Archive for the ‘Body Image’ Category

November 21, 2008

Challenging the Idea that Women’s Vaginas and Vulvas Need Cosmetic “Correction”

This week, Time magazine published an article on genital cosmetic surgery,
Plastic Surgery Below the Belt,” focused on women getting procedures such as labiaplasty, vaginoplasty, and “G-spot enhancement.” It notes that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement that these procedures may lead to “scarring, chronic pain, obstetric risks or reduced sexual pleasure,” and that many are calling for more research on the procedures. In fact, ACOG noted this very problem in their statement, explaining that “No adequate studies have been published assessing the long-term satisfaction, safety, and complication rates for these procedures.”

Featured in the article are protests from the New View Campaign, which has at its goal to “to expose biased research and promotional methods that serve corporate profit rather than people’s pleasure and satisfaction. The Campaign challenges all views that reduce sexual experience to genital biology and thereby ignore the many dimensions of real life” and in general to “limit the medicalization of sexuality.” The group protested New York City’s Manhattan Center for Vaginal Surgery on Monday. Time reports that some attendees held signs referencing the normal variation in female anatomy that read “No two alike;” a visit to the group’s website reveals other messages as well, such as “stop marketing discontent.”

The piece also covers the (mis)conception that cosmetic surgery is an adequate solution to relationship or self-esteem problems. LeLaina Romero of the New View Campaign noted that, “Promoting a very narrow definition of what women’s genitals ought to look like — even for those women who don’t want surgery, it harms them.” Similarly, last year’s statement from ACOG suggested “a frank discussion of the wide range of normal genitalia” and “exploration of nonsurgical interventions, including counseling.”

Along these same lines, I just recently learned via a post at Mom’s Tinfoil Hat about the “MENding Monologues,” an all-male performance inspired by the Vagina Monologues conceived as “a love letter to women, a healing for men, and a call to end violence in all its forms.” One of the monologues is a somewhat humorous character, “Dr. Vaginsky,” who challenges the idea that women aren’t fine just the way they are.

For related OBOS content, see Female Sexual Dysfunction: A Feminist View as well as our previous blog posts, Marketing Female Sexual Dysfunction: The Search for the Pink Viagra and Selling Women Unsupported Health Messages and Insecurity about Their Vaginas.

October 4, 2008

Double Dose: Palin Condoms; Dispute Over Vaccines Reframed as Catfight; Chicago’s Toxic Air; Black Midwives Conference Oct. 10-12; Pregnant Women & Medical Research; Questioning the “War on Fat”

Always Carry Protection: Lucinda Marshall has the goods on the Palin condom.

And did you know that as of Sept. 26, Planned Parenthood took in more $802,678 in donations from 31,313 people made in Sarah Palin’s name?

Donations poured in after an anonymous email was circulated urging donations in any amount and recommending that the personalized thank-you card from Planned Parenthood be sent to Palin at the McCain-Palin campaign headquarters in Virginia.

L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison took credit for the fundraising, recalling how she first made a similar suggestion after President Bush took office in January 2001.

Every donation generated a “thank you card.” I envisioned a scene out of “Miracle on 34th Street,” sacks and sacks of thank-you cards from Planned Parenthood, delivered to Bush in the Oval Office.

It worked. Boy, did it. Ultimately, more than a million dollars, I was told, was generated for Planned Parenthood in Bush’s name. George Bush became one of the biggest money-generators in Planned Parenthood’s history. The idea won me an award from Planned Parenthood, and a splash in Ms. Magazine. So I am delighted that my ”Mother of All Ironic Donations” notion has been revived for Palin.

Jenny McCarthy v. Amanda Peet: Nothing like turning a disagreement over the safety of vaccines into a male fantasy. Seriously, why/how did this get published?

Chicago’s Toxic Air: Proving real journalism still happens at the Tribune, here’s the intro to a special report on toxic air pollution:

People living in Chicago and nearby suburbs face some of the highest risks in the nation for cancer, lung disease and other health problems linked to toxic chemicals pouring from industry smokestacks, according to a Tribune analysis of federal data.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent millions of dollars to assess the dangers that air pollution poses but has failed to fulfill promises to make the research more accessible to the public. So the Tribune is posting the information on its Web site, where users can easily find nearby polluters and the chemicals going into their air.

Those who look up Cook County will see it ranked worst in the nation for dangerous air pollution, based on 2005 data. The Tribune also found Chicago was among the 10 worst cities in the U.S.

Plus: The Trib also published a searchable database of health-risk information (based on the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) database) and the health effects of long-term exposure to various industry-produced chemicals.

Bioethicists Challenge Reticence to Include Pregnant Women in Medical Research: A paper to be posted online and later in print in the November edition of the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics (IJFAB) argues why more pregnant women must be included in medical research.

“As a society we are ethically obliged to confront the complex challenges of pregnant women in research, otherwise we relegate all expectant mothers to second-class medical citizens,” said Ruth Faden, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, in this press release about the journal article.

“One of the key messages of this paper is that progress will not happen until we shift the burden of justification from inclusion to exclusion and to an explicit commitment to studying the effects of drugs in pregnancy,” Faden added.

Midwives Fight AMA to Provide Black Maternal Care: “Shafia Monroe’s sixth annual International Black Midwives and Healers Conference, taking place in New York’s Harlem neighborhood Oct. 10-12, comes in the middle of a showdown between home-birth midwives and the American Medical Association,” writes Malena Amusa at Women’s eNews.

The AMA wants to bar licensing to certified professional midwives, who specialize in out-of-hospital births (births at home and in birthing centers) and is backing state legislation that restricts licensing to nurse midwives who have additional nursing training and certification required to work in hospitals.

“Certified professional midwives are a critical component to meet the growing maternal health needs in the black community,” said Monroe, noting that every sort of midwife is needed to reduce maternal morality rates among African American women.

Read more about the history of black midwives at the International Center for Traditional Childbirth. Here’s the description of the conference (PDF), which takes place in Harlem.

Top Psychiatrist Didn’t Report Drug Makers’ Pay:  “One of the nation’s most influential psychiatrists earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers from 2000 to 2007, failed to report at least $1.2 million of that income to his university and violated federal research rules, according to documents provided to Congressional investigators,” reports Gardiner Harris in The New York Times. “The psychiatrist, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory University, is the most prominent figure to date in a series of disclosures that is shaking the world of academic medicine and seems likely to force broad changes in the relationships between doctors and drug makers.”

