Speaking after the women’s 4×100-meter medley on Sunday, China’s favorite Olympic swimmer, Fu Yuanhui, stunned viewers back home when she told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV that she felt her period had slowed her during the race. “I feel I didn’t swim well today. I let my teammates down,” said the 20-year-old. Fu, who earlier won a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke, was seventh to touch the wall after the first 100 meters of the relay. When asked if she was having a stomachache by CCTV, Fu was perhaps more candid than the Chinese broadcasters anticipated. “My period came yesterday,” Fu revealed. “I’m feeling a bit weak, but this is not an excuse.”
Fu, a Hangzhou native, became the country’s media darling thanks to her over-the-top facial expressions, weird sense of humor, and “mystic energy” in TV interviews. Her popularity became such that a 60-minute livestream in which the swimmer answered questions, burped, and ate cupcakes attracted more than 10 million viewers, according to the app, Ingkee.
Fu’s frank acknowledgement of her period was “exactly her personality,” wrote one female blogger on Chinese social media site Weibo. “[Menstruation] is an unspeakable issue in public for women,” the blogger noted, “but Fu actually talked about it in a live interview … Cool!” The hashtag “Fu Yuanhui period,” with which the blogger’s post was tagged, had been searched nearly half a million times on Weibo by Sunday afternoon.
Many commenters on the social media site expressed shock that it was considered hygienic and safe to swim on one’s period, unaware that it was possible to do so using a tampon. Tampons are not popular in China — in fact, no tampons were even manufactured in China in 2015. Chinese sex education makes no mention of tampons, in part due to a belief that their use can break one’s hymen.
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