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by PMS Comfort
Female athletes at the Olympics are used to talking about their health and wellness ad nauseum. In interviews, they detail their workout routines and expound upon their diets. They discuss minor illnesses, sore muscles, and post-event fatigue. But one subject most athletes – and the interviewers questioning them – avoid is the topic of menstruation, which many women still feel is taboo.
There’s one Olympian, however, who sees no issue with discussing her body’s natural processes and the impact her period has on her athletic performance. In a candid interview immediately following her fourth-place finish in the 4x100-meter medley relay, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui talked openly about her menstrual cramps and period-related fatigue. When Fu’s interviewer noticed the swimmer grimacing and clutching her abdomen after the race, Fu explained that the pain she felt was due to menstruation.
"Actually, I started my period last night," Fu said. "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."
A casual viewer might miss the significance of Fu’s matter-of-fact disclosure. But menstruation is one taboo that most female athletes – and indeed, many other women – continue to avoid talking about.
Almost immediately, Fu’s comments received widespread attention on social media. Although some of the messages were sexist or uninformed, most praised her for talking so candidly about a topic that is still inexplicably considered distasteful by some.
When the topic of menstruation is taboo, it has profound and negative effects on women everywhere. By avoiding the topic, societies send the message that periods are shameful, leading women to dislike or even fear their bodies’ natural processes. It also means that women don’t receive important information about their bodies, including what is normal and what is not. Without this necessary information, women who suffer treatable but painful conditions such as PMS or PMDD do not receive the help they need.
Fortunately, Fu is one of many women who, consciously or not, are challenging the myth that women and men should not discuss the very natural occurrence of menstruation. Online campaigns to reduce stigma have gained traction, while activists have started powerful discussions about the importance of speaking openly about women’s periods. Even marketers for feminine hygiene products are jumping on board, creating ads and videos that mock the euphemistic language and images of the tampon ads of yore.
More and more, women are being encouraged to embrace their monthly cycles and better understand them, rather than ignoring their bodies’ signals. By openly discussing female health and bodily functions, girls and women will feel more empowered to embrace what is normal and make changes to address what is abnormal. Fu and many other prominent female athletes are challenging us to be more open when discussing our bodies – for the sake of all women.