Cancer Research Briefing: Bloggers recently had a chance to discuss the current state of cancer research and biotechnology with Dr. Gil G. Mor, an associate professor at Yale Medical School and director of Reproductive Immunology and Translational Research in Gynecologic Oncology, and Lori Lober, who was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2000 and has maintained a diagnosis of “no evidence of disease” for five years.

Treating Vascular Disease in Women: Arterial vascular disease is underdiagnosed and undertreated in older women, according to studies. Earlier this year, medical experts met to discuss the differences between men and women when it comes to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of vascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Out of that symposium came newly released recommendations for improving research on sex differences.

Losing the Weight Stigma: The Idea Lab section of The New York Times Sunday Magazine questions the “war on fat” and offers examples of how academics and activists are emphasizing health over weight. Robin Marantz Henig writes:

This is a core argument of fat acceptance: that it’s possible to be healthy no matter how fat you are and that weight loss as a goal is futile, unnecessary and counterproductive — and that fatness is nobody’s business but your own.

Many fat-acceptance activists prefer a new approach to dieting that focuses on nutrition, exercise and body image. A new book out this fall, “Health at Every Size,” by Linda Bacon, a nutritionist and physiologist at the University of California at Davis, outlines this approach, which is less about dieting than a lifestyle change that emphasizes “intuitive eating”: listening to hunger signals, eating when you’re hungry, choosing nutritious food over junk. It encourages exercise, but for its emotional and physical benefits, not as a way to lose weight. It advocates tossing out the bathroom scale and loving your body no matter what it weighs.

The philosophy is migrating slowly into mainstream programs, like a spa in Vermont that focuses on “acceptance of ourselves and our wonderful sizes.” But the spas and other programs have trouble with the bottom line of fat acceptance — rejection of weight loss as a goal. Weight Watchers, for instance, uses some of the same slogans, and while it promotes its program as “not a diet,” it still tracks weight loss down to the decimal point.

September 18, 2008

Douching is Bad, Sex Toys are Good

Last week, some of us received PR materials for a “therapeutic vaginal cleansing system” (or douche) complete with a “just add tap water” headline. As we note in this piece on vaginal infections, routine douching isn’t recommended because it can upset the natural balance of your vagina. has additional information on why douching is a bad idea. Naturally, then, I approached this product, “WaterWorks,” skeptically.

The WaterWorks website is pretty much standard as far as selling products based on an idea that vaginas are somehow dirty. The site claims that “regular use of WaterWorks will safely and effectively reduce or eliminate vaginal odor,” and goes on to suggest that it may reduce the risk of infection, helping women to be “fresher” and “cleaner.” It also reinforces worries that vaginal odor is embarrassing and may affect women’s love, social and professional (?!) lives — along these lines, many of the testimonials report increased “confidence” with use of the product.

The company reports that the product is “FDA approved” and “clinically proven.” The device does have FDA approval, through the premarket notification system — this means that it was substantially similar to something already on the market and so the company is allowed to advertise and sell it. The description as “clinically proven” is apparently the result of one published study on the product — an open label, non-randomized case series, which means that there was no comparison group, and everybody knew what they were getting.

The study only included 10 patients who complained of strong vaginal odor, and they were instructed to use this tap water douche daily. At the end of the study (four weeks of using the product), there was no difference in vaginal pH or the level of healthy bacteria. Vaginal odor was measured according to the patients’ perceptions — whether they thought odor was reduced — and half the subjects thought their odor problem completely went away after using the product, but there were no objective measures to report.

In short, it’s a very small study with a fairly weak design, and yet is touted by the product website as having “astounding” results, with a pitch designed to play on women’s insecurities about their bodies.

What is it, though, really? WaterWorks is a stainless steel hose and nozzle that you hook up to your shower so you can squirt water into your vagina, and it looks like a dildo. No, really. When I did some online searching for this or similar products, I found that the majority of the hits were for online sex toy shops.

Perhaps, then, it’s approval as a “therapeutic” device through the FDA might allow this item to sneak past laws such as the one in Alabama, which forbids the sale of sex toys unless they have a “medical” purpose. It strikes me as rather along the lines of the “massagers” sold in department stores, and while the marketing is troublesome, the other possibilities of this device and others like it may be something else altogether!

The blogger at Body Impolitic also has a hilarious take on this product — check it out.

August 12, 2008

Study: Weight Not Necessarily an Indicator of Health

A new study published Monday confirms that body weight isn’t an accurate indicator for certain health risks.

Researchers found that almost one-quarter of adults who were classified as “normal” weight, or approximately 16.3 million people nationwide, have indicators for one or more of the risks usually associated with being overweight — such as elevated blood pressure or higher levels of triglycerides, blood sugar and cholesterol.

And slightly more than half of overweight adults, or about 36 million people, and almost one-third of obese adults, 19.5 million people, were deemed metabolically healthy. (Weight classifications were determined by body mass index, a height-weight ratio that is criticized for not distinguishing between fat and muscle.)

In both “normal weight” and “overweight” or “obese” groupings,  older adults, people who smoked, and those with greater waist circumferences were more likely to have health risks. Physical activity levels also were a factor.

“We’re really talking about taking a look with a very different lens” at weight and health risks, study author MaryFran Sowers, a professor of public health at University of Michigan, told the AP. Lindsey Tanner reports:

It’s no secret that thin people can develop heart-related problems and that fat people often do not. But that millions defy the stereotypes will come as a surprise to many people, Sowers said.

Even so, there’s growing debate about the accuracy of the standard method of calculating whether someone is overweight. Health officials rely on the body mass index, a weight-height ratio that does not distinguish between fat and lean tissue. The limits of that method were highlighted a few years ago when it was reported that the system would put nearly half of NBA players in the overweight category.

A number of experts say waist size is a more accurate way of determining someone’s health risks, and the study results support that argument.

Dr. Robert Eckel, a former American Heart Association president and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, said the new research may help dismiss some of the generalizations that are sometimes made about weight and health.

Study co-author Judith Wylie-Rosett emphasized that the study shouldn’t send the message “that we don’t need to worry about weight.” That’s because half of overweight people do face elevated risks for heart disease, explained Wylie-Rosett, a nutrition researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

But, for those without elevated risks, losing weight “might be important only from a cosmetic perspective,” she said.

Given that body weight is an emotionally complicated issue for women — and that fat people are blamed for everything, including rising health care costs, the study is an important addition to the research, though as Kate Harding notes — “GEE, YOU DON’T SAY” — the findings aren’t exactly new.  (Also be sure to read one of Kate’s previous posts about fat and health).

Sigh. Changing public attitudes may be as much of an uphill battle as changing beauty standards.

