How do kickass women handle periods?
It can feel like simply getting through your period without having a mega meltdown is a challenge without adding in extra complications like, um, being an astronaut or an olympic athlete. So how do these superwomen get through it?
The Olympic swimmers
A lot of girls feel extra tired during their cycle, so if it happens to coincide with an event you’ve been training for your whole life, how do you cope? American swimming medallist, Katie Meili, says: “It’s not an option not to compete. Like anything in life, when you get your period you just have to deal with it and move on.” Chinese swimmer, Fu Yuanhui, got real about how her period affected her performance in the 4x100 metre relay at the 2016 Rio Olympics: “My period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired,” she says. “But this isn’t an excuse. I didn’t swim well enough.” Speaking up about this shows that Olympians are ordinary people with ordinary problems - and even they have off-days sometimes.
The space travellers
The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, remembers the preparations for her 1983 flight: “The engineers [tried] to decide how many tampons should fly on a one-week flight; they asked, ‘Is 100 the right number?’ She replied, ‘No. That would not be the right number.’ … They had never thought about what just kind of personal equipment a female astronaut would take. They knew that a man might want a shaving kit, but they didn’t know what a woman would carry. Most of these were male engineers, so this was totally new and different to them.” This kickass lady didn’t let her male team’s lack of understanding put her off.
Dozens of women have travelled into space since then, and many use medical options (like the birth control pill, implant and coil) to stop their periods for the whole of their trip. This is so they can avoid problems including carrying sanitary supplies (as storage and waste disposal space is limited on shuttles) and keeping clean (as only a small amount of water is available). There used to be a fear that blood wouldn’t leave the body as usual in zero gravity, but it wasn’t true. NASA astronaut, Rhea Seddon, says, “I'm not totally sure who had the first period in space, but they came back and said, "Period in space, just like period on the ground. Don't worry about it.” And that’s the kind of calm attitude that helps us achieve huge goals like working on board a space shuttle!
The marathon runner
When Kiran Gandhi got her period the night before she was due to take part in the London marathon, she knew she didn’t want to run 26.2 miles with a wad of cotton between her legs. Bravely, she decided to free bleed instead. “I thought, if there’s one person society won’t fuck with, it’s a marathon runner,” she wrote on her blog. “I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day. The marathon was radical and absurd and bloody in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the day of the race.” So she smashed out a huge personal achievement and a political statement in one hit: what a woman!
Being in the public eye when you’ve got your period might not sound like a whole heap of fun, but actress and activist Shailene Woodley uses it as an opportunity to shout about how she deals with things: “I have to find a way to integrate my cramp bark [a herbal menstrual-cramp remedy found in health food stores] and washable Moontime pads into the mainstream world,” she tells Bust magazine. “People are like, ‘Oh my God, don’t tell me that,’” but she knows that putting alternative options in the spotlight might inspire others to give them a go.
Actress Jennifer Lawrence revealed how she coped with bloating that coincided with the Golden Globes: she wore her “plan-B dress. Plan A was a dress that I couldn't wear because awards season is synced with my menstrual cycle, and it has been for years." The dress she wore was "loose at the front. And I didn't have to worry about sucking anything in. The other dress was really tight, and I'm not going to suck in my uterus. I don't have to do that.” J-Law knows that sometimes, comfort dressing is the only way to go (and she definitely still looked a total babe).
The mountain climber
Krushnaa Patil is a professional mountaineer who has climbed many of the world’s highest mountains (including Everest) and trekked 1500 miles along the river Ganges, so she knows what it’s like to start bleeding when you’re focussing on something bigger. “Managing … periods becomes part of the adventure,” she says. Krushnaa explains that being in high altitudes make her get her period every two weeks and that it often coincides with a final push to a mountain summit. She feels the cold more easily during her period and can be more susceptible to catching a cold, too. But her periods don’t get her down: “I think it’s empowering to bleed, it means a fertile, nurturing, healthy body. One that can endure any environment and keep going,” she says. “If I had not known that the world looks down on a menstruating woman, I would have never felt it!”