run some hormone tests to confirm this.’ Great, so I'm half human, half-empty space, and they're not even 100% sure I'm a girl.

In the years between 16 and 19, I struggled to deal with the implications MRKH had or would have on my life, both mentally and physically. I was a teenager but I grieved the loss of a child I had never had and missed the age of innocence and blissful ignorance. I felt broken, alone, undesirable and anything other than womanly. I distracted myself with GCSEs and A Levels, being as busy as I possibly could, and avoiding reality at all costs.

Then I turned 19 and was forced to face up to reality. Having waited for a year (very eagerly I might add), I felt ready to lose my virginity to my boyfriend (three years on and he’s still a real-life, actual, genuine angel), but this meant I had to go to hospital and undergo the treatment that enabled me to have sex: an all-singing, all-dancing internal vagina was created for me!

The treatment was painful and harrowing – shout out to anyone else who’s had to endure hours of medical dildos shoved inside them- but, here’s where the pants come in. On my last day in the hospital, a particularly rough day, my nurse’s advice was: ‘Get yourself a pair of pants that make you feel like you are the most spectacular woman alive – it is my secret weapon’. And that is how The Pants Project was born.

After the emotional turmoil I had been through and was going through, I wanted to do everything I could to help other women dealing with infertility issues, but also womankind as a whole. I wanted them to feel as empowered and capable as possible, no matter their genetic makeup, through the only medium I knew how: the power of pants.

At 19-years-old, I had very little job experience, let alone any knowledge of how to set up a business or charity. Luckily, I am the daughter of a powerhouse mother and the advice she gave me was invaluable.

Given that all you needed was an email address and a smartphone, I started The Pants Project on Instagram as a space where I could dismantle the patriarchal narrative that women are baby-makers, and not much else. It was a corner of the internet where women were celebrated for the way they were, and not told or shown how they should be.

On Instagram, I posted pictures of women in their underwear, that was different from the Plain-Jane-or-sex-kitten dichotomy. The pictures I spent hours trawling the internet for had to show diversity in size, race and shape. It was incredibly important to me that they were unedited, un-airbrushed, and as natural as possible. I accompanied the carefully curated gallery of natural Goddesses with long captions I hoped would inspire people, and sent out the message that underwear is for the wearer, to inspire and empower them, to show themselves self-love and to help them recognise that they already have everything they need to achieve the impossible. I talked about the ins and outs of infertility – something that was not happening on social media, especially from a 19-year-old.

I knew that it was now or never to launch The Pants Project for real and start selling underwear. I began with a leap of faith, posted my (at the time) incredibly private story online, and as I watched the hits go semi-viral, I emailed probably five hundred British lingerie designers. I was blown away by the number of people that were touched by my story, trusted my dedication and passion, and came back to me with a yes.

I taught myself how to design a website and write a press release, I nagged my photographer friends until one of them took pictures of her girlfriends in pants, forced my jewellery designing godmother to create some pants necklaces to sell, and finally, after what felt like infinite emails later, in 2016 I launched The Pants Project’s first online collection of underwear and knickers necklaces. Instead of going through the painstaking, time-consuming steps to register The Pants Project as a charity, I thought it would make more sense to be a non-profit organisation, for the time being, see how things go and donate the money we raise to an already existent charity who was already doing incredibly important work. Each designer from our very first collection gave a percentage or all of their profits to us, that were then donated to Fertility Network UK, Britain’s leading patient infertility charity.

It’s fair to say, at this point I have well and truly caught the activist bug. Since launching a year ago, The Pants Project has raised nearly £10,000 for Fertility Network UK, through two online collections featuring over 20 different international lingerie brands, a Valentine’s Pants Party that raised £5,000 in one night and incredibly generous donations from #PowerPants advocates.

Despite being a home-grown entity, the project has had an astonishing response, with a social media following of over 5k, we have been featured in Vogue, Cosmopolitan and a number of other editorials, various podcasts, and worked with a number of collectives and activist groups, such as GURLSTALK, The Pink Protest, #FreePeriods and Empower Her Voice. Why am I giving you our highlights reel, you ask? To show you that people really care.

The Story Of How One Girl's Scary Diagnosis Created One Of Britain’s Most Inspiring Feminist Not-For-Profits

Infertility is not something people don’t want to talk about anymore, it’s not something you need to be ashamed of or suffer in silence about. This is the time to tell the world that being a woman is so much more than “making babies”. We are beautifully complex and incredibly capable. I am excited to be launching our first own-brand Pants Project underwear line, as well as a number of collaborations with different collectives and designers in 2018.

I am so often asked why I started The Pants Project, and a year on from launching, my reaction is still exactly the same. Despite being part of a mass movement supported by thousands of women, and men, all over the world, I still let my social anxiety get the better of me. I smile awkwardly, blush with embarrassment and wipe my sweaty palms down my jeans. I have created a community and project that I am incredibly proud of, built on women freely expressing themselves, but I am still soaked in shame when it comes to telling my story of how I went from an M&S grey-white granny pants owner to an underwear enthusiast.

I spend my days on the internet creating content to fight the patriarchy and empower women at all costs, so it is hard for me to admit that I still struggle with humiliation and a lack of confidence…but I do. I am so aware and still hurt by the fact that I am not what society sees as a ‘normal’ woman, that my condition means I don’t ‘fit in’ with society’s standards of how a woman should biologically be, and yet I preach day-in-day-out that we are all individually and beautifully unique and should strive to be unapologetically ourselves.

If The Pants Project does anything, I hope it reminds people of the beauty and truth in imperfection, because that is what pants did for me. This is the reason why I started The Pants Project – to heal others, empower others, but also to heal myself. On the days when it is hard to celebrate my idiosyncrasies, I find myself writing for The Pants Project in a meditative way, and by the time I reach the end of my post or piece, I remember The Pants Project exists to remind me (and hopefully all of you) that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ and that being or becoming a woman doesn’t happen overnight. No matter who you are, if in your mind you are born a girl, you will grow to be a woman through experience; it is not a biological process, it is not losing your virginity, it is not giving birth or raising children, nor is it a thing that can be calculated or defined: it is a staggeringly gorgeous uphill battle from chaos toward a balanced state of contentment, self-belief, self-love and empowerment. May the power of pants be with you.

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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