The Obese Without Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering and the Normal Weight With Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering” was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study included 5,440 adult participants in the government’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), conducted between 1999 and 2004. Smoking, physical activity, alcohol intake and use of medications were assessed by self-reporting.

July 26, 2008

Double Dose: Botox for Bridesmaids; Hospitals Work to Create Healthier Spaces; California Bans Trans Fats; McCain’s War on Women; Gaming’s “Fat Princess” …

On the Road: I’m posting from Kansas, on the way from Chicago to South Lake Tahoe … If anyone has suggestions for good food/must-see stops convenient to I-70, I’d love to hear from you! (My recommendation for Kansas City: Blue Nile Cafe and a super funky coffee house in the Crossroads Arts District — argh! what was the name! — that made our morning with a yummy veggie breakfast sandwich.) Rachel will be doing some extra blog posts next week, and I’ll be back Aug. 7. Have a great end of July!

Botox for Bridesmaids: Seriously …? The New York Times has found a new “skin deep” trend: “It is no longer sufficient to hire a hairstylist and makeup artist to be on hand the day of. Instead, bridal parties are indulging in dermal fillers and tooth-whitening months before the Big Day,” writes Abby Ellin.

Some brides pick up the tab for their attendants, replacing the pillbox inscribed with the wedding date with a well-earned squirt between the eyes. In other cases, bridesmaids — who may quietly seethe about unflattering dresses — are surprisingly willing to pay for cosmetic enhancements. “Most women, when they come in here, they want it,” said Camille Meyer, the owner of TriBeCa MedSpa. “They know they’re aging.”

For Karen Hohenstein, who held her party at the Tiffani Kim Institute Medical Wellness Spa in Chicago, convincing her friends was as smooth as a Botoxed forehead. “It wasn’t me saying, ‘Hey, we all could use a little something,’” she said. “It was, ‘I want to do this,’ and a couple of people said, ‘I do, too.’”

But for every accommodating pal, there’s another who feels going under the knife is beyond the duty of bridesmaid. Becky Lee, 39, a Manhattan photographer, declined when a friend asked her — and five other attendants — to have their breasts enhanced. “We’re all Asian and didn’t have a whole lot of cleavage, and she found a doctor in L.A. who was willing to do four for the price of two,” said Ms. Lee, who wore a push-up bra instead.

Plus: Why Brides-to-Be Are Starving Themselves Skinny

Hospitals Work to Get Healthier With New Design: “With hospital-acquired infections claiming more American lives each year than AIDS, breast cancer or automobile accidents, it seems the very facilities built to heal us have themselves become dangerous places,” writes Lisa Zamosky in the L.A. Times. “Two million patients each year suffer from a hospital-acquired infection, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say, and nearly 100,000 of them die as a result. Architects believe that doesn’t have to be the case.”

No More Trans Fats in CA: California on Friday became the first state to ban trans fats from restaurant food, following the lead of cities like New York, Philadelphia and Seattle, reports the AP.

The legislation signed by Schwarzenegger will take effect Jan. 1, 2010, for oil, shortening and margarine used in spreads or for frying. Restaurants could continue using trans fats to deep-fry yeast dough and in cake batter until Jan. 1, 2011.

Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products. Most trans fats are created when vegetable oil is treated with hydrogen to create baked and fried goods with a longer shelf life.

Stephen Joseph, a Tiburon attorney who was a consultant to New York City in developing its ban, said trans fat is a larger health risk than saturated fat because it reduces so-called good cholesterol.

A 2006 review of trans fat studies by the New England Journal of Medicine concluded there was a strong connection between consumption of trans fats and heart disease. Studies also have linked trans fats to diabetes, obesity, infertility in women and some types of cancer.

Gaming’s Big Picture: Blogging at Feministe, Holly, who designs video games for a living, writes about the reaction to and defenses of the new game “Fat Princess.” While the narrative is a send-up of damsel-in-distress games, “there are a lot of ways you could send up that cliche, but of all the possibilities, Titan chose to make the princess FAT,” writes Holly.

“The joke here is also obvious: LOL who would want to rescue a fat chick? It’s a shtick that’s been used in animation and film plenty of times; the dashing hero thinks he’s rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress, but the ‘joke’ is on him because it turns out she’s larger than acceptable! And therefore unattractive and a horrible burden for him to rescue, of course.” Read more.

McCain’s War on Women: “McCain’s campaign has been making a clear play for women voters in recent weeks, hosting conference calls with Republican women and touting that his policies on national security, the economy and healthcare appeal to women voters,” writes Kate Shepard at In These Times. “But the suggestion that women — and feminist women, at that — will be lining up behind him is a fairytale. At least, it should be. McCain’s record and policies on issues of importance to women are neither moderate nor maverick.” — A very good round-up of McCain’s voting record.

What We Want to Hear: In this well-crafted video, RH Reality Check’s Amanda Marcotte surveys attendees of the 2008 Netroots Nation conference about their views on reproductive health and politics. Yes, it’s a self-selected group of progressives, but it’s still nice to hear smart talk on the topic.

Plus: View highlights of the Netroots Nation panel featuring Marcela Howell, Amanda Marcotte, and Eesha Pandit discussing ways to use language to overcome the powerful framing devices commonly used by opponents of reproductive health.

Health Care for All: Progressive Democrats of America is seeking signatures for its Statement in Support of Universal Health Care as a plank in the Democratic Party Platform of 2008. Rep. John Conyers, co-author of the statement, was the first Democratic National Convention delegate to sign on.

Domestic Violence Memo: Over a thousand U.S. women are killed each year by a current or former intimate partner. Two million a year are injured. A sexual assault occurs every two minutes. Read the “memo” — fifth in series on the status of U.S. women that Women’s eNews wants to deliver to the candidates.

Test of Justice for Rape Victims: “Every year, more than 200,000 rape victims, mostly women, report their rapes to police. Most consent to the creation of a rape kit, an invasive process for collecting physical evidence (including DNA material) of the assault that can take up to six hours. What most victims don’t know is that in thousands of cases, that evidence sits untested in police evidence lockers,” writes Sarah Tofte, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, in this Washington Post column.

July 2, 2008

Selling Women Unsupported Health Messages and Insecurity about Their Vaginas

An article in today’s New York Times describes a “medical spa” in Manhattan described as the first facility “dedicated to strengthening and grooming a woman’s genital area.”

The facility’s own website refers to its services as addressing “feminine fitness.” The physician running the “spa” stated, “If you can vote and you have a vagina, you should do these. It’s the dental floss of feminine fitness.”

To be clear, “feminine fitness” is a made-up phrase with no standard medical meaning, and the definition of physical fitness in general can be variable and subjective. Never mind that, though – I’m still hung up on “if you can vote and you have a vagina.”

