L.S.: It was something I was told when I was 15, 16 years old. My mum used to tell me not to put my legs and feet inside the water when I had my periods or, otherwise, my teeth would get super long. I remember I told this also to a friend of mine, who was a bit older than me and [smiles] she laughed at me.
V.S.: But was this considered ‘common knowledge’?
L.S.: I think so. I do not exactly know the origin, but my mother always told me this and…well, I guess my mother was told the same thing when she was my age.
Background: (why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does if mean to them? Etc.)
My informant was born in the Tosco-Emilian Apennines (Italy) in 1931. While she spent the majority of her childhood there, she moved to Bologna, Italy, when she was about 13, and she has been living there ever since. This belief remembers her of her mother, and she told me of having said it to her daughter and grand-daughter as well, despite her lack of belief in the truthfulness of it.
Context: (the context of the performance)
The informant recounted me this while having a tea in her living room.
I believe this folk-belief to be really interesting as it directly concerns two fundamental aspects of womanhood. Firstly, until not many years ago, it was common understanding that going for a swim or dive into a pool of water would be unhealthy for women during their menstruations. Many were the presumptions concerning this hypothesis and many were the plausible reasons given, for the majority related to the fact that it would cause some sort of deficiency or simply be bad for their health. The true reason why women were advised against bathing -at least publicly- during their periods, is, instead, attributable to the possible embarrassment this would provoke towards other people in the surrounding area, who would witness the natural leakage of blood the immersion would commonly provoke.
Secondly, this belief brings to light a second and more interesting aspect related to women’s menstruations, which is the one of transformation and fear of change. As a matter of fact, the appearance of this monstrous dental extension (Dentoni, which in Italian means high teeth) in the case of contact with water represents one of the many forms of fear both towards growth and also towards the social expectations that from it derive -just like Bloody Mary does.
The conventional pattern of transformation can also be interpreted as a rite of passage from the society of children to the society of adults.