Aly Raisman has been among America’s most beloved athletes since she became one of the “Fierce Five” gymnasts at the London Olympics in 2012. There, she went on to become the first American women to win a gold medal in the floor routine category. Later, as the team captain of the “Final Five” at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Raisman’s leadership inspired people all over the world.
Two years later, Raisman continues to serve as a strong example of what young women are capable of today, regularly speaking out about important issues like body shaming, cyberbullying, and sexual assault. (Raisman and her teammates, including McKayla Maroney, recently delivered victim impact statements at former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing for sexual abuse.)
Raisman has also been outspoken about ending the stigma that still surrounds menstruation. In partnership with Playtex Sport and its #PlayOn initiative, Raisman is hoping to help end period-shaming once and for all. According to a Playtex Sports online survey, about 75 percent of teen girls surveyed confessed they frequently decide not to play a sport or exercise specifically because they’re on their period. It’s crucial to normalize this common bodily function. In that spirit, Raisman recently caught up with Teen Vogue to talk about how she copes with PMS, whether she’s ever gotten blood on her leotard, and her best menstruation advice.
Teen Vogue: Why is it so important to speak up about period shaming?
Aly Raisman: Working with Playtex Sport is really important to me because they empower young girls and women to embrace their periods and not feel uncomfortable to talk about it. It’s really important to normalize the conversation. In fact, when I heard that 75 percent of girls stop playing sports or stop working out because they’re so embarrassed, I was devastated. So the more we talk about it, I hope we can teach more girls to play on.
TV: Have you ever missed practice or a competition due to your period?
AR: I’ve never missed a competition. I mean, I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was two years old, so over the years, I’ve been sick. Sometimes when you have your period, you don’t feel good, but when I work out, I personally do usually feel better. But everyone is different, and every period is different each month. I think it’s important to figure out what works for you and how to help your body during the tough times.
It’s important to figure out what works for you and how to help your
body during the tough times
TV: So what do you personally do to power through bad cramps?
AR: I usually like to take a hot bath or read a book or light some candles; I just try to relax. I’ll usually push myself to work out because that typically makes me feel better.
TV: Have you ever gotten blood on your leotard?
AR: I’ve never had that happen at a competition before, but I’m human just like everyone else. It’s so crazy that every girl and woman experiences their period, but sometimes it’s just uncomfortable to talk about, and we have to change that. The Playtex Sport compact tampon helps with that; it fits in your pocket, which is really great because when I was in high school, I used to feel embarrassed to go to the bathroom in the middle of class, because I was worried that everyone was going to look at me.
Obviously, we’re talking about normalizing the conversation and being comfortable, but I know that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a smaller size, but still has the same protection of a regular size tampon. It’s nice because it fits in your pocket so you don’t have to feel embarrassed about tucking it in—not that you should feel the need to do that, but it’s a gradual thing, and if you are really embarrassed about it, that’s OK. I think it’s important to slowly talk about it and get to the point where you aren’t ashamed.
TV: What are you hoping that people will learn from this campaign?
AR: Playtex Sport has vending machines in three locations where if you take a selfie, post it on Instagram, and offer your best sports advice, you get a free box of tampons. In the box is advice from me, and it’s very exciting to be a part of this initiative, because the vending machines are outside, in public. Young girls and women are going to go up to the vending machines in front of everyone and not be ashamed that they have their period. I think it’s important to normalize the conversation and encourage young girls from the time that they’re little and boys in their class to be supportive of them.
TV: What’s your favorite piece of advice that you have in one of the boxes?
AR: It’s more important to be a good person than it is to be first place on the podium.
TV: What’s a good piece of advice that you’ve been given by someone else?
AR: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from Stuart Weitzman, and he said, “Don’t let the Olympics be the highlight of your life.” I love that advice, because I competed at the Olympics when I was 18 and 22, so I still have my entire life ahead of me, and I think that it’s normal for so many athletes, when you do accomplish your lifelong dream, you kind of wonder, “What should I do next?” I think the idea that your life will continue to get better and better and you still will have more goals is really inspiring, and it was empowering for me to hear that. It definitely changed the way that I think about things.
TV: Why is it so important to break the stigma of periods?
AR: Right now is a very important time for young women and young girls. I think it’s so important to talk about things that are uncomfortable, and the uncomfortable topics are the ones that we should be having the most discussion around.
The uncomfortable topics are the ones that we should be having the
most discussion around
TV: What would you tell a young girl who is struggling with her period or puberty in general?
AR: I would say not to give up, to keep going. I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t let your period get in the way. Talk about it with someone you can trust. Talk about it with your friends, whoever makes you feel good about yourself and is going to offer you good advice. Know that whatever you’re feeling is normal, and every girl is dealing with it. We’re all in this together.
TV: Do you feel like you struggled through some of that stigma in your own life? Who did you talk to?
AR: I would talk about it a lot with my teammates. Being in gymnastics, we were at the gym all the time, and we were very close; I was very lucky. I would talk about it with them, my mom; my sisters are younger — they’re 17 and 15 — and I talk about it with them sometimes too. I think it’s just important to find whoever you’re comfortable with.
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