When the Hits Keep Coming

I’ve been a little absent from the blogosphere for the past several months.  Looking through my archives my last post was May 21st.  It really doesn’t feel like it has been that long but a lot has happened in the last five months.  There are so many things I wanted to write about but every time I sat down to start I felt overwhelmed or something came up.  The time has come to give up my self-proclaimed title of “Queen of Excuses” and share some of what has been happening in my life.  To my regular readers, if I still have any that is, please forgive the slight deviation from my regular topics of gender and sexuality.  I will get back to that soon enough.  I promise.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month after all and that is a cause near and dear to my heart.

For the last three years or so I have been grappling with widespread and unexplained chronic pain.  As a young woman in her 20s I refused to believe whatever I was dealing with did not have a cure.  There had to be an end in sight.  I went to the doctor several times a month and had more tests done that I can keep track of.  I was told I might have an infection, it might be rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus, or several other things I cannot remember or pronounce.  Each time though the tests came back negative.  At the time the pain started I was working in an extremely unhealthy and stressful environment.  Often times the body reacts physically to stress and things going on in our lives.  I was told this was probably it.  But the pain persisted even after I quit my job.  It continued after I moved to another town, away from people who knew me, and more importantly away from people who had hurt me.

I quickly became tired of all the tests and the receptionist at the doctor’s office typing in my ID number without needing my card.  I became more and more frustrated with not having any results, of not having a diagnosis to go with what was often crippling pain.  It became wearisome having to defend myself and explain that yes, for whatever reason, I was still hurting although nothing on my medical chart could tell anyone why.  So, I did what any normal person would do at this point (right?) and I stopped.  I stopped going to the doctor.  I stopped telling people when it hurt to walk, or sit, or stand, or lay down.  When I wasn’t actively trying to deal with it I was ignoring it.  I pushed my body because I’m in my 20s dammit and I should not have to accept that I have limits.  I held out hope that if I just ignored it long enough it would go away.

Then in February of this year I slipped in the bathtub and fell.  I cut my shin open and banged my shoulder, hip, and forearm on the way down.  I instinctively reached out an arm to stop myself and ended up with my full body weight pressing my wrist into the ground.  It was a pretty nasty fall and even though the doctor assured me that falls in the tub are one of the most common way people injure themselves I was not healing.  The bruises on my shoulder, hip, and arm lasted for months.  I ended up with my wrist in a brace months later.  The cut on my leg did not heal and continued to look sunken in and red.  Then I developed a rash on my leg.  It appeared one night and continued to spread.  I of course continued to ignore it, telling myself the body is amazing  and is perfectly capable of healing itself.  When August came around and I still wasn’t healing I sucked it up and called the doctor.

By this point it had been over a year since I’d gone.  For anything.  Including pain that had become a constant companion, often waking me in the night and keeping me from doing simple things like riding the bus to work.  I finally got a doctor who not only believed me but committed to working with me to find out what was going on.  She referred me to a rheumatologist and after a couple more meetings and several more tests I finally had a diagnosis.

Fibromyalgia.  The word hung in the air and I could feel my hope dying.  This was not something that would go away.  Instead it is something that I will be dealing with for the rest of my life.  There is no cure.  There is nothing that will make the pain go away.  No magic pill, no surgery, nothing.  There is nothing I can do but try to manage it.  I spent the next couple of months researching the disease and staying in communication with my doctor to try to find the best treatment plan for me.  And that’s where I am still.  Research.  Management.  Research.  Management.

I’ve learned that I need to grieve.  I need to go through the process of letting go.  I need to accept that I have limits and if I can learn to respect those limits I may feel better sometimes.  I need to mourn the fact that I’m in my 20s and will be in pain for the rest of my life.  How is that fair?  Like at all.  I’ve come to recognize that I am in the anger stage of the grieving process.  And well I don’t want to live here and just want to be angry right now.  I want to rant, scream, cry, and punch my pillow into a pulp.  I want to yell profanities at the sky before falling to my knees and beating the ground with my fists.

Luckily I have found a few friends who deal with chronic pain and have for a while.  They’ve been my rock throughout this.  They understand the difference between the days where I just want to be angry and the days where I need advice and wisdom.  They’ve introduced me to the concept of the spoon theory.  Please, if you get a chance read it.  It is a great analogy for me and many others who deal with chronic pain.

I won’t go into the specifics of my pain but one good thing this diagnosis has done for me is explain and connect many different facets of my life and what’s been going on with my body.  It is nice to have an explanation.  Even if it isn’t what I wanted.  I feel permission to start dealing with it and moving forward now.

