Thursday, September 12, 2013

The opposite of shame and embarrassment

A lot of women are ashamed and/or embarrassed by their bodies. I'm not talking about "flaws" but deep-seated shame. Embarrassment that they have breasts, that they bleed each month with their periods.

I've actually heard someone say they were embarrassed to say they were pregnant "because then people will know what we've been doing." Yes, sex usually, but doesn't always, precedes pregnancy.

I don't really want to talk about that though.

TMI, but I've had some "female problems" lately, so I went to the doctor. Who happened to have a male med student working with her. I was asked if he could come in and ask questions before she did, since he needs to gain experience.

I said yes. And bluntly explained the problems I was having. Afterward, my doctor came in to have a similar discussion and thanked me for seeing him. Apparently other patients with similar problems were reticent to talk to a man about their reproductive systems.

Maybe I'm weird, but the older I get, the more I realize it's just a body. We all have bodies. They sometimes don't work the way they are supposed to or do what we expect. But there's no reason to be embarrassed by that.

Doctors are there to help. And they can't help if they don't have experience, if we don't talk to them. How do we get doctors that we trust if we don't help train them? And not just doctors--nurses too!

When my oldest was born, I was the only c-section on a mostly empty maternity floor (over a holiday weekend). A whole class of nursing students was on their OB rotation. The following week they would move on to another floor. Did they all come see my incision and learn how to care for it? Yep. I was asked if they could. If I hadn't, these students would have no practical experience with caring for a c-section.

The nursing instructor actually showed them a less painful way of massaging the uterus than what the regular nurse on the floor did. Now, I don't know about you, but I appreciate that there will be a half dozen nurses out there who have that knowledge and will be less likely to inadvertently hurt their patients. And they wouldn't have that experience, knowledge or my feedback if I hadn't let them come in.

Maybe it's having babies. After having what seems like half the hospital poking around in areas usually kept covered.... well, let's just say there's no mystery after pregnancy.

I've heard story after story of women who didn't see a doctor until it was too late because they were too embarrassed to talk about their period, their digestive issues, whatever. It isn't all reproductive organs.

Where does this shame and embarrassment come from? Maybe the messages we receive from the time we're little: school dress codes that target female students for their 'distracting' bodies, lessons in modesty (not necessarily a bad thing), slut shaming, the use of euphemisms for female body parts, the admonition that women need to cover up to protect men.... Heck, Original Sin, if you believe in it, is the fault of Eve and her tempting, distracting, female body.

All these things add up to female bodies being bad. If you are repeatedly told that your body is bad, is it any wonder so many women grow up to be embarrassed or ashamed to have those evil female bodies?

For as many women who have breast augmentation, how many try to hide their breasts? How many teenage girls do you know who are developing a hunch from hiding their chests?

I still remember the first time a boy snapped my bra--in 5th or 6th grade! I remember the embarrassment in 7th and 8th grade gym class when taking a 'menstrual' exemption from showering. And the expectation of the teachers that a period would be exactly 3 days, no longer, and always be exactly 28 days apart, something that was humiliating in high school swimming class if your cycle wasn't precisely that. Have a period come early? Too soon according to their checklist (and the gym teacher had a check list to mark down each girl to make sure we all took those showers!). Have a period go into a 4th day? Heaven forbid! You should be done so you must be lying to get out of....

Those are just my experiences. I know why women are ashamed of their bodies. I know why they are reluctant to see a doctor if something isn't quite right. Especially if a doctor has ever questioned if there is something actually wrong. I understand wanting to talk to a female nurse or doctor about 'female' issues.

What do we do about this? I don't have any answers except to try to accept that a body is just a body. And try to teach that to our sons and daughters. Male bodies, female bodies, they are all bodies. We can use real terms for body parts. We can look in the mirror and accept what we see.