Pretty (Shouldn’t Have to) Hurt

Cover Girl lipstick ad/The Ladies Home Journal June 1964








Greeting me at my favorite local independent bookstore this past week was this interesting ‘Health’ section display:IMG_3203Being skinny (or at least dressing skinny), wearing dark red lipstick and super expensive perfume equals health for women? I realize the display is meant to cash in on popular New Year’s resolutions within our culture, but I still find it provocative on many different levels. I was sorely tempted to add ‘hazards’ under ‘health’ but didn’t want to get evicted from the bookstore.

By now the health dangers of the skinny woman syndrome are well known. Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, yo-yo/extreme/bizarre dieting. Expensive, dubiously medically-regulated, and sometimes fatal cosmetic surgeries. Beautiful Beyonce’s song “Pretty Hurts” does a good job of summing up this topic.

Something seemingly simple and innocuous as lipstick… How many people know that lipstick is a public/environmental health issue? Many popular brands of lipstick contain lead and at least eight other metals known to be harmful to humans. The FDA does not have any regulatory authority over the cosmetics industry, leaving the the 58 billion dollar a year industry (in the U.S./estimate for 2014) to self-regulate. Deborah Blum wrote a NYT Well blog article on this: Is There Danger Lurking in Your Lipstick? (8-16-13). The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has good, up-to-date information on this issue. And the health story on perfume is perhaps even more depressing, so I will skip it and let you read all about the petroleum products, allergens, neurotoxins, and synthetic musks here.

For some historical perspective (and some sad-funny stuff), I stumbled across my mother’s copy of The Ladies Home Journal, the June 1964 Special Issue. It features an article by Betty Friedan ‘Woman: The Fourth Dimension.’ Written a year after she published the now classic second-wave feminist book The Feminine Mystique,  her ‘fourth dimension’ of a woman’s existence is “woman as a person herself, employing all her intelligence and abilities in a changing world.”

The numerous ads for beauty products in this special Fourth Dimension edition are quite telling. Besides the one for lipstick I’ve included at the beginning of this post, here are a few that stand out as both Mad Men retro and disturbingly not-so-retro (and yes, there were only white people in this magazine): IMG_3214








Skin cancer anyone?






Here is a full-page fashion shot of a ‘four-dimensional woman’ as a beautifully coiffed and attired artist (my mother, who was a professional artist with an MFA dog-eared this page–hopefully only out of amusement): IMG_3221







But this photo and caption included in Friedan’s article puts a new spin on better living through chemistry and on the value of an education (the caption says “Velta Sparnins, mother of three children, attends college on a scholarship”): IMG_3219

Call the Midwife! The Hobby Lobby Won

Call_The_Midwife_2433160b“A woman’s right to control her own body is taken for granted now, and younger people can scarcely believe that abortion used to be a criminal offense, punishable by a prison sentence for the woman and the abortionist,” wrote Jennifer Worth in her article ‘A Deadly Trade’ (The Guardian, 1-5-2005).

Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife and district nurse in London’s impoverished East Side neighborhoods during the 1950s. She lived with and worked alongside the Anglican nuns/midwives from the Community of Saint John the Divine (the Midwives of Saint Raymund Nonnatus in both her memoir and BBC series Call the Midwife.) In this time before effective birth control and legal abortions, the women she cared for had multiple, closely-spaced, and often unplanned/unwanted pregnancies. Of course, women from higher socioeconomic levels had access to to safe (if not legal) abortions. From what I have read, through her work as a district nurse and midwife, Jennifer Worth became a deeply committed Christian as well as an outspoken supporter of women’s reproductive freedoms, including the right to safe, legal abortions. Showing that these do not need to be mutually exclusive.

I am currently besotted by both the BBC series Call the Midwife and the trilogy of Jenifer Worth’s memoirs (Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, and Farewell to the East End). I plan to use some of the Season 1 episodes of Call the Midwife next week for the summer quarter narrative medicine course I am teaching, and I envision using some of the episodes in future community health nursing courses. The series depicts many of the same–or similar–community health nursing issues that are still pertinent today and within the U.S. context. Of course, the Call the Midwife series also includes some of the early developments of Britain’s National Health Service, which for us in the U.S. seem oh so progressive (or is it oh so socialist?)

How is it that women’s reproductive rights in our country seem to be going backwards–oh so retro?

I just turned 54 and am blessed with having ‘come of age’ during a time of reasonably decent access to effective birth control and safe, legal abortion services. Similar to my belief in the germ theory, I took it as a given that these same (or better: more male methods of birth control anyone?) advancements would be available to my children and all future generations. Sure, I’ve had the mass mailing dire prediction/requests for donations from Planned Parenthood, and I’ve followed the legal retrogressive shenanigans in many of the Bible Belt states, but I never thought it could really touch me all the way out here at the far edge of North America, in the true blue area of Seattle. Until this week’s news of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the (seriously–where did they get this name?) Hobby Lobby. To paraphrase Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the poor women of Texas—and I didn’t speak out.” Shame on me.

My U.S. Senator Patty Murray sent me an e-mail saying she’s furious about the Supreme Court ruling and vows to fight it, although I’m not exactly sure how she plans to do this. But I gave her some money, perhaps so she can buy another pair of tennis shoes to march through the halls of Congress and kick some butt. You go girl! I am very happy to live in a state with so many women in key government positions. Our country would be better off with more women in key government positions.

The American Nurses Association issued a statement condemning the Hobby Lobby ruling, stating:

“The Affordable Care Act sought to provide millions of Americans access to basic health care and preventive services, including contraception, and essential component to women’s health. However, this ruling places an unfair burden on women, particularly those with lower incomes, who may not be able to access medically appropriate contraceptive care due to the additional expense.”

Julie Rovner wrote a nice, yet disturbingly Kafkaesque,  article “Did the Supreme Court Tip Its Hand on Contraceptive Cases Yet to Come?” yesterday for Kaiser Health News.

What will you do when the Hobby Lobby (or the Conservative male Supreme Court Justices) come for you–or your loved ones? Calling the midwife won’t work by then.

Addendum: The National Women’s Law Center launched the CoverHer hotline to help women who are having trouble getting access to women’s preventive health services – especially contraception – at no cost to them. The user-friendly hotline provides personalized instructions on how to navigate the health insurance process to ensure women get the coverage for preventive services they are guaranteed under the health care law and includes critical follow-up to track the results.

The Center will use the aggregated data it collects from CoverHer to identify systemic problems with implementation of the ACA’s birth control and other preventive health benefits and will use its advocacy and outreach efforts to overcome these obstacles. CoverHer builds off of the Center’s former Pills4Us hotline, which helped hundreds of women obtain the birth control that they needed.


Hotline number: 1-866-745-5487