Are we educating girls enough about their bodies? | The Tylt

Are we educating girls enough about their bodies?

You've heard it before: "The female body is a mystery." But should it be? Some women feel that when it comes to their bodies, there are huge gaps in understanding–think about issues like pubic haircare, birth control side effects, pain with periods, and more. Others feel that female health has come a long way in recent decades, and the system aims to educate the majority on common issues, rather than niche ones. Are we failing to educate young girls on what's to come? 

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Out of the many mysteries girls must solve on their own, pubic hair might be the most tangled (pun intended). 

Health teachers, moms, and friends all discuss hair when it comes to armpits and legs–even the upper lip and eyebrows get occasional coverage–but hardly anyone explains to pre-pubescent girls the concept, fashion, and grooming that come with pubic hair, leaving girls to make choices largely based on television, movies and what they overhear at school. (Who doesn't remember overhearing that group of guys gossiping about how so-and-so has a "bush" and then immediately question your own? Were you not supposed to have one? Why did no one tell you? What do you do now? These are just some of the looming pube-related questions.)

The Cut produced a podcast focused entirely on female pubes. Host Molly Fischer and contributor Maddie Aggeler make perfectly clear that the lack of education in this area is outright laughable: 

MOLLY: The late ’90s and early aughts were, I feel like, a weird time to come of age pube-wise. Because you potentially had this awareness that you should be getting rid of your pubes before you were in a position to have anyone see your pubes. That was a very, very stressful thing.
MADDIE: I feel like we have this conversation all the time about how women are grooming themselves and it’s always presented as this political thing. But for how much we talk about it, there’s not a lot of conversation of just, Hmm, what if I just wanna make it nice?

Later in the podcast, one woman reported buying a beard trimmer for her pubes in order to tame them. Another said she spends Sundays trimming her pubic hair with scissors, getting it to the length she likes. Hairless or not, old or young, no one seems to know the right way to go about maintaining their pubic hair. 

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Recently, the topic of female body hair–its growth and removal–has moved pubic hair into the spotlight. Where the early 2000s were a time of Brazilian waxes and low, low cut jeans, the last few years have been ones of women are giving up their monthly waxing appointments and their razors. As Refinery29's Robyