Female Athletes and the Menstrual Taboo
Recently British tennis star Heather Watson spoke briefly about having her menstrual cycle and how if affects her athletic abilities. Female athletes train hard, and are expected to be “ON” 24/7. The greatness about what Heather said was that always being “ON” is really impossible.
Every month, women bleed for up to 7 days. During this time, many women feel more tired, more emotional or sensitive. We all know individually how we feel during our period, and if you aren’t a professional athlete- you may just say no to extra commitments or take more personal time for yourself.
Sports being largely male-dominated doesn’t help either. There is no rescheduling of tennis matches because a woman is menstruating- she’s expected to be at the top of her game at all times- just like the men.
Many female athletes may be on hormonal birth control to suppress their menstrual cycle. Hormonal birth control like the birth control pill can be taken continuously to suppress our natural cycles to help us fit into this world of constantly being ready for action. The safety of this is still up for debate.
And this doesn’t just go for athletes- it goes for all women. While hormonal birth control and “pushing-through” our pre-menstrual symptoms is considered the norm, and it supposed to be a part of women’s liberation. This actually just makes us better suited for the busy western lifestyle we are supposed to live.
Another fact that is mostly ignored from the athletic world that the constant stress of training plus an extremely low body fat percentage leads to irregular or absent cycles. This too can cause women to have frequent mood swings, as well as exhaustion and other health issues.
As a menstrual advocate myself, I hope that this spurs change in women- athletes or not. We need to take charge of our cycles and factor in how they make us feel from day to day. With this intimate knowledge of our bodies, we can adjust sport training, or various life commitments accordingly. Wouldn’t life just be excellent if you could do your life tasks in the days where you are most productive? Or to be able to take some more rest or introspective time while we’re menstruating?
This is my call to women- athletes or not: Menstruation is a natural body process, and each woman’s cycle is uniquely hers. Track yourself and become aware of what you can and can’t handle at certain times of the month to increase your success AND happiness.