This article first appeared on the Utopia Women’s Wellness blog:
Women raised me. Despite just celebrating my 60th birthday I think I’ve done my most maturing in the last 30 years. You see, I live in a household of women – with my wife and two daughters to be precise. It’s through living and loving life with them that I can honestly say I’ve learnt the most in these last 30 years. To add to it all I am somewhere between 6-9 weeks off becoming a grandfather for the first time with my daughter about to become a mother to her own daughter. The excitement in my family is palpable. It has also opened us up to a whole world of the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy, fertility, preconception and prenatal health messages.
But over the last 30 years (and now with the newest bundle of joyl on the way) I’ve noticed something unique about women’s health and public health messages in particular. Our culture has turned those uniquely female experiences into experiences associated with pain and the need for medical intervention. Periods, childbirth and menopause often have negative and overbearing experiences and emotions connected to them. Women are told that they need medical care and testing to stay healthy and although this is the experience of some women, there is another way. These uniquely female experiences are not traditionally painful or debilitating, but rather are signs of female strength and power and should be celebrated. But these warped ideas about health don’t stop there.
We live in a time where simultaneously we are experiencing a global obesity epidemic as well as people dying of starvation. Today, 97% of women will say something cruel about their bodies and 50% of women are currently dieting. It is shocking to learn that 8 out of 10, 10-year-old girls have dieted to lose weight. We currently have 14 million Australians that are overweight or obese and if our weight gain continues at the current levels, by 2025, close to 80% of all Australian adults and ⅓ Australian children will be overweight or obese. This is even higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are 1.9 times as likely as non-indigenous Australians to be obese not to mention live 10 years less than the average non-indigenous Australian female.
Since 1960, our fertility rates have almost halved. This is not only for health reasons but also economic and social factors. But infertility rates are climbing and IVF touted as the solution. At the same time, we are also seeing an increase in diseases that impact female fertility like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome. We are also seeing a rise in early periods (as young as 9) and early menopause (as young as 40). Some suggest that this rise in disease is down to our improved diagnostic tools but the factors that contribute to these diseases cannot be ignored.
Modern diets with a greater focus on convenience than nutrients, the insane amount of stress that we are all victim to, the pressures of being a woman in a ‘man’s world’ and the rising use of tampons (which are often not pure cotton but treated with various chemicals… how else do you think they get “easy glide”) are all factors that we can not afford to avoid. Women’s health has never been more important or more under threat. With big industry and public health messages providing confusing and often contradictory messages it’s time to take control of your health. Your thoughts and beliefs are actual things that are wired into your biology. You possess the power to be the healthiest and best version of yourself.
As the husband to a wonderful and inspiring woman and father to two self-assured and strong women, there is a quote by Naomi Wolf that really resonates with me: “Women who love themselves are threatening; but men who love real women, more so”. I strive to be one of those threatening men and I look forward to meeting you at Utopia in Brisbane and Sydney.