Nadya Okamoto: Take Moments for YOU
By: Hephzibah Adesina
Hestah was privileged enough to interview Harvard student and social entrepreneur Nadya Okamoto. At the age of 23, Nadya has accomplished a lot. She has made a name for herself as the founder and former executive director of the non-profit organization Period Inc., which distributes menstrual hygiene products and advocates for ending what is known as the tampon tax. Okamoto also co-founded August, a lifestyle brand working to reimagine periods. Her accomplishments landed her on the lists of Forbes 30 under 30, Bloomberg 50 “Ones to Watch,” and People Magazine’s Women Changing the World. Nadya talks to us about her passion, sexual assault awareness, running for office and a tad bit more in this interview.
H: What created your passion for menstrual hygiene?
N: I first learned about period poverty at age 16 in 2014. At the time, 40 states in the US had the “tampon tax” — a sales tax on period products, considering them luxury goods. I was inspired to learn more about menstrual inequity and period poverty after collecting an anthology of stories of menstruators using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, cardboard, and more, to take care of something so natural. It was a big privilege check for me because I had never experienced period poverty myself and, with the period stigma, was never exposed to even thinking about it, even when my family was experiencing financial instability. And that privilege check was a big motivator of mine to keep learning about the issue and explore ways I might be able to take action.
Via google searches, I learned about the barrier that menstruation has for girls in school around the globe, the effects for disadvantaged menstruators here in the US, and the systemic barriers to proper menstrual health management. I continued to become more passionate about addressing period poverty and taking down the tampon tax. I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to turn my passion into my profession, and I owe that much in part to mentors I’ve had as well as my support system of friends and family.
H: April is sexual assault awareness month. Do you have anything for those who are having a hard time coming forward about their assault and abuse? How do you heal from trauma, and what does your healing process look like?
N: This month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, is an incredible campaign to encourage safe spaces for survivors to share their stories and to create platforms to mobilize action to educate and prevent sexual assault. Here are a few reminders to hold through this month. First, know that you do not owe anyone your story. I hope that you are able to find community with other survivors to breathe through this month and thrive forward – but if engaging in these conversations doesn’t feel right for you right now, that is totally okay.
Secondly, Take moments for YOU, just for YOU. Whatever self-care looks like for you. I feel like we’re finding ourselves in a moment where “self-care” has become a commodified industry that tries to prescribe certain actions like face masks and bubble baths as the one-size-fits-all solution to take care of yourself. But no, self-care is for you to define for yourself! Over the last couple of years, I have had moments of feeling guilty for being “bad at self-care,” when in reality, for me, self-care just looks different than it does for others. For me, self-care entails sleeping enough, washing my face when I wake up and go to sleep, and finding time to exercise every day to reconnect to my body and the present moment.
Lastly, know that you are not alone. Struggling with mental health, in general, can make us feel so isolated and alone. And especially as a survivor, I know that in my personal experiences, I have felt gaslit to think that I was in the wrong to think that I was being harmed – making me feel even further alone. It is heartbreaking to realize how common sexual assault is, especially for young women today.
This work is beautiful and necessary, and we still have so much work to be done. So, as we continue to fight sexual assault, taking care of ourselves is necessary to ensure that our energy is sustainable. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we’ve also created The Survivor Fund to amplify and support five incredible grassroots organizations. An intersectional and cross-sector approach is necessary to end sexual violence, and support survivors, but the organizations that don’t get substantial media publicity or visibility are often the ones doing the groundwork to support the most marginalized communities. Join us in donating to support this incredible ecosystem of organizations fighting to end sexual violence from various angles of work.
H: You have achieved a lot at such a young age. What advice do you have for our readers?
N: My advice to young people who want to make a difference is just go for it — take the risk! Find your people, find a mentor, and ask questions! I have a lot of imposter syndrome, but I try to really embrace it to feed my curiosity and humility to always be excited to learn and ask questions. For those who are already taking action in their communities and beyond, I’m so proud of you. Your efforts and dedication will change the world for the better.
H: We read about your previous candidacy for Cambridge City Council. Congratulations! Do you have any plans of being in politics soon?
N: No, at the moment, I have no intention or interest in running for office again. However, I really do encourage other young women to get involved and run for office if they are interested! We need more representation, and I am excited to see how I might be able to support badass political candidates in the future and participate in any way that I can as an advocate and entrepreneur — just not as a candidate.
H: Who would you recommend Hestah to?
N: I really love how Hestah emphasizes the qualities of inclusion and transparency and how it’s led by strong, badass women of color!! I’d recommend this magazine to all identities worldwide, especially to members of the Gen Z community. No matter their background, I think everyone would benefit from Hestah’s content — it’s a safe place where everyone can come together to grow and learn
Nadya Okamoto is a 23-year-old Harvard student. In early 2020, Okamoto co-founded August, a lifestyle brand working to reimagine periods. As the Today Show describes, “August is a growing online community aiming to “reimagine and redefine the period experience to be powerful and dignified,” with members who engage in conversations about how to properly use menstrual cups or what it’s like to be a transgender man having a period, for example.”
Nadya Okamoto is also the Founder of PERIOD (period.org), an organization fighting to end period poverty and stigma that she founded at 16. Under her leadership as Executive Director for five years, PERIOD addressed over 1.5 million periods and registered over 800 campus chapters in all 50 states and 50 other countries. In 2017, Nadya ran for public office in Cambridge, MA, at age 19 — at the time, becoming the youngest Asian American to run. In 2018, Nadya published her debut book, Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement, with publisher Simon & Schuster, which made the Kirkus Reviews list for Best Young Adult Nonfiction of 2018. Nadya is also the former Chief Brand Officer and current Board Member of JUV Consulting, a Generation Z marketing agency based in NYC.
Speech at the 2019 MAKERS Conference on PERIOD