Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where conversations about women’s bodies didn’t revolve around: making unsolicited comments about our weight; being asked by strangers for a smile; or criticising all the ways in which our various body parts are falling short of the ideal beauty standard?
Imagine if instead we only talked about women’s bodies in ways that are celebratory, inspiring, and informative. So that we can appreciate the athleticism and artistry of which we are capable. So that we internalise messages that make us see potential and strength instead of a commodity or object of desire on which we base our self-worth. So that the orgasm gap can be reduced (if not closed altogether), and positive, pleasurable sexual experiences are the expectation and the norm.
If we spent less time scrutinising women’s bodies and more time openly discussing our bodies’ function and care, there would be less stigma around menstruation. Period inequity and its far-reaching impacts could be addressed more effectively. More women would grow up informed about the benefits of HPV vaccination (to prevent genital warts and cervical cancer risk), and the importance of STI checks, cervical smears, and mammograms. Women would know the ins and outs of their reproductive system and about the pros and cons of the different contraception methods available to assist them in planning their lives.
Having conversations about female bodies is important because misinformation about what is and isn’t normal results in unbelievable numbers of women putting up with a very low quality of life. Throughout medical school, I've met women with anaemia from suffering years of heavy menstrual bleeding due to undiagnosed medical conditions. They hadn’t thought to seek medical help earlier because periods are ‘meant to hurt’ (yes, period cramps suck, but not that much). I’ve also met women who have experienced months of debilitating social embarrassment from urinary incontinence. Many incorrectly attributed their constant leaking of urine to being ‘just the ageing process’.
Building a culture that welcomes frank conversations about women’s bodies is important because there are clear inequalities in the way our experiences are viewed and managed. Women’s pain is not taken as seriously as men’s pain by healthcare systems – doctors respond later, misdiagnose more, and often don’t provide adequate treatment to relieve symptoms. A lot of medical research was/is done on all-male or majority-male participants and the findings directly applied to the care of women despite our biological and physiological differences. Pharmac will finally start fully funding long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs) for all women later this year, but isn’t it ridiculous that it has taken this long to ensure New Zealanders have universal access to one of the safest and most effective forms of contraception (that in some women may even prevent endometrial cancer)?
So let’s put these kinds of conversations about women’s bodies on the list of encouraged and welcomed table talk. And not just at the tables where only women are gathering, either. Because everyone plays a role in shaping women’s experiences of the world. And everyone will benefit when the women in their communities are able to live happier, healthier, and more empowered lives.Support Villainesse