That is what has been going on over the last couple months and why I’ve been so lax in my blogging.  I just haven’t had the energy or the motivation to write.  But that is slowly, yet surely coming back to me.  Thank you for sticking with me and look forward to good things to come on Unladylike Musings.

___________

If you are interested in reading more about Fibromyalgia click here.  For more about “invisible illnesses” click here.

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The Darker Side of Pink: Part 2

Pink Ribbons, Inc.For me breast cancer is like the crack in my windshield I never bothered to get fixed.  I don’t always notice it, sometimes I even forget about it and try to scratch it off as if it were a piece of dirt.  Not dangerous now, but someday it could be.  It is a part of my story and my life.  It is not something that I need to be made aware of, or reminded that it exists.  It is a part of my nightmares.

This October I chose to focus on learning more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the big players in the awareness movement.  I watched the film Pink Ribbons, Inc., I asked my mother if she wanted to share her story, and I read countless stories of others.  I reflected on the life of my grandmother and the way she chose to live after she was diagnosed.  What I came away with is that the mainstream breast cancer movement is a sham.  It makes me feel sick to my stomach, exploited, belittled, and dismissed; like my story, and the stories of the people I love do not matter.  We live in the shadow of the almighty dollar.

After reflecting on the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. and the mainstream breast cancer awareness culture in general I have six major concerns.

1.  Awareness does not equal action.  This is something I had issues with even before I watched the film.  Awareness is not the same kind of issue now as it has been in the past.  You’d kind of have to live under a rock to have never heard of breast cancer.  So, why do we keep calling them awareness campaigns?  We know what it is and we know that it kills people.  What we don’t know is what causes it.

2.  Pinkwashing.  Pinkwashing is when a company promotes, creates, or uses something that is linked to breast cancer at the same time as “fighting for the cause.”  For example, when Komen partnered with KFC and the “Buckets for the Cure” campaign was launched.  Another great example of this is the now infamous Komen endorsed perfume, “Promise Me” that was proven to have chemicals that interfered with hormones.  There is no integrity.  Not only is the disease being exploited but the public’s trust is as well.  Why wouldn’t we trust someone who says the are working to fight breast cancer?  And that is the whole point.  Companies have learned that they can get people to pay a little bit more money for something if they believe it is going towards a good cause.  These companies are profiting from the people’s pain and desire to help.

A really great website to check out if you are wondering what is in your cosmetics is called Skin Deep.

3.  Thinking that a complex problem will be solved by throwing money at it.  Throwing money at a complicated problem is such a “privileged” thing to do.  I know I will be stepping on toes here but hear me out.  Think about poverty.  This is a complex problem that will not be solved by money alone.  Yet people do not want to get involved, or work towards actually solving the problem when they can just write a check.  It feels good to write that check.  It makes you feel like you are doing something good, working towards a cause, and donating what you can.  I would argue though that it is an empty satisfaction.  Money (alone) does not solve problems, and it often ends up creating more.

I see this with the breast cancer awareness movement.  Thousands of people will run/walk/jump/shop/anything for the cure.  But where is that money going?  How much of it is actually going towards research like they say?  What about prevention and causes?  What about research for women who are not white, middle class, and American?  Breast cancer does not just affect white women and yet this is the group that nearly all of the research focuses on.  There needs to be better coordination between organizations that are conducting studies.  Move beyond the “convenient” sample.

Many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have the major risk factors, so why are they developing it?  The awareness movement has led women to believe that mammograms keep cancer away; that if you can just detect it early enough then you can get rid of it.  If you eat right and excercise you can prevent cancer.  This is so misleading.  Being a woman puts you at risk for developing breast cancer.  Period.  It’s scary, but it’s true.

The fact that people are willing to do all these things to “fight breast cancer” show how motivated people are.  It is coming from a good place and has created an amazing network.  I would just challenge people to be more critical of where they are spending their money and what that money is actually going towards.

4.  Women’s stories are being minimized under the pressure to be optimistic and perky.  The optimistic, warm, fuzzy, pink approach to breast cancer puts enormous pressure on patients to be positive.  As if women need more influences in their lives silencing their anger.  This approach is alienating.  Breast cancer is not a soft disease.  It is not pretty.  It is not feminine.  It is not normal.  And it is not pink.  It is ugly.  It is shocking and jarring to hear that you have cancer.  Women who have been diagnosed need to feel safe to feel angry, cheated, and spiteful.  They should not have to ask for permission.  They should not have to apologize or feel like a grinch if have negative feelings.  They should not have to feel okay about having cancer.  If they want to get to that point they should be able to do it in their own time, in their own way, even if that includes screaming, ranting, and a lot of tears.  When you see a pink ribbon instead of a woman who is afraid and hurting something needs to change.

