It's the difficult conversations that matter the most.
Remember when you got your first period? For many of us, it was a confusing and embarrassing time, one we chose not to talk much about—even to friends, who were no doubt grappling with the same awkwardness.
Not Aly Raisman. This powerhouse is known for taking on uneasy topics, so it's no surprise that she had the exact opposite response. "I got my period when I was 14 years old, and I was so excited, I couldn't wait to tell all my friends and my teammates," Raisman recalled to Health in a recent interview. "I couldn't wait to tell my mom."
But when she had to get up in the middle of class to go the bathroom to change her tampon, Raisman remembers her mood shifting to embarrassment. "Puberty is a really vulnerable time for a young woman, and the fact that it's not talked about enough can make you feel uncomfortable being the one to bring it up in conversation," she says. "We have to change it so girls and boys feel comfortable when girls talk about their periods . . . . The uncomfortable conversations are the ones we need to have the most.”
Raisman recently teamed up with Playtex Sport to normalize talking about periods by launching tampon vending machines across the country. “[According to a survey by Playtex Sport], about 75 percent of teenage girls actually stop sports or stop exercising because of their period, so I think it’s really important to start that conversation with kids, with teenagers, with women, so we can encourage the younger generation to not let your period get in your way.”
Raisman, who took up gymnastics as a toddler and competed through her teen years, remembers going to practice and competitions while bleeding. She did gymnastics six days a week; training didn’t stop just because she got her period or wasn’t feeling 100%.
“Personally I get bad cramps and stomachaches, and my back and my hips hurt, my body aches,” she says. “Although though the last thing I want to do when I have my period and I don’t feel good is work out, I found that what really helps with the stomach pains is to get up and get moving.” Reading a book or taking hot baths also helps her handle the pain.
This isn't the first time Raisman broached a difficult topic fearlessly. She recently made headlines when she recounted being sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics physician Larry Nassar, who earlier this month was sentenced to up to 175 years for sexually abusing over 160 women and girls.
By speaking out about her sexual abuse, Raisman hopes to encourage other survivors to raise their voices. “Its devastating to see how many people have been hurt, and hopefully together, we can all come together and help create change," she says.
"But it’s not something that is comfortable to talk about. It is emotionally and mentally draining. It can be traumatizing depending on the day," she continues. "Every day I feel differently about it. Every day I cope differently with it. But the reason why I’m talking about it is what happened was so horrible. So many people looked the other way for so long that I have to speak on it because I hope something like this never happens ever again.”
Right now, Raisman says she’s still figuring out what her road to recovery looks like day by day—but she believes that overcoming adversity makes her stronger. “You know, I wish that there was something I could tell somebody who is dealing with trauma, something that would just instantly make the pain go away or something to make them feel better . . . but there is no map to healing.”