Fu Yuanhui Busts a Huge Myth About Periods at the Olympics

August 15th 2016

Taylor Bell

Sports is often a venue for athletes to discuss their accomplishments, hard work and even social issues. However, menstruation isn't a common post-game interview topic.

But that's exactly what Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui talked about immediately after competing with her teammates in the women’s 4×100-meter medley relay on Sunday, Quartz reported.

According to Quartz, a reporter approached Yuanhui for an interview after she saw her bending over in what appeared to be pain.

When asked about her performance during the medley, in which her team finished fourth, she proclaimed "Because my period came yesterday, I’m feeling a bit weak, but this is not an excuse," Quartz reported.

It was a rather innocent comment, but with it Yuanhui rattled the internet and Chinese viewers by bracing a subject that is often forbidden to talk about in sports, let alone in a public forum. Her comments even led to a discussion about misconceptions about periods on the popular Chinese social media app Weibo.

“[Menstruation] is an unspeakable issue in the public for women, but Fu actually talked about it in a live interview with CCTV. That’s exactly her personality. Cool!," one blogger wrote, according to Quartz.

The Quartz article reports that the perceived stigma of periods in China goes beyond just misunderstandings about menstruating women contaminating pools with their blood. The story also notes that, because of the high value placed on virginity some parts of the country, women are discouraged from using tampons for fear that it will break their hymen. Fu's comments could be a small, but important step, in breaking down some myths and misperceptions about periods.

Yuanhui is not the first athlete to publicly mention menstruating during competition.

In 2015 Czech tennis player Petra Kvitova openly discussed how challenging it can be to perform while menstruating, according to the Daily Mail. And prior to Kvitova's comments, British tennis player Heather Watson created a buzz when she partly blamed her "poor performance at the Australian Open to 'girly things,'" the Daily Mail also reported.

Perhaps menstruation is a taboo in sports because the jury is still out about whether or not menstruation really hinders affects athletic performance.

"The impact periods have on different athletes is an area which needs to be addressed," Dr Richard Burden, senior physiologist at the English Institute of Sport told the BBC, "In elite sport, the research in that area is quite limited."

But despite the fact that most women will get a period, it still remains a taboo topic to discuss beyond sports. According to a international survey by the International Women’s Health Coalition that surveyed "nearly 90,000 women from 190 countries," a majority of women were embarrassed to talk about their periods and women used more than 5,000 euphemisms to describe menstruation, according to Teen Vogue.

[H/T Quartz]