5.  Militarization of language.  The way cancer is talked about can also be alienating to patients.  The mainstream breast cancer organizations focus on celebrating survivors.  Breast cancer is something to be fought, conquered, and survived.  What about the women who develop stage four cancer and die?  Did these women lose the battle?  Did they not fight hard enough?  Did these women fail?  These are things that are implied through the use of militarized language.  The message that if you fight hard enough you can beat it is so damaging.  There is no balance and it leaves people vulnerable, both patients and the people who care about them.  Breast cancer is not an army to be mobilized against.  It is a disease.  It is a put down to the women who have not and are not “surviving.”  You cannot have this message without seeing people who die as having failed.  This is so not the case, and even as I’m sitting here typing this I’m tearing up.  This message does not allow women who do not recover to die with dignity in a perfectly healed state.  That is so wrong and unfair.

We need to be teaching women to balance hope with the understanding, and the reality, that it may not work.  You may not respond to chemo.  Even if you get your breasts removed it may come back.  This does not mean that you have failed or that you are losing the battle.  Not every story is happy, shiny, pretty and pink.

6.  Reducing women to a body part.  Women are more than their breasts.  Enough said.

What do you think when you see a pink ribbon?

 

Read Part 1 Here

Check out these great websites:

FORCE

Think Before you Pink

Breast Cancer Fund

Breast Cancer Action

The Darker Side of Pink

APink Ribbons, Inc.s pretty much everyone knows, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The color pink can be found everywhere, the isles of our stores, the backgrounds of websites, the white house and even the NFL.  You can get virtually anything in the color pink to support raising awareness for breast cancer.  But have you ever stopped to wonder what good “raising awareness” does?  Or where your money is going when you buy that pink kitchenaid mixer?  What exactly is being researched and is your money going to support a product that is linked to breast cancer?  These are all questions that Samantha King asks in her book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and Politics of Philanthropy.In 2011 Léa Pool made a documentary featuring King’s research and her book.  This last week I was finally able to watch it.  The follow is part one of my take on the documentary, what I took away, the “pink ribbon culture,” and some add-ons from outside sources/experiences.  Basically a mash-up.

**Spoiler Warning:  If you plan on watching this film do so now then come back and read the rest**

The documentary itself occasionally felt a little disjointed and could have flowed better from one scene/topic to the next.  I also wish that it would have shared a little more about the history of the Breast Cancer Awareness movement.  There was a section where is spliced back and forth from shots of the past to the present.  It wasn’t clear what was going on other than it was showing the contrast of marches versus the current onslaught of pink run/walk/jog/shop for the cure.  The film was also not very objective, it had a very clear agenda it was pushing, but you have to admire the straightforwardness and honesty in presenting its case against the current breast cancer culture.  Overall I felt that the film was fairly well done and informative.  I would definitely recommend seeing it and if you don’t have Netflix, I’d even recommend getting the free trial to watch it.

Since the film missed out on some of the history here’s what I found.  Breast cancer used to be somewhat taboo to discuss, especially your breast cancer if you were unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with the disease.  In 1974, First Lady Betty Ford was the first women to speak publicly about her diagnosis.  From there it was a chain reaction of outrage, advocacy, and support for women to speak out and to talk to one another about their experiences.  Women began to learn more about it and to get mammograms.  They fought for it to be recognized as a problem and for there to be different, better options other than an automatic radical mastectomy.  You don’t have to hide it, or be ashamed of it, was the main message.  In 1991 the National Breast Cancer Coalition was formed.  They pushed for breast cancer to become a national priority (http://www.healthcentral.com/breast-cancer/c/4535/15438/lesson).

Breast October is all about pinkCancer Awareness Month is a different story.  This was started by a public relations expert at AstraZeneca in the 80’s when it was the largest pharmaceutical company in the world.  According to the film this was done to encourage women to get mammograms.  In doing so, they make more money and therefore benefit by the increased numbers of women getting screened.  From there cost-marketing capitalism took over.  Corporations learned that all they had to do was associate with a cause people cared about and their sales would increase.  Women are known to make more of the buying decisions and are more likely to pay more if it’s “going to a good cause.”  Breast cancer is the poster child for such cause related marketing campaigns.  And people get to say breast out loud, on public television.

