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    Overcoming Stigmas of Women’s Health as a Media Professional

    March 29, 2021
    Posted by Ellen Giuntoli

    Even though I was the first of my friends to become a mom, I thought I knew what my body was getting into. I have an older sister and we talk daily. She shared all the dirty details with me – or so I thought.

    Six weeks after giving birth to my daughter, I was in such pain it hurt to even lay in bed. “Something tells me this isn’t normal,” I texted my sister one desperate afternoon. She replied, “It is definitely not.”

    I approached the topic with doctors. One told me it was psychosomatic, and I needed to just “get back out there.” But being my assertive and relentless self, I eventually uncovered a whole world of physical therapy and exercises dedicated to rebuilding the pelvic floor. Never in 30 years had anyone mentioned this muscle group to me, or that I should be taking care of it.

    “It’s not commonly talked about,” my savior of an OBGYN told me. “But it is becoming part of the regular discussion now around post-partum care.”

    As I talked to friends about this and began working in the pharma industry on women’s health care brands, I found my story was just one of many. And this applied across the women’s health spectrum as a whole and not just to fellow moms or pelvic floor patients. Australia-based The Eve Project found that women within their country were literally “dying of embarrassment” from the shame around having sensitive, and potentially life-saving conversations.

    There is a stigma around talking to doctors about vaginal bleeding, menopause, pain during sex, or anything out of the normal visually down below. While the shift has been slow, being open about our bodies and health has definitely taken on a new form in recent years. There are movements celebrating Breastfeeding, like the #breastisbest campaign and a whole month dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness where the NFL, a male-dominated industry, has become one of the highest-profile organizations to use this month to raise awareness.

    As the tides shift, no topic seems off-limits. Both women, their allies and pharma brands are part of the growing conversation around once sensitive subjects. There has been an increased emphasis and dialogue around women’s rights and new icons are starting conversations around taboo topics.

    Perhaps no topic is considered more taboo than the menstrual cycle. Nadya Okamoto launched, a non-profit organization aimed at ending the stigma around talking about our cycles and, more importantly, getting products and education out to under-served communities. She has a large following on Instagram as well with 54,300 followers where she shares intimate details of her own menstrual cycle and struggles, and even photographs of used menstrual products. While over the top to some, her aim is to stop the shame and encourage women to get educated about their bodies and empower conversations with their doctors.

    Miscarriage, a personal journey once whispered about in sterile hospital rooms and grieved in private, often alone, has become a more common topic of discussion as women look to destigmatize an occurrence that 1 in 5 women will experience within the first trimester of pregnancy. Celebrities are at the forefront of this discussion. In 2020, Chrissy Teigen shared her emotional story of late pregnancy loss at 20 weeks, coupled with candid black and white photos of her with her husband and mother reeling in the pain of the moment. Even Buckingham Palace has now put a face on pregnancy loss, as The Duchess of Sussex shared her miscarriage story with the New York Times.

    Pharmaceutical brands are also getting involved and fostering more open dialogue. There’s an online community dedicated to sufferers of overactive bladders who come together to discuss treatment options and commiserate over the “embarrassing” details of the condition. Contraceptive brands emphasize that the woman is in control, that she can choose the birth control right for her lifestyle.

    Many contraceptive brands leverage both major celebrity talent like Vanessa Hudgens and Lucy Hale, and micro-influencers as spokespeople, putting a trusted and relatable name to the brand and sparking conversations amongst their target demographic of Millennial and Gen-Z women.

    As Gen Z ages into adulthood, don’t expect this open, honest and empowering dialogue to die down. While their millennial cohorts are actively unlearning stigmas and behaviors in regard to their health, Gen Z is coming to the table more informed and looking for maturity in their dialogue. The next generation of females are continuing to demand the attention of their bodies, minds and overall health needs.

    Connect with Ellen Giuntoli on LinkedIn.

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