Hello #SportBits readers! Last week we discussed the history of the sports bra. Today we’re talking periods – that’s right, menstruation. Women in sports rarely talk about their periods. It’s the #TamponTaboo … and it’s time to break the barrier!
I mean really… half of the population menstruates at some point in their lives, right? It’s a normal physiological phenomenon so why can’t we talk about it? The stigma that periods are unclean, embarrassing, and could be perceived as an excuse for a poor performance keep women in sports quiet about their cycles.
Enter: Fu Yuanhui.
Fu Yuanhui is a Chinese swimmer and backstroke specialist. In Rio she won the bronze medal in the 100-m backstroke and adorkably exclaimed, “Whoa, I was so fast! I’m very, very satisfied with my results.” But it was her comments after she and her relay team placed fourth in the 4x100m relay that caught everyone’s attention. When a CCTV reporter noticed Fu bent over and clutching her stomach after the race, she asked the swimmer if she was hurt.
“Actually, my period started last night, so I’m feeling pretty weak and really tired. But this isn’t an excuse. At the end of the day, I just didn’t swim very well.” ~ Fu Yuanhui
You would have thought she ran the marathon with her bra straps showing! Twitter went wild. Part of the shock came from the fact that in China discussions about periods are almost non-existent. Many of the women don’t even use tampons because they are taught that tampons can “rob you of your virginity.” Jeez Louise.
The reality is that most women athletes don’t speak about their periods, and because it’s not openly talked about, the stigma perpetuates. A recent study from BodyForm in the UK found that two in five young women regard menstruation as “dirty”, “shameful”, “embarrassing” and “disruptive to everyday life”. The study went on to say “70% of young women aged 12-18 years old feel uncomfortable playing sports while on their period, with many refusing to participate altogether”.
How does this translate to women athletes? Well if it’s not being talked about, it’s not being studied. There needs to be more research on how women athletes should best handle the effects of their periods and what impact these effects have on their performance. Right now there is no discussion and different athletes use different methods to control their cycles. It’s a messy topic that needs some attention. The stigma and the lack of discussion are keeping many young girls from playing sports all together …. when in reality, physical activity has been shown to HELP some of the effects of menstruation. #themoreyouknow
Good job Fu Yuanhui! Your comments in Rio help to bust open this long-held taboo in sports. Let’s hope more women start to speak out as well.