Dr. Romanzi, the founder of the facility, was no doubt trying to suggest that regular pelvic exercises (such as Kegels) served a preventive, health-preserving purpose, although this may not actually be the case. I did a quick search of the medical literature for any evidence of long-term benefits or protective effects of pelvic floor muscle training, and did not turn up any relevant studies of the topic. There does seem to be some support for pelvic floor muscle training related in improving symptoms of urinary incontinence, but as one physician interviewed for the article stated, “If this is being recommended to women who have no symptoms, then there are no medical organizations or literature that support that that is necessary.”

Indeed, the “spa” also offers other services such as labiaplasty and “wrinkle reduction” – referring to them as “rejuvenation” – that have little to do with actual health. Perhaps appropriately, the article was published in the “Fashion” section of the paper’s website, rather than in “Health.”

This one little facility in the big city probably shouldn’t garner so much attention, but the unsupported selling to women of this as a “health” issue – not to mention the implications about what is acceptable for women’s bodies – really bothers me. The Times reporter seems to get the issue just right – “The advent of the pelvic spa, however, takes body fixation to a new level, furthering the idea that there is no female body part that cannot be tightened, plumped, trimmed or pruned.”

May 27, 2008

28 Days to a Bikini Mind …

It’s that time of year again … when women’s magazines trumpet how to get a bikini-ready body in just eight — no, six! no, four! — weeks.

We found a much healthier countdown plan: 28 Days to a Bikini Mind, written by Marina Wolf Ahmad and published at Shapely Prose.

Ahmad is the founder of Big Moves, which describes itself as “the only producing, training, and service organization in the world dedicated to getting more people of all sizes into the dance studio and up on stage.”

As she parodies women’s health magazines that are heavy into guilt and one-size-fits-all expectations, Ahmad’s essay is all about getting more women of all sizes to feel comfortable no matter what they wear.

If you’re a one-piece kind of woman hankering for a bikini-ready body, I’ve got news for you: EVERY body is bikini ready! Got tits of some sort? Got a crotch to cover? That’s what a bikini is for! When fashion magazines talk about “a bikini body”, they’re just selling you more insecurity. If you want to wear a bikini, all you need is a Bikini Mind.

Here’s a plan designed to shift those pesky mental blocks that all the dieting and the exercise in the world won’t. Don’t worry — if a string isn’t your thing, and you’re more of a tankini kind of gal, or you’re simply hoping to feel better in a suit with a daring back or a few strategically-placed keyholes, this mental workout’s for you! [...]

These exercises will strengthen and tone your bikini mind. To feel even better in your own skin, try to eat intuitively from an assortment of foods and drinks that you actually derive pleasure from, and move about in ways that are enjoyable and comfortable to you. If you stick to the plan, in as soon as four weeks you’ll be more at home in your body, and that’ll help you feel great in whatever bathing suit you choose!

Make sure to read the full training regimen, which includes handy technique and safety tips — just like those “fitness” articles.

Plus: Check out Big Moves’ performance calendar. Readers lucky enough to be in Montreal next month can catch the dance troupe at the annual Fringe Festival.

May 6, 2008

Fat Anti-Bias Campaign

“In an overwhelmingly overweight nation that worships thinness, many describe prejudice against the obese as one of the last socially acceptable biases,” writes Lisa Anderson at the Chicago Tribune. “Advocates for the plus-sized, particularly activists in the ‘fat acceptance’ movement, want obesity to become a category legally protected against discrimination, like religion, race, age and sex. But not everyone agrees.”

“I think it would help mostly because it would send a message that fat people are equal citizens. It’s not in the litigation rates, but the rights consciousness that comes after legislation,” said Anna Kirkland, an assistant professor of women’s studies and political science at the University of Michigan who is author of the new book, “Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood,” which examines the question of whether weight should be a protected category.

The story goes on to discuss a law to ban discrimination against weight and height pending in Massachusetts. Here’s the text of House bill 1844 (PDF), sponsored by Rep. Byron Rushing.

Rushing has offered similar bills six times in the last 12 years. He told the Trib that last month’s public hearing on the bill showed “there is a growing number of people who think this should happen and an even larger number of people who think we should at least be talking about it.”

Similar anti-discrimination legislation is already in place in Michigan and the District of Columbia, and cities such as San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Madison.

“It’s not really about litigation, but about taking a stand,” said Marilyn Wann, a fat-rights activist who testified at the Boston hearing and helped get San Francisco’s law passed in 2000. “I do think when a government says it’s not OK to dismiss someone as a person because of weight, that’s helpful.”

Plus: Read Fat People: Please Stop Existing at Big Fat Blog.

April 29, 2008

Mini-Double Dose: Art, Pain and Illness; Genes and Race Disparity; Through Sickness, Health and Sex Change

There are a number of interesting stories in The New York Times, so let’s do a mini-double dose …

Pain as an Art Form: Well’s Tara Parker-Pope does a nice job describing how art is used to communicate physical pain, from some of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits (now on exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) to a new online gallery called the Pain Exhibit.

The gallery is the brainchild of Mark Collen, 47, a former insurance salesman who struggled to explain his chronic back pain to a new doctor.

“It was only when I started doing art about pain, and physicians saw the art, that they understood what I was going through,” Collen said. “Words are limiting, but art elicits an emotional response.”

Taking it a step further, Collen started soliciting art from pain patients around the world. He teamed up with James Gregory, a 21-year-old college student who suffers from chronic pain following a car accident, and together they created the Pain Exhibit.

Parker-Pope writes:

Finding ways to communicate pain is essential to patients who are suffering, many of whom don’t receive adequate treatment from doctors. In January, Virtual Mentor, the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, reported that certain groups are less likely to receive adequate pain care. Hispanics are half as likely as whites to receive pain medications in emergency rooms for the same injuries; older women of color have the highest likelihood of being undertreated for cancer pain; and being uneducated is a risk factor for poor pain care in AIDS patients, the journal reported.

Some of the images from the Pain Exhibit, like “Broken People” by Robert S. Beal of Tulsa, Okla., depict the physical side of pain. Others, such as “Against the Barrier to Life,” convey the emotional challenges of chronic pain. “I feel like I am constantly fighting against a tidal wave of pain in order to achieve some quality of life,” wrote the work’s creator, Judith Ann Seabrook of Happy Valley in South Australia. “I am in danger of losing the fight and giving up.”

The art is connecting with medical professionals. The journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain features an image from the exhibit on the cover of its November issue, which focuses on women and pain.

