When Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui told an interviewer that she had started her period the day before the competition and was suffering from cramps, people were about as shocked as they were after watching Simone Biles‘ flawless vault or Michael Phelps score his 23rd gold medal.
This is because menstruation is only just starting to seep out of tabooland (New Yorkers—remember those Thinx ads in the subway?), when it comes to public spaces and mass media, even though all women experience this monthly bodily function.
The interview took place after the 20-year-old swimmer completed the 4×100-meter medley relay and was this close to winning a medal—but was outperformed. In a post-race interview, she was crouching in pain. “Is your stomach really hurting now?” the interviewer asked Fu, who had won a bronze medal the other day in the 100-meter backstroke. “Yes, because I got my period yesterday,” she replied without missing a beat.
Though the Olympian didn’t blame her loss on her cycle. “It’s tiring, but it’s not an excuse for not swimming well,” she said.
Fu is not the first female athlete to compete on her period, of course (two words: menstrual marathoner?), but she’s the first to talk about it at a worldwide event like the Olympics. Previously, periods have been something girls and women in sports have not discussed openly, for the sake of not offending men or being viewed as weak, perhaps.
This is especially true for the Chinese, where the country is only now launching its first domestic tampon brand, according to USA Today, and where few women use tampons since it’s widely believed they can take a girl’s virginity, according to the New York Times.
As the first athlete to break the ridiculous silence that surrounds women’s monthly cycle, call Fu a pioneer of the “free the period” movement (not unlike “free the nipple“), in which we stop feeling ashamed of what’s a natural part of life. Someone get her a medal for that.
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