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Avon Foundation for Women were really the spear-headers for the mainstream breast cancer culture.  They created the momentum for others to jump on the bandwagon.  Unfortunately these mainstream players have jumped into bed with corporations.  They have to “sell the disease” or risk alienating their customers.  So, they find more and more innovative ways to tie to the cause.

One example in the film was Yoplait and their lid campaign.  For every lid off of Yoplait yogurt that was mailed back the company would donate 10 cents to research.  But think about it, if you ate one container of yogurt a day for a month and mailed in the lid Yoplait would be donating $3.00.  $3.00?  Might as well just write a check if you want to donate money.  Another example is the NFL.  When they went through a bit of a character crisis and were looking to rehabilitate their image they went pink.  They found out that they had more women viewers than they originally thought and voilà pink cleats and sweat bands emerge.

These companies are exploiting cancer to boost their profits.  They are exploiting the desire to support a good cause and they are exploiting the love people have for dear ones affected by this disease.  It’s disgusting really.

Stay tuned for part two where I will break down specific problems I see with the mainstream breast cancer movement, other than what I’ve mentioned above.

UPDATE: Read the second half of this post here.

“Breast Cancer Is Not A Pink Ribbon”

**Trigger Warning**

Photographer David Jay is working to put a new face to breast cancer awareness campaigns.  Normally a fashion photographer he was inspired to start The SCAR Project when a friend was diagnosed with cancer at a young age.  His pictures of young women, ages 18-35, that have survived breast cancer are raw and very powerful.

“For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.”

See more of his images here at The SCAR Project’s website.

You can also check The Scar Project on Facebook or at The Scar Project Blog.

The photographer also did an interview with ivillage a couple years ago.

A Reminder to Give Yourself Some TLC…From a Hot Guy

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I have been hanging onto this video for way too long.

I find this video highly refreshing compared to the usual barrage of sexist campaigns such as “save the ta-tas,” or the silly Facebook memes.  I’ve seen a couple in the past that were meant to be provacative, and dare I say, titilating.  The “I like it on the _____” comes to mind.  How are you bringing awareness to something when no one knows what you’re talking about or thinks you are way oversharing?

Back to the video.  Who wouldn’t want a gorgeous man reminding them to do a self-breast exam?  First of all the method is great.  It’s simple and easy to remember.  TLC – touch, look, check.  Got it.  Second of all, if you want to argue that it is going the opposite direction and objectifying men, it is totally obvious these guys are having fun in the video.  They are not being used, demeaned, or demoralized.  There are in on it.  I beleive whole-heartedly that men can be, and are objectified.  It is not just something that happens to women.  But, I would argue that it is not happening in this video.  So enjoy the visual, get a check up, and maybe take a cold shower.  😉

This campaign is done by Rethink Breast Cancer.

“Launched in 2001, Rethink is the first-ever, Canadian breast cancer charity to bring bold, relevant awareness to the under-40 crowd; foster a new generation of young and influential breast cancer supporters; infuse sass and style into the cause; and, most importantly, respond to the unique needs of young (or youngish) women going through it.”

I have a couple of things planned for this month and it is not all going to be light and fun.  Breast cancer is a tough reality for far too many women.  It is something that affects far too many families.  My own included.  I lost my grandmother to cancer when I was thirteen and there are still days it knocks me down, panting for breath.  I hope to balance my posts with not only stories and hardships, but hope as well.  If anyone has a story they’d like to share please feel free to contact me.  Also, I just found out the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. was on Netflix.  I plan to watch it and write a review.  I would love it if others wanted to watch it as well and join in on the discussion.

The Growing Gap: Which Average Are We Talking About?

When I hear the word “gap” in relation to women my first thought is the gender pay gap between men and women.  But there is another gap we should be worrying about, the growing gap between the average sized woman, and the average sized model.  “Twenty years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, she weighs 23% less” according to PLUS model Magazine.

Read the whole story here at ABC News.

The pictures alluded to in the above video can be found at the magazine’s website.  They did a feature earlier this year called “Plus Size Bodies, What Is Wrong With Them Anyway?”  I don’t know that we should be putting women into dichotomous categories of “real” and “models” but that’s a conversation for another time.

Read another response to the feature here.

A Day That Will Live in Infamy…Apparently

Republican likens contraceptive mandate to Pearl Harbor, 9/11

“I know in your mind you can think of times when America was attacked. One is December 7th, that’s Pearl Harbor day.  The other is September 11th, and that’s the day of the terrorist attack,” Kelly said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “I want you to remember August the 1st, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.”