Quieting the Demons and Giving Art a Voice: Like sculpture and painting, writing is also a form of expression and release. This review looks at “Madness: A Bipolar Life,” a new memoir by Marya Hornbacher, whom writer Abigail Zuger, MD, describes as “a virtuoso writer: humorous, articulate and self-aware. She is also, as she has now documented in two books, incurably mentally ill.”

Zuger continues:

For scientists trying to parse the mystery of brain and mind, she is one more case of the possible link between mental illness and artistic creativity. With all our scans and neurotransmitters, we are not much closer to figuring out that relationship than was Lord Byron, who announced that poets are “all crazy” and left it at that. But effective drugs make the question more urgent now: would Virginia Woolf, medicated, have survived to write her final masterpiece, or would she have spent her extra years happily shopping?

Ms. Hornbacher brings to the discussion more than the usual pairing of disturbed brain and talented mind. Her talent has created a third self, an appealing, rueful narrator who can look back on three decades of manic-depressive illness, much of it untreated, and spin a story that is almost impossible to put down.

Zuger also considers “Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative Process,” edited by Richard M. Berlin, M.D. Essays were solicited from published poets with psychiatric illness.

“Most of the 16 contributors are decades older than Ms. Hornbacher, but while they may lack her vivid prose style, they do supply a long-term perspective on the terrain,” writes Zuger.

Genes Explain Race Disparity in Response to a Heart Drug: This is a fascinating story. Researchers at Washington University and the University of Maryland found that patients who are non-responsive to a beta-blockers used in the treatment of heart failure may be making what amounts to their version of the drug, all the time, due to a gene variant.

What’s also surprising is that as many as 40 percent of blacks have this altered gene, compared to 2 percent of whites. The website of the journal Nature Medicine published a paper explaining the study.

“Something that occurs with a 40 percent frequency is not something that was a blip on the radar screen,” said Dr. Gerald W. Dorn, a cardiologist at Washington University and principal investigator for the study. “It must have given a survival advantage.” — Though what that advantage is is still the big unknown.

Gina Kolata writes:

The discovery raises questions about whom to treat with beta blockers and how to decide, researchers say. But, they add, its implications go beyond heart failure.

For example, the gene variant may help explain why some healthy people cannot exercise vigorously — they may be making chemicals that act like beta blockers, making their hearts beat less forcefully. And variations in other genes might explain why some people with different conditions, like depression, do not respond to drugs used to treat it. It is possible that those people are already making their own versions of antidepressant drugs, and that adding more may not help.

But researchers say that people who make their own beta blockers are not protected from developing heart failure. That is because beta blockers are helpful only after the disease is established. And beta blockers can slow the disease’s progress but not cure it.

Through Sickness, Health and Sex Change: Finally, here’s a story from the Sunday paper about a married couple in New Jersey who are concerned about the legal status of their relationship, since the male partner underwent a sex change in 2005. The couple, who have three children, are still very much committed to each other. Tina Kelley writes:

Massachusetts is the only state to have legalized same-sex marriage, and the Brunners are two women married to each other in New Jersey. As this state (along with Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire) confronts challenges over whether its civil unions fulfill the mandate of providing same-sex couples equal rights and benefits, the Brunners offer themselves as Exhibit A on how the nation’s dizzying patchwork of marriage laws, which include the domestic partnerships of California and other states, may be out of step with people’s lives.

And here’s another mind-blowing breakdown of the complexities state by state:

The Brunners were already married when Donald became Denise. Transsexuals who marry after surgery pose a different set of questions, and there have been a number of custody, probate and other cases with decisions all over the legal map.

Urging the United States Supreme Court to tackle the issue in 2000, lawyers for Christie Lee Littleton, a Texas male-to-female transsexual suing her husband’s doctors for wrongful death, noted the confused landscape: “Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas, is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas, and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

The Supreme Court declined to take the case.

April 19, 2008

Double Dose: Academics’ Ethics; Blogging About Disablism; “My Beautiful Mommy” Bombs with Bloggers, Scores on Publicity; Plastic Surgery on TV; Contraceptives in Middle School; Breast Cancer Rates Drop – for White Women; and More

Ethics Worth More Than Financial Payments: “With little fanfare, a small number of prominent academic scientists have made a decision that was until recently all but unheard of. They decided to stop accepting payments from food, drug and medical device companies,” reports The New York Times.

No longer will they be paid for speaking at meetings or for sitting on advisory boards. They may still work with companies. It is important, they say, for knowledgeable scientists to help companies draw up and interpret studies. But the work will be pro bono.

The scientists say their decisions were private and made with mixed emotions. In at least one case, the choice resulted in significant financial sacrifice. While the investigators say they do not want to appear superior to their colleagues, they also express relief. At last, they say, when they offer a heartfelt and scientifically reasoned opinion, no one will silently put an asterisk next to their name.

Blogging Against Disablism Day: Coming May 1. Last year, more than 170 people took part. Diary of a Goldfish has the details: “You can write on any subject, specific or general, personal, social or political. In the previous two BADDs, folks have written about all manner of subjects, from discrimination in education and employment, through health care, parenting, family life and relationships, as well as the interaction of disablism with racism and sexism.”

Plus: Tips on language.

“My Beautiful Mommy”: “Oh I just can’t think of enough bad things to say about this book but for starters…” begins Lucinda Marshall’s critique of a new children’s book written by a plastic surgeon to help kids age 4-7 get with the whole “mommy makeover” (tummy tuck and breast augmentation). It’s emblematic of reactions read ’round the web (though EW surprisingly feels the need to ask, “a practical solution for a well-defined demo, or pure evil?” Hmmm. Let me think.)

The book got a lot of attention this week after this Newsweek story came out. Making Light has good info on how a self-published vanity-press book made major league headlines … including a mention on Wait, Wait …. Don’t Tell Me” this morning.

Plastic Surgery on TV: When Botox, face lifts and reconstructive surgery gets in the way of acting, is it appropriate for a critic to call it out? Mary McNamara at the L.A. Times writes:

People should be free to look as they choose, and this town is tough on women — don’t talk to me about Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, they’re British. Would an American woman ever get away with anything approaching Nicolas Cage’s hair or James Spader’s increasing portliness? Of course not.

But television is a visual art, and if people are going to significantly alter the way they look in ways not directly connected with the roles they are playing, it can affect not only their performance but the whole tone of the show.

So you tell me, what is a critic supposed to say when part of the problem with a show is that the leading lady’s face seems incapable of movement or her eyes appear to be moving toward the sides of her head or her lips just look weird?

