Women’s bodies continue to be plastered on billboards and magazines. They are constantly being perfected to adhere to society’s standards, which changes frequently over the decades. Such beauty standards nowadays are often proliferated by the media to gain attention.
However, when it comes to the inner workings of a woman’s body, everyone seems to turn a blind eye.
We are told from an early age to stay hush about the way our bodies work. We do not discuss parts of ourselves that can be considered any less than perfect.
When did periods become a forbidden talking point? We are taught to take care of our bodies from a young age. But how do we care for it if we do not know all the ways it can go wrong?
The many euphemisms that stand in for menstruation are the greatest evidence towards this social taboo. It’s not like periods are a dark wizard looking to wipe out a certain bespeckled young boy so it must be referred to as “You-Know-Who.”
I was watching an episode of Orange is the New Black the other day where Piper uses her “menses” as an excuse from getting in trouble for talking back with the guard. In response, the male guard displays a disgusted face before walking off.
Such stigma towards menstruation prevents us from understanding the natural process, instead viewing it as something shameful to be hidden.
As a result, society often views women as inferior because of this biological process. Not enough is known about menstruations and conditions surrounding it. Many people, particularly men, would have a difficult time correctly explaining what a period even is and how it functions. Debates over tampon tax and menstrual leaves further show how divided opinions on menstruation can be.
That is why I am pushing endometriosis into the spotlight.
March is Endometriosis Awareness Month! In 2014, the first annual Endometriosis Awareness March took place in Washington D.C.
Little is known about the causes of this “invisible” illness that affects millions of women around the world. On top of that, widespread public awareness and advocacy for endometriosis is close to non-existent.
Endometriosis is a reproductive condition in which endometrium (tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus) grows outside in places where it shouldn’t be, such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, heavy periods, painful sex and in rare cases, infertility. Amount of pain can differ from woman to woman, with some experiencing mild cramping to others being unable to go to work or school because it is so unbearable.
With no biomarkers or imaging tests to detect the conditions, surgery is the only way to get a correct diagnosis.
Each month, the body sends hormones that causes the endometrium to thicken in preparation for the release of an egg. If you get pregnant, the egg will attach to the endometrium and begin to grow, being supplied with nutrients. If you do not become pregnant, the body will shed this endometrium as menstrual blood.
With endometriosis, tissue that grows outside of the uterus will similarly begin to thicken during your period. However, there is no place for the blood to exit through. Therefore, it stays in your body, making it irritated and painful. Sometimes they form scar tissue or fluid-filled sacs, known as cysts, which can make it hard to get pregnant.
The female hormone estrogen levels cause a rise in endometriosis. This is why women in their teens to mid-forties are most susceptible to endometriosis. As of 2015, about 10.8 million women were affected.
There is no cure. Pain medication, hormones and surgeries are the best options to relieve suffering. Laparoscopies can help to remove implants and scar tissue. As a last resort, some women even turn to hysterectomy and oophorectomy, or complete removal of the uterus and ovaries.
What little has been done to raise awareness about endometriosis is like sticking a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
One of the first steps towards destigmatizing diseases that are considered to be a “woman’s problem” is to normalize it. Taboos surrounding menstruation predates even language itself. Society has come incredibly far when it comes to modernization, yet holding onto such negative views regarding women’s bodies will always leave us a step back.
Suffering from endometriosis shouldn’t prevent a young woman from continuing her education or working. Because of missed school, lost wages and social isolation, endometriosis keeps girls from reaching their full potential and therefore, needs to be integrated into larger social justice movements.
Endometriosis is also mostly absent from current reproductive health advocacy platforms. The only time it is mentioned is during the birth control pill debate between reproductive health advocates and conservatives.
Menstruation is not a choice, and menstrual care should not be a luxury. Women are more than just our bodies. Every day, as the world learns more, as the negative ideas shrouding women’s bodies fall apart, the stronger we get.