WHEN the health educators and activists collectively known as the Boston Women's Health Collective set out, 35 years ago, to write a comprehensive women's health guide that valued the experiences of women, little did they know they would spark a movement.
What became known as Our Bodies, Ourselves has since sold more than 4 million copies worldwide and is available in 18 languages, as well as in Braille. It has also been through numerous updates and revisions, with this new 35th anniversary edition constituting the most substantive reworking of both the text and format since its inception.
This new edition, like previous versions, covers the full range of women's health issues, including chapters on healthy sexuality, body image, addictions, emotional well-being, environmental and occupational health, parenting, healthy aging and more.
Crucial chapters on issues such as abuse and reproductive choice do not shy away from controversy, and even include some horrific photos: a woman bruised, bloody and beaten, run over by her boyfriend and rushed to an emergency room, bearing his truck's tire marks on her body; a crumpled woman in a pool of her own blood, dead following a botched illegal abortion. These harsh images force the reader to see and contemplate the actual consequences of what have become banal expressions âe" domestic violence and right to life movements âe" in our daily parlance.
New to this edition are magazine-style sidebars with biographical profiles of diverse women speaking about their experience with particular health issues and myth or reality boxes that highlight key women's health facts. The effect is a reader-friendly text that enables either skimming and scanning or a deep read. There is also a free website to augment the information in the book.
With its forthright feminist stance, valuing of womenâe(TM)s voices and unwavering support of reproductive rights, it is no wonder that Our Bodies, Ourselves has known controversy. It has been banned in high schools and public libraries across the U.S. and was once condemned as âeoeobscene trashâe by Jerry Falwell.
But the only thing obscene about Our Bodies, Ourselves is that women still struggle with many of the same issues and health concerns today as they did 35 years ago: the over-medicalization of women's cycles (turning menstruation, child-bearing and menopause into illnesses requiring medical interventions); excessive and unnecessary medicating of women (anti-depressants, sleeping aids, such as benzodiazepines, direct-to-consumer advertisements of prescription drugs); reproductive choice (always under threat); the right to equitable care (women, particularly senior women, remain disproportionately poor); safe and respectful relationships (murder and abuse by intimate partners is still alarmingly high); and plenty more.
The truth is, 35 years on, we need Our Bodies, Ourselves more than ever.âe"Kathleen O'Grady
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