Plus: Maureen Ryan on women keeping it real: “In future, I’ll not only attempt to acknowledge when a plastic face impedes the enjoyment of a show, but I’ll also make it my business to congratulate the women who look like they’ve lived, for hanging on to what’s made them distinctive individuals.”

Remember the Controversy Over Contraceptives in Portland, Maine?: “For all the firestorm surrounding the decision to make prescription contraceptives available at King Middle School, only one girl has used the service in the six months since the program began, officials say,” reports the AP.

As of Thursday, the only student to obtain a prescription for contraceptives was a 14-year-old girl, the city reported in response to a Freedom of Access request from The Associated Press.

“If it helps one student who otherwise might be in a position of being at risk, then it’s worth it,” said Lisa Belanger, who oversees Portland’s student health centers.

Falling Breast Cancer Rates Prevalent Only Among White Women: “New research shows a sharp drop in U.S. breast cancer cases in recent years was limited to white women, possibly because they abandoned hormone replacement therapy in greater numbers than minority groups,” reports Reuters.

White women had been more likely to use hormone therapy, and were also the most likely to abandon the drugs after U.S. regulators warned about the cancer link in 2003, according to Dr. Dezheng Huo of the University of Chicago and the study’s lead investigator.

“The sharp reductions seen in Caucasians aged 50 to 69 years were not seen among other ethnic groups,” Hou told the American Association for Cancer Research.

The researchers said the decline has been mainly among women older than 50 with estrogen-receptor positive cancer.

Why We’re Fatter: This Slate article isn’t new — in fact, it was published in 2006 — but it was just brought to my attention and it’s definitely an interesting read. Writer Sydney Spiesel reviews five of the 10 explanations for obesity identified in a study by David Allison and Scott Keith of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“In all likelihood, the rise in obesity results from a combination of several of these factors, each making its own contribution and perhaps interacting with other causes in some yet-more-complicated way,” writes Spiesel.

History As Appetizing As Tater Tots: I admit I fall hard for history texts that bring in the social and cultural implications, which is why I’m putting this on my summer reading list: “School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program” (Princeton University Press, 2008) by Susan Levine, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of history.

“The National School Lunch Program has outlasted almost every other 20th century federal welfare initiative and holds a uniquely prominent place in popular imagination,” Levine said in this UIC release. “It suggests the central role food policy plays in shaping American health, welfare and equality.”

Levine, by the way, is also the author of “Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth Century Feminism,” and “Labor’s True Woman: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization and Labor Reform in the Gilded Age.”

Strategic Spending on Organic Foods: With the price of organic foods rising, here’s some good advice for shoppers who want to prioritize spending on those organic fruits and vegetables that have a high pesticide residue when grown conventionally. Check out the The Environmental Working Group’s list of 43 fruits and vegetables tested for pesticide residue.

April 14, 2008

Body Image by the Book

Photo by Roseanne Olsen from

Photographer Rosanne Olsen has just published “This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes,” a book of nude photographs of dozens of women age 19 to 95.

Each woman’s photograph — and there does seem to be a good mix — is paired with her words describing how she feels about her body.

You can preview excerpts here (PDF). And here’s a review from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

I poked through the book a bit and wanted to share a favorite entry. These are the words of Constance (left), who is 80:

In a restroom on the university campus, a handwritten sign on the mirror reminds the user that “Everyone Is Beautiful,” as if trying to counteract the negative feedback most of us feel on viewing our own image.

Though I tend to avoid mirrors, I like catching a glimpse of my shadow in action when I’m walking or riding my bike. Most of the time I’m pleased that my body works pretty well, bore healthy children, and is relatively slow to break down as it ages. I try to give it what it needs: water, food, exercise, sleep. Since I retired, I can take a nap whenever I want, and I’ve had fewer long-lasting colds. I’d say menopause is God’s gift to women. I rejoice in freedom from the responsibility of reproduction.

It’s clear to me that I would have had more professional opportunities as an astronomer if I were a man. I like to imagine a system where everyone is reincarnated, switching gender at each reincarnation but retaining some memory of what it’s like to be the opposite sex. When I tried to deal with an egotistical colleague or a pompous administrator– almost invariably male in my day — I found it entertaining and soothing to visualize his next incarnation, maybe in the ninth month of his fifth pregnancy.

Happy Monday.

April 12, 2008

Double Dose: Breast Implants and Illnesses; Lawsuit Over Ortho Evra Birth Control Patch; Abortion Has Left the Classroom; Aging and Quality of Life; Mothers Movement Online; Digital Mammograms Lead to More Call-Backs; Razor Blades and Inner Goddeses

Dumb Quote of the Week: “Eighteen is certainly an age where we’re putting men and women in uniform on a battlefield … I think they can decide if they want larger breasts.” — Dr. Alan Gold, a Great Neck, N.Y., plastic surgeon, as quoted in this Newsday story on breast implants.

The story notes that “according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of women 18 and younger who have had breast enlargements has risen nearly 500 percent over the last decade, a sharper climb than the 300 percent increase in breast augmentations among all age groups,” but it doesn’t cover the health risks except to note the recent death of Stephanie Kuleba, 18, of South Florida, who died of what may have been a rare genetic reaction to general anesthesia given during breast-augmentation surgery.

It does, however, include this important point:

Traci Levy, an assistant professor who teaches courses in feminism and gender studies at Adelphi University, said the growing perception that it’s a common procedure, along with ads for plastic surgery, may contribute to its popularity.

“To say that you need to have a very expensive surgical procedure with real health risks in order to be considered beautiful, I think, is a problematic image,” she said.

Plus: Kacey, who got breast implants when she was 19 and tells her story at, blogged recently at Beauty and the Breast about the illnesses she experienced (and is still experiencing) that she believes are linked to her implants.

Kacey was a recent guest on Fox’s “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet,” and she wrote that another guest — an 18-year-old who wants breast implants — commented off-stage, “They’re just breast implants. It’s just like getting your hair cut!”

“I just got my hair cut – no scalpels, drains, anesthesia, surgeons or nurses necessary,” writes Kacey. “I will never wonder if my hair cut will cause joint pain. Can anyone say the same about breast implants?”

Aging Among the Haves and Have-Nots: “Seniors are living longer, healthier and more financially secure than past generations, according to a federal report released by several government agencies last month. But large disparities separate the quality of life for seniors of different genders, ethnicities, education levels and incomes,” reports the Ventura County Star, which headlines the story with this statistic: 71,500,000 Americans will be 65 and older in 2030, compared with 37 million people in 2006.

Plus: Read more on The Older Americans 2008 study, released by the National Institute on Aging.

