Only twice in my life had I intentionally gathered with females to talk about periods. The first time, I was nine years old; after herding all of the fourth-grade girls into one classroom, my teacher popped in a VHS tape, and we learned about once-a-month bleed-outs that would persist for the next forty years. Our school nurse handed out puberty-survival bags and promptly dismissed us for a week-long break.
The second time was on Friday.
“Girls, clear your calendar for Friday after practice!” my teammate texted. She and a few others planned a PPP — Potential Period Party — for our entire women’s team. The gathering, she said, would be filled with food, fellowship and most importantly, a candid discussion about body image and amenorrhea.
Amenorrhea — the abnormal loss of one’s period — is seldom discussed in the female running community, despite its prevalence. Further than its widespread effect, amenorrhea creates a pervasive myth among female distance runners: the loss of one’s period is totally normal, just a result of intense training.
In reality, a variety of factors outside of exercise can cause amenorrhea: restricted eating, weight loss, mental/emotional stress and genetics. And despite what many runners tell themselves, losing one’s period is not okay. Amenorrhea can damage a multitude of organ systems and, along with low bone density and poor nutrition, makes up one-third of the “female athlete triad.”
Ultimately, we need our periods. Thankfully, as the PPP acronym suggests, we all have the “potential” to get them back.
As we trickled into my teammates’ house, we ate a variety of foods proven to combat amenorrhea: burgers, guacamole, edamame, dark chocolate and sweet potatoes, to name a few. The only requirement was that every single person tried every single food because, my teammate said, “that’s kind of the point.”
After dinner, we discussed the benefits of foods — namely, the ones we had just eaten — that are high in healthy fats. Through personal testimonies and well-researched information, my teammates created an educational opportunity that, I’m assuming, isn’t implemented in many women’s cross country programs.
But the real power of the PPP was in the conversation that followed.
When the structured portion of the PPP concluded, many of us opened up about our personal struggles with amenorrhea, body image and/or eating disorders. These problems aren’t textual; they affect real people — my teammates, my friends.
Though I’ve never dealt with amenorrhea or disordered eating, I live in a society that celebrates thin women, and as a result, I catch myself wondering whether or not I look “good enough” to wear certain clothing to practice. As one of my teammates mentioned, simple “self-checks in the mirror” are dangerous, as they never leave one feeling satisfied with their body.
Then, another teammate said something truly powerful: “There isn’t a single person on the team who I haven’t looked at and thought ‘wow, she’s beautiful.'”
The floodgates were opened.
I love my strong, intelligent, beautiful teammates, and I’m proud of them for starting such an important conversation.