When I sat down with Aly Raisman to talk about her relationship with her period, I was surprised by how ecstatic the Olympic gymnast was. Her eyes instantly lit up as she described the excitement she felt when she started menstruating all those years ago. Unlike most young girls, who tend to keep such details private at that age, she couldn't wait to tell her girl friends. It wasn't until she stepped into a classroom of boys that she hesitated to discuss the milestone any further. Fast-forward to January 2018, and Aly Raisman wants you to talk about your period regardless of where you are or who is around.
The nature of the female body is nothing to hide and, certainly, nothing to be ashamed of. So why, then, has it taken so much time for our society to get to a point where women can fluidly, and comfortably, discuss their period openly? I know when I experienced my first menstrual cycle, I was excited, sure, but I generally avoided talking about the subject with others. In high school, girls would whisper about PMS, eyeing around to make sure no boys were around to overhear the conversation, as if it were some sort of female taboo. It’s become some sort of unspoken rule that girls — even full-grown women — shouldn’t talk openly about their periods. But Raisman is now making it her personal business to fight that stigma.
A woman's period is natural and healthy. It is nothing to be embarrassed about.
To start the conversation and inspire young girls and women to embrace their periods, Raisman has teamed up with Playtex Sport on their #PlayOn campaign, which has started launching smart-tampon vending machines in New York City's Chelsea Piers, the University of Texas, and UCONN to raise awareness of the absence of period products and female care on and off the court. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the brand, the results of which were sent in a press release to Elite Daily, 75 percent of young girls and women do not play sports or exercise when they're on their period. In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Raisman comments that this statistic “is ridiculous.”
A woman's period is a part of her. It's a natural cycle the female body moves through every month. Personally, I've never been "ashamed" of my period, so to speak, but every woman has experienced times when she may have gotten frustrated because her period started at an inopportune moment, or experienced raging PMS that may have prevented her from giving her optimal performance in a competition, in the classroom, or even in the workplace. The key, Raisman says, is to persevere no matter what.
"I think one of the most important things when you do have your period is to play on, to keep going because you shouldn’t let your period get in the way," Raisman tells Elite Daily. "Sometimes you have period cramps, sometimes you don’t feel good, but it’s important to just keep going because it’s such a bummer when your period gets in the way. It shouldn’t be like that."
In fact, Raisman argues that owning your period can actually make you a stronger person.
And if there's anyone who can vouch for the power of inner strength, it’s Aly Raisman, who has become an inspiring advocate for sexual abuse victims struggling to come forward with their stories. Raisman, who claims she was abused by her USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, initially opened up about her experience in an interview with 60 Minutes in November of 2017. Nassar, who was an athletic doctor for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics for two decades, has been accused of sexually abusing over 140 women. He has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual assault, and has been sentenced to 60 years in prison on child pornography charges.
Raisman has become an outspoken activist against sexual abuse since she first told her story, and she continues to raise awareness on how important it is for young girls and women to feel comfortable talking about things that are uncomfortable, from abuse, to menstruation, and everything in between.
The conversation about a young woman's period should be introduced long before she's hearing about it in a health class surrounded by peers. It's something, Raisman believes, that should be taught from a young age, so that women can not only better understand their bodies, but also be able to identify when something genuinely doesn't feel right.
"It’s so important to teach girls from a young age that if anything doesn’t feel right, they should speak up on it," Raisman tells Elite Daily. "You should always trust your gut, and whether it's your period or anything else going on, it’s important to talk about it. We all have insecurities, we all have things that bother us, so we might as well talk about it."
Sitting down with Raisman was both humbling and inspiring, and even caused me to reflect on my own relationship with my period, and the stigma that surrounds a woman's menstrual cycle. These smaller conversations are important to have, and can lead to big changes surrounding how we, as a culture, approach not only the female body, but women in general. As Raisman tells Elite Daily, "We've come such a long way, but we still have such a long way to go." Here's to the women like Raisman, who are at the forefront of these important changes, and doing the work that must be done.