Behind a Legal Shield: Here’s an extremely frustrating legal story concerning the Ortho Evra birth control patch, as reported by The New York Times:

For years, Johnson & Johnson obscured evidence that its popular Ortho Evra birth control patch delivered much more estrogen than standard birth control pills, potentially increasing the risk of blood clots and strokes, according to internal company documents.

But because the Food and Drug Administration approved the patch, the company is arguing in court that it cannot be sued by women who claim that they were injured by the product — even though its old label inaccurately described the amount of estrogen it released.

This legal argument is called pre-emption. After decades of being dismissed by courts, the tactic now appears to be on the verge of success, lawyers for plaintiffs and drug companies say.

Naturally, the Bush administration backs this doctrine. Read the whole story. And here’s a powerful op-ed on FDA oversight.

Abortion Has Left the Classroom: RH Reality Check has an excellent package of stories on the shortage of abortion doctors, all written by members of Medical Students for Choice.

“As recently as six or seven years ago, abortion was included in my medical school’s curriculum, but no longer,” writes Louisa Pyle, adding:

Medical school is, in many ways, a language school. Someone told me once that a medical student learns over 20,000 new words in their first two years of school, and in addition to the new vocabulary, I soon became capable of saying things over dinner that one should never say. “Rectum” no longer induces giggles and “vagina” is boring, not sexy or empowering. And yet, the word “abortion” is still said with a pause, a nod, a little quieter than the rest of the sentence. I’m happy when we talk about it at all: for me, the problem is the deafening silence. That a procedure more common than an appendectomy would never be named: In the halls of science and healthcare, that to me is an abomination.

Nicole Wolverston writes about the work of Medical Students for Choice. Jalan Washington, who is also a member of Advocates for Youth, writes about her frustration since starting medical school “with the lack of widespread action to address many of the educational, social, and economic determinants of health.”

“Hearing bleak statistics about Black and Latino health is a commonplace, routinely accepted, and unquestioned part of the American medical landscape. Very seldom do our discussions then proceed to the ways in which health care providers and the medical infrastructure directly contribute to these trends,” she writes.

Mothers Movement Online: The most recent issue of Mothers Movement Online is the pregnancy and childbirth issue. Included among the engaging and informative essays is an interview with OBOS executive director Judy Norsigian.

MMO Editor Judith Stadtman Tucker (read her editor’s notes) is a contributor to the new OBOS book on pregnancy and birth, specifically the section on advocating for the workplace rights of pregnant and parenting women.

In Shift to Digital, More Repeat Mammogram: As doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms, they are more likely to request second tests, reports The New York Times. Denise Grady writes:

At many centers, these nerve-racking calls are on the rise, at least temporarily — the price of progress as more and more radiologists switch from traditional X-ray film to digital mammograms, in which the X-ray images are displayed on a computer monitor.

Problems can arise during the transition period, while doctors learn to interpret digital mammograms and compare them to patients’ previous X-ray films. Comparing past and present to look for changes is an essential part of reading mammograms. But the digital and film versions can sometimes be hard to reconcile, and radiologists who are retraining their eyes and minds may be more likely to play it safe by requesting additional X-rays — and sometimes ultrasound exams and even biopsies — in women who turn out not to have breast cancer.

Over at Well, Tara Parker Pope put up pictures showing the difference between a normal digital mammogram and a normal mammogram from traditional X-ray film.

Plus: Here’s a brief but important post from the L.A. Times health blog on how MRIs may affect breast cancer treatment decisions.

Estrogen Linked to Benign Breast Lumps: “Add another risk to hormone therapy after menopause: Benign breast lumps,” reports the AP. A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute re-examines data from the Women’s Health Initiative pertaining to women who took estrogen only (women who had hysterectomies) instead of the estrogen-progestin combination hormone therapy.

Those estrogen-only users doubled their chances of getting non-cancerous breast lumps. That’s a concern not only because of the extra biopsies and worry those lumps cause, but because a particular type — called benign proliferative breast disease — is suspected of being a first step toward developing cancer 10 years or so later.

Razor Blades and Inner Goddesses – Get the Connection?: I missed this story about the latest in razor blade technology when it first came out, but it’s worth noting if only for the silly take on how shaving razors are marketed to women. The piece looks at the new advertising campaign around the Gillette Venus Embrace, which turns users into deities. (Any readers feeling transformed? Do tell.)

“Now we’ve given women the permission to reveal her own goddess,” said Gro Frivoll, who has worked on the Venus account at BBDO for eight years. “Every woman can be the goddess of something, because this allows you to be your most feminine self.”

Ack. Read on and the message is less, um, smooth:

When Gillette pitches razors to men, it tends to emphasize technological innovations. But on the women’s side, “we focus more on the emotional end benefits,” Ms. Frivoll said. ‘Men want to know, What am I paying more for? If a man were paying $25 for lipstick, it would have to have more than the Chanel name on it.”

March 28, 2008

Double Dose: Pregnancy-Bias Complaints Surge; Feminism, Food & Politics; Study on Feminists’ Attitudes Toward Body Image; Anti-Depressants and the “Obesity Epidemic”

Today’s just a mini-dose … I’ll be at WAM! this weekend and hope to see many of you there!

More Women Pursue Claims Of Pregnancy Discrimination: “Pregnancy-bias complaints recorded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission surged 14% last year to 5,587, up 40% from a decade ago and the biggest annual increase in 13 years,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

The Carrot Some Vegans Deplore: Kara Jesella writes in The New York Times:

Two things that you can find a lot of in Portland, Ore., are vegans and strip clubs. Johnny Diablo decided to open a business to combine both. At his Casa Diablo Gentlemen’s Club, soy protein replaces beef in the tacos and chimichangas; the dancers wear pleather, not leather. Many are vegans or vegetarians themselves.

But Portland is also home to a lot of young feminists, and some are not happy with Mr. Diablo’s venture. Since he opened the strip club last month, their complaints have been “all over the Internet,” he said. “One of them came in here once. I could tell she had an attitude right when she came in. She was all hostile.”

The story begins like something straight out of The Onion, but it turns into a rather, er, meaty discussion of feminist politics and food … Read more at

Perceptions: Feminists More Open-Minded on Weight: “A new study finds that women who describe themselves as feminists are more forgiving than other women when assessing the attractiveness of women who are either very underweight or very heavy,” reports The New York Times.

You’ll find the study in the journal Body Image — also see Rachel’s smart analysis. Here are some previous studies on feminism and body image.

