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New edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" to be released

The new edition and the 1971 edition that I read.

It’s been 35 years since this groundbreaking book by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective debuted. I remember reading my older cousin’s tattered copy. This is the book that made Rev. Tinkywinky go apesh*t, calling it “obscene trash.”

The latest update of the bold, graphic and educational book contains information that didn’t exist in the last edition; you can read up on hormone therapy, stem-cell research, Medicare prescription-drug coverage and informed medical consent. What has been toned down, ironically (and predictably, given today’s times), is the strong feminist origin of the first release. Here are interesting comparisons between the old and new editions: (Seattle Times):

“Women and Their Bodies” first appeared in 1970, and the 193-page stapled booklet, with its confrontational language, launched the women’s health movement. The first commercial edition of the book was published in 1973 under the new title, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” The 2005 updated edition is 832 pages, with half of them featuring revised or new material. Excerpts below demonstrate the difference in tone.

From “Women and Their Bodies” (1970): “We as women are redefining competence: A doctor who behaves in a male chauvinist way is not competent, even if he has medical skills. We have decided that health can no longer be defined by an elite group of white, upper-middle-class men. It must be defined by us.”

From “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (2005): “Our medical culture also puts a premium on high-tech equipment and testing, along with surgical procedures and expensive prescription drugs. While many of these are necessary and useful, treatments that may be less expensive in the long run, including preventive and some alternative health practices and care by nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, are often dismissed or overlooked.”

There is an excellent sidebar comparison of the approach of OBO versus a mainstream guide like the The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health.

Body image

“Our Bodies”: “Learning to accept and love ourselves in our bodies is an important ongoing struggle and a political statement. It can take time to embrace our own beauty, or even to recognize it. The self-loathing that many of us live with each day eats away at our well-being.”

“Harvard Guide”: “Study after study indicates that American women tend to be dissatisfied with their looks, rating themselves too ugly, too plain, too old, too pimply, too fat, too hairy, too tall, and so on. By contrast, men in general tend to be much more satisfied with their bodies, even when objective measurements indicate that they might not meet certain standards of perfection.”

Sexual Orientation

“Our Bodies”: “Letting other people know that we identify as lesbian, bisexual, queer, or trans can be one of the most challenging and life-changing decisions we face. Each of us must decide for ourselves to what extent we want our family, friends, and acquaintances to know about our sexuality and gender identity.”

“Harvard Guide”: “Not only do many teenagers experiment with both heterosexual and homosexual behavior before learning what is most natural to them, but also women in particular (many of them married, with children) are apt to discover a lesbian leaning well into life, only when they have enough time, confidence, and experience for that self-awareness.”

Sources: “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (2005, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster), “The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health” (By Karen J. Carlson, M.D., et. al. The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Copyrighted)

Given the American Taliban’s desire to control the womb, you’d think the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective would more strongly address the political shift in this nation that threatens women’s access to contraception and reproductive health services.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding