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When former Olympic tennis champion Monica Puig wrote about the “mental stress” of wearing white at Wimbledon during her period, the responses were illuminating.
Many of those surveyed knew what Puig was talking about: that uncomfortable feeling of “oh, have I leaked?” along with the aches, pains, and fatigue that can come with a period.
Most of those who responded supported not only Puig speaking out, but also supported a broader discussion of dress code and periods. One or two admitted they hadn’t thought it was a problem until the Puerto Rican pointed it out last month.
“It’s absolutely something the players talk about at Wimbledon because of the whites,” Britain’s Heather Watson tells BBC Sport.
“I think people talk about it a lot, maybe not to the media, but to each other for sure.”
Things are changing. Conversations about menstruation and sports are growing. So, let’s talk Wimbledon whites and menstrual bleeding.
Wimbledon whites are an iconic tradition.
White was initially the color of choice for tennis kits because prevented the appearance of sweat stains as it would in colored clothes. The rules around whites at Wimbledon are strict. Shorts, skirts, and sweatpants must be completely white, except for a single colored trim “not wider than one centimeter” on the outside seam.
For Watson, playing in white is a special experience. “I really like the tradition and I wouldn’t want to change that,” she says. “My only stress is that I have my period, but I only plan my period around it.”
Watson says she would be concerned, aesthetically, about bleeding through her white clothes. But her biggest problem is that taking the pill doesn’t stop her game-affecting symptoms. “I get bloated, I have cramps and fatigue,” she explains.
The Briton was one of the first tennis players to speak out about the impact her period had on her performance when she was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open in 2015.
Arriving in Melbourne after winning the title in Hobart a week earlier, Watson says she was feeling “very good about my tennis”. But on the day of the match he started her period. Watson has “a horrible day” every period in which he has little energy or strength. Her seven years ago, her that day she left her dizzy and lethargic when she lost 6-4, 6-0 to Tsvetana Pironkova.
So when that day falls in the middle of Wimbledon, Watson’s home Grand Slam and the place where she won the mixed doubles title in 2016, she springs into action.
“I literally had this conversation with Daria [Saville, Australian player] a few weeks ago when we went to Wimbledon to practice together,” explains Watson.
“I started my period that day and you also have to wear white clothes at Wimbledon all year round. I thought, ‘oh, that’s annoying’.
“Then I realized that I would probably get my period again during the Championships, so I said I would probably take the pill just to skip my period for Wimbledon. That’s the thought process and the conversations girls have about it.”
While periods and their potential impact on the sport are more discussed, the potential awkwardness of wearing white has been largely confined to conversations between players.
Not all players will want to take a pill. Just as performance can be affected by periods, some women can also feel that a pill affects them on the field. The 2020 BBC Women’s Sports Survey found that 60% of respondents felt their performance was affected by his periodwhile 40% did not feel comfortable discussing their period with coaches.
Other players have spoken about the impact of periods. Zheng Qinwen, the only player to take a set from the unstoppable Iga Swiatek at this year’s French Open, was hampered by stomach cramps in the final two sets. He then said it was due to “girl stuff,” adding, “I have to play sports and I’m always in a lot of pain on the first day. I couldn’t go against my nature.”
Petra Kvitova spoke of periods before beginning his Wimbledon title defense in 2015, although he had no problem wearing white. “It’s never really easy to deal with a more difficult thing,” she said. “If we have to play the game or train or something like that, it’s difficult.”
Wimbledon has a player relations team and a player medical team who work closely with athletes to discuss and address a range of issues, including periods.
“We want to make sure we put women’s health first and provide female players with everything they need based on their individual needs,” a Wimbledon spokesperson said.
“It could be about how someone is feeling, it could be the need to talk to someone, all sorts of different things that that team provides.
“The health and well-being of the players competing at Wimbledon is of the utmost importance to us – we want everyone to feel comfortable and we put that at the heart of everything we do.”
Players may fear that advocating change for women or talking about menstruation means people assume it is being used as an excuse for poor performance.
Take bathroom breaks, as an example. Stefanos Tsitsipas’ meandering bathroom breaks during the 2021 US Open led to debates over its use as a tactical time-out. Some wanted bathroom breaks at Grand Slams to be further limited, for both men and women.
But suppose a woman wants to use the bathroom to change a tampon or pad. She gets a chance to do it during a best-of-three match, taking three minutes just to go to the bathroom or five if she wants to change her clothes too. The Grand Slam rulebook states that passing this time means the player will be penalized with consecutive time violations.
At that point, you need to go to the bathroom, change your pad or tampon, throw out the old one, make sure it’s comfortable and not leaking, possibly change your clothes, then change into your whites and go back outside. In practice, the timing of the duration of the break will be at the discretion of the referee.
Another bathroom break may be authorized, but that will likely mean talking to a referee with a microphone or camera nearby, something some players may not feel comfortable doing.
Some clothing companies are period-proof, and Adidas told BBC Sport it had incorporated such technology into women’s training products. Wimbledon is also keeping abreast of clothing innovations, allowing it to better support players while maintaining the white clothing it says is a “fundamental” part of its traditions.
“In 2019 we changed the dress code policy so players could wear approved tights and mid-thigh compression shorts, which was also part of a broader change to the WTA dress code,” a spokesperson said. from Wimbledon.
“If someone wanted to wear something under their white clothes, then they have more than a right to do so.”
As well as making players feel comfortable, it could also help prevent younger girls from dropping out of the sport. A 2021 Adidas Survey reported that one in four girls dropped out of the sport as a teenager, with fear of missing their period a key reason.
“Yes [a period] it’s a reason for someone not to play a sport, so hearing people talk about it will probably convince them otherwise,” says Watson.
“In fact, I think it should be much more normal to talk about those things. There are certain things in life that people don’t talk about, and I’m not sure why, because it’s part of ‘Mother Nature’, I don’t. it is”. Everybody treats it differently.”
Wimbledon isn’t the only sport where women wear white – test cricketers have too talked about anxiety around bleeding on their whites as they play. Although it is a tradition, which is part of the sports summer furniture, it was one that was established in the 19th century, when there was not much talk of times.
Former world number one and 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert recently said that I wish she had spoken about the impact her period had on her career.
But times are changing, and those conversations are happening now.