Really?  I don’t even know what to say about this one.

To Protect the Men…

“Why is our culture so intent on protecting men from hearing about or discussing a woman’s reproductive health?”

I came across this article on “The Current Conscience” blog, written by a Los Angeles based columnist.  It is interesting to read a male perspective stating that women should not be apologizing for their bodies.  I strongly recommend that you read the full article (below) and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

“So, why are women apologizing for their bodies or hiding their reproductive issues from their male partners or friends? I think this tendency for women to protect men from issues about their body, especially about the reproductive issues, is something that is learned. It’s not inherent. All it takes is your mother or another female relative telling you that no man wants to hear about a woman’s period or PMS issues, to begin a lifelong habit of not sharing anything related to that part of the body. Or, it’s your first boyfriend saying “TMI–gross,” when you dare say out loud that you’re dealing with a problem. It shuts you down for life.”

Read the article here: “If Men Had Periods: Women Would Know All About It.”

Note to men: if your sense of masculinity depends on avoiding ever having to buy a plastic tube filled with cotton, you’ve got way bigger problems than you realize.”

Shame: Sisters by Blood and Embarrassment

That’s right, we are going to talk about your period.  And if you don’t have a period chances are there are a number of women in your life who do.  What are the first things that come to your mind when you think of “that time of month?”  Is it something positive?  Or is it something less than favorable?  Chances are you’d rather not think about it at all and you’d really rather not talk about it.  It is important to do so though because nothing is used more to devalue and minimize women’s experiences, emotions, and feelings than her period.

It is referred to as gross or disgusting by both men and women.  I can think of a lot of disgusting things.  Baby spit up, or poop, or snot…basically anything that comes out of a baby.  🙂  In all seriousness though, if you’ve ever worked in a camp kitchen on bacon day, in the food industry in general, or had very much contact with children you know there are a lot of disgusting things in this world.  There are also those things which my grandmother called “disgusting” and would fall more under the category of upsetting or morally wrong.  Stories that are all too often in the news about rape, murder, kidnapping etc. fall into this category, and (if you are like my grandmother) so do car salesmen, bills, and gas prices.  So, which is it?  Revolting or immoral?  While you think about it, let me pose a third option.

Normal.

That’s right, this thing that a lot of women have come to think of as a curse is completely and totally normal.  In fact, it is concerning if you do not have a period or have an irregular one.  So, why is it that there is so much shame associated with having a period?  Why do women, no matter their age, often feel embarrassed buying products at the store?  Why does that embarrassment extend even to a female checker?  Why are women afraid to share period stories and experiences with other women?

I would argue that it has a lot to do with patriarchy and limiting women’s (perceived) power.  Not to get all Xena, Warrior Princess on everyone but a woman’s body is an amazing thing.  Really think about it.  In theory, women have the ability to grow another human being inside of them.  How cool is that?!  It is also an incredibly powerful thing to be the life-giver of humanity.  They say giving birth to a child is one of the most empowering experiences a woman can have.  And especially women who give birth naturally say they leave the experience feeling like they can do anything.  I digress though.  The fact that women bleed every month means that their bodies are preparing to grow a child.  Their bodies know to get rid of the old stuff if there is no need for it and the process starts over again.  It’s really an amazing process.  So, what better way to down play and limit the power of this process than to attach a negative connotation to it and make women feel ashamed of their own bodies.  Women have already been stereotyped as overly emotional and irrational beings.  I can not count the number of times when I have been sad or angry that someone asks me if I’m on my period, or says something along the lines of “she’s PMSing” and I know I am not alone in this.  Many of my female friends hear similar statements to dismiss their feelings.  The conversation then turns to the woman having to defend her emotions or whatever she was talking about.  It is extremely invalidating and degrading to not be taken seriously just because you have a period.

And it is not only men that do this to women, but women do it to each other.  That is probably the most frustrating thing for me: to have another woman question my emotions when (I’m sure) she gets equally as frustrated when someone does it to her.  Instead of sharing in the experience and supporting each other through it, because let’s be honest, having a period can really suck sometimes, we continue to force each other into secrecy.  So, here’s to the biggest known secret ever…our periods!

Until my next period post check out these articles:

So Will Periods Attract Bears or What?

The Mainstream Media Is Out to Convince You That Periods Are Terrifying

Reproductive Writes: Do We Need To Bleed?