Despite the fact that about half the population menstruates at some point in their lives, many still consider periods a topic unfit for "polite company" (whatever that means). But Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke this period taboo at the Olympics on Saturday: When a CCTV reporter noticed her bending over and asked if her stomach hurt, she responded, “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."
By admitting she was on her period, Fu sent the message that menstruation is not too shameful to talk about — even on live television. And by clarifying that this wasn't an excuse and that she still expected herself to deliver her best swimming performance, she also made it clear that menstruation doesn't render women incapable.
This story comes shortly after a sign at a pool in the country of Georgia went viral for allegedly prohibiting women from swimming while on their period. Sophie Tabatadze, who spotted the sign, told TODAY, "I think this poses a good opportunity to raise awareness and start a discussion on women's health, including that periods are not something unhygienic, shameful." (Said a staffer of the pool to BuzzFeed News, "We have had some incidents about this where, I’m sorry that I have to mention, I have found tampons on the surface of the pool. So it’s not about only using tampons, ladies can use tampons while swimming. ... It’s for the ladies themselves and for the others who are swimming.”)
Swimming on your period isn't actually unhygienic, and as Fu proves, menstruation doesn't have to stop anyone from kicking butt in the pool. More broadly, being female doesn't impede anyone's ability to excel at sports.
Unfortunately, Fu's candor is unusual. A survey by the period-tracking app Clue found that there are 5,000 euphemisms for periods around the world and 17 percent of people with periods have missed something important so nobody would find out they were menstruating.
From the reactions to Fu's interview, it looks like people are eager to break this stigma — and she's gotten us one step closer to doing that.