The Mystery Suspect in the U.S. “Obesity Epidemic”: Writing at Women’s Media Center, Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D., an author and lecturer at Harvard, discusses the effect of psychotropic drugs on weight gain. She begins:

Here’s one surefire way to make anyone feel helpless, hopeless, even crazy: Teach them that others will value them mostly for being thin and being nurturing, and put them in situations where they are too agitated or sad to be cheerful caretakers for family and friends. When they ask for help, give them a pill that may calm them down or pep them up but will have a good chance of increasing their weight. This has been the fate of millions of women, who then are more likely than men to blame themselves for their part what is being called the U.S. obesity epidemic.

March 15, 2008

Double Dose: Sex Trade Foes Stung by Spitzer’s Fall; Managing Online Health Records; The New Face of AIDS is a Black Woman; Pre-Schoolers and Body Image

E-Mail Discussed Unapproved Use of Drug: “John C. Lechleiter, an Eli Lilly official who is about to become the company’s top executive, wrote an e-mail message in 2003 that appears to have encouraged Lilly to promote its schizophrenia medicine Zyprexa for a use not approved by federal drug regulators,” reports today’s New York Times. Why is this an issue?

The e-mail message was discussed this week in an Anchorage courtroom in a lawsuit against Lilly by the State of Alaska. The suit seeks reimbursement for the medical costs of Medicaid patients who developed diabetes while taking Zyprexa.

The drug causes severe weight gain and cholesterol problems in many patients and has been linked to diabetes.

Zyprexa is federally approved only for use by adults diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. While doctors are free to prescribe it “off label” for any patients for any use, it would be a violation of federal law for Lilly to actively encourage off-label use of the drug.

Bed Rest: Writing at Feminist Law Professors, David S. Cohen describes his wife being prescribed bed rest for preeclampsia and the questions it raises about medical logic and stereotypes.

Online Records: The Washington Post looks at the pros and cons of trusting your health records to online technology. There are now more than 100 websites offering management of personal health records.

Foes of Sex Trade Stung by Eliot Spitzer’s Fall: Until he was linked to a prostitution ring, the about-to-be-former New York governor was a strong ally of human rights groups, “which credit him with what they call the toughest and most comprehensive anti-sex-trade law in the nation,” reports The New York Times. The Times talked with Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of Equality Now:

Too often, Ms. Bien-Aimé maintained, the public imagines a huge divide between the kind of glamorous call girl depicted in a movie like “Pretty Woman,” and the lurid, violent world of trafficked women in a film like “Eastern Promises.” But they are all part of a commercial sex industry that buys women’s bodies, she said, citing studies that put the average age of entry into prostitution in the United States at 14.

“There’s no sliding scale in the exploitation of women,” she said. “Either you exploit a woman in the commercial sex trade or you don’t.”

Because Mr. Spitzer seemed to agree, she said, “he was our hero.”

Silence Will Not Protect You: “On this day, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, AIDS now bears a black female face,” writes Diary of an Anxious Black Woman. “Unlike gay men in the ’80s, however, we are conspicuously silent (or rather “silenced”) in mainstream media and within the national conscience.” She continues:

Unlike gay men in the ’80s, who broke the silences surrounding their sexuality – promoting condom use through newsletters and even in gay porn (even though gay porn and personal relationships of late have dangerously resorted back to “bareback sex”) – black women, who now comprise 70% of new AIDS cases and, if aged between 19 and 44, will most likely die by this disease, have not rallied publicly through collective rage (I’m very angry to see such high statistics among my sisters, aren’t you?). We have not promoted, in TLC fashion (remember when they used to sport those condoms in their clothing?), condom use among women and girls through our erotic fiction, music, and videos (I know at least one porn star who gave out “goodies” at the Harlem Book Fair last summer but didn’t bother to distribute condoms) nor have we staged walkouts at various church services when they promote violent homophobia and “wives submit” type sermons. We have not stormed through the Stock Exchange to demand affordable drugs for black women here and overseas, nor have we staged sit-ins at various corrections facilities and hospitals and schools, which have all colluded in the silent devastation of our communities through the spread of HIV/AIDS.

We have not figured out, as the gay men of the ’80s did, that there is an insidious agenda to let us die.

Expert Hired to Guide Title IX Effort: “The University of Colorado appointed one of its staunchest critics Monday to advise the school on women’s safety issues, fulfilling the final requirement of a $2.85 million settlement with two former students,” reports the Denver Post. “Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an educator and 1984 Olympian, will independently oversee Title IX compliance, including matters regarding sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination.”

CU, you may remember, made headlines after a former student was raped during a high school recruitment party. The school overhauled its athletic program and several school officials were ousted. Best quote: “The best way to prevent a sex harassment or a sex assault claim is to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Hogshead-Makar.

The Long-Term Cost of Childhood Abuse: Middle-aged women who suffered physical or sexual abuse as children spend up to one-third more than average in health care costs, according to a long-term study of more than 3,000 women (mean age: 47 years) that appears in the March issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

After accounting for women’s age and education, the health care costs for women who were sexually abused were 16 percent higher than non-abused women; physically abused women’s costs were 22 percent higher. For women who suffered both types of abuse, their costs rose 36 percent above average.

“What’s remarkable is that women with an average age in their late 40s still suffer consequences from abuse that occurred decades ago,” said Amy Bonomi, associate professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, who led the study at Group Health in Seattle. “No other study has found that before.”

Pre-schoolers Discuss Body Image, Diversity: Because it’s never too soon.

March 11, 2008

Documentary Examines Breast Implant Safety


Boston University will screen “Absolutely Safe,” a documentary examining breast implant safety and the role of beauty, on Friday, March 28.

A Q&A with the director, Carol Ciancutti-Leyva, will follow.

From the film’s synopsis:

At a time when more women than ever are getting breast implants, fewer voices than ever seem to be asking “Why?” And fewer still are asking “Are they safe?” ABSOLUTELY SAFE takes an open-minded, personal approach to the controversy over breast implant safety. Ultimately, ABSOLUTELY SAFE is the story of everyday women who find themselves and their breasts in the tangled and confusing intersection of health, money, science, and beauty.

OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian has high praise for the documentary, calling it “the perfect antidote to ads and TV shows that now routinely mislead women into thinking that these devices have been proven to be safe.” You can read reviews here.

And check out the rest of the website, which is among the best film websites I’ve seen in terms of presentation and issue information. The implant controversy is covered in-depth, and there are numerous resources and links for more background identified in each section.

The free film screening at BU starts at 6:30 p.m. and takes place in Sargent College Room 101, 635 Commonwealth Avenue. It’s sponsored by Every Person Counts.

“Absolutely Safe” has been shown on college campuses and in cities around the country. If you’re interested in organizing a screening, contact info AT