IT IS NOT ABOUT HOW PRETTY YOU ARE, HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE OR WHO DO YOU KNOW. IT IS ABOUT PUTTING IN THE WORK AND SHUTTING THE WORLD'S MOUTH WITH POWER AND GRACE. -Paluna-
This week I had the honour of having my dear friend Patricia Allison contribute to the series. She is an all around badass dancer/choreographer in Toronto, Ontario
Enjoy!!! And don't forget to come back next week :)
ALL HAIL THE GODDESS KIRAN Gandhi!
In the middle of a long workday, I open Facebook and see the shiny beautiful face of Kiran Gandhi, musician and kick ass lady. She’s mid-marathon, beaming, and….. what’s that? Does she have…oh my god…. SHE HAS A GIANT SPOT OF RED BLOOD SEEPING FROM HER CROTCH! I exclaim with joy, fist punching into the air and shout, “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEA! MENSTRUATION AND SPORT!” I sing, “Let’s talk about blood, Baby! Let’s talk about you and mensies!”. I immediately forward the post to multiple of my girlfriends with the subject line “Look!”
You need to know that talking about menstruation NEVER HAPPENS IN SPORTS! (Or very very very very very very very very rarely it does. And if you have to talk about it, then please do so quickly and finish the conversation as soon as possible.)
There are many inspiring and revolutionary thoughts and feelings to unpack surrounding the stand that Ghandi took in running the London marathon without a tampon. She’s quoted to say:
'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.”
While I could rant about access to tampons, pads and hygienic feminine materials all day, for the sake of this blog, I’m going to stick to discussing the initial excitement that I felt surrounding the conversation of menstruation in sport and female athletes.
Why This Single Act From This Single Woman Means So Much To Me
(The following is an account of MY personal experience and primarily through the lens of the dance world. Please share in the comments below YOUR experience, whither it is similar or different to my own. I would love to hear!)
My menstrual cycle has always been tied to my relationship with sports. I grew up dancing, playing hockey, baseball and every sport my elementary school had to offer. In the spring of 1997, on a hot May afternoon, I started my period at school while playing soccer. Mid- practise, I started feeling like I had to poop and ran to the bathroom to quickly take care of business. I was HORRIFIED and TOTALLY EMBARRASSED when I realized what was really happening. I frantically stuffed tissue paper in my underwear and went back to practise. I silently suffered through the rest of the passing drills and sprints thinking to myself, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me”.
Every month from that point on, I suffered silently through the pain of bleeding and training. I wasn’t mature enough at that young age to reach out to coaches, and in turn, none of them ever brought up menstruation as a factor or element of training.
I transitioned from child to teen and my training switched from multiple sports to just dance. While my maturity level had risen a little, I was 13 years old and still unable to openly talk or discuss my menstrual cycle. Dance teachers seemed ill equipped to deal with any of us that were actually bleeding. One teacher even told me that “your body knows when you’re on stage and won’t bleed at that time.” Ha. Wrong. Bleeding on stage is real and it happens. All- the- time. Through brief whispered interactions with other dancers, I was made aware that some of them had a condition called “Amenorrhoea”. This meant that some of them had gotten their period, but due to the high level of training it had stopped or was super infrequent. “Huh. That would be nice”, I would think to myself.
Transitioning into my late teens I overheard that some of the other girls were using the pill to control when they would menstruate. Putting it off for 4 months at a time to avoid bleeding during a show or through out dance exam season. “Hmmmmm. Should I be doing this too”, I would consider to myself, and once even tried to raise the subject with my suburban male family doctor. He reacted by averting his eyes and handing me a prescription with no conversation or explanation. At the end of the day, I knew enough that I didn’t actually believe in pumping hormones into my body, so my struggle to keep smiling in class while bleeding continued.
Throughout my post-secondary dance training I was often criticized for being “inconsistent” in my training. We were dancing 6 to 8 hours a day, which was magnificent and exciting 3 out of 4 weeks of the month, but then devastating for the 4th. My early 20s were a sea of cramps and nausea inflicted by menstruation. At that point, fully mature and ready to tackle the subject of the female body, I was shocked to find what little resources and conversation there was to be found. “Why is this still a problem? I am now ready to deal with it, but why isn’t the world ready to support that?”, I would mutter to myself as I combed text books and searched for resources.
Now, I have transitioned into the Crossfit and OLY lifting world as my means of training. Though you can find the odd article about menstruation and sport, it still isn’t commonly discussed. I watch a field of woman lining up for a clean and jerk ladder at the Crossfit games and think to myself “How many of you are menstruating? Do you not get your periods? Are you using hormones to control it” I scan through interviews and blogs about training routines and fitness tricks and am shocked when menstruation is brushed over, but more often not even reference.
MENSTRUATING IS A HUGE FACTOR IN TRAINING, NO MATTER HOW YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT (or not deal with it). WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT IT MORE?! It’s time we all started talking about it!
All of this is not to say that the odd yoga teacher hasn’t advised against doing inversions during “your time of the month” or a female crossfit coach hasn’t mentioned it maybe once on the odd occasion, but I just believe it should be a larger part of the conversation and training programs. I believe that we can and should be doing better and I believe that sport and all female athletes would benefit from this. Let's end the taboo of talking about bleeding. So, THANK YOU KIRAN GANDHI. Thank you for taking a very public stand and for giving this conversation some traction. Let’s talk about blood, baby. Let’s talk about you and mensies.
(Once again, please share in the comments below any thoughts or feelings you have on the issues, and for those of your interested in listening to funny- hilarious conversations surrounding periods please check out The Crimson Wave which is hosted by my dear friends Jess and Natalie https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-crimson-wave/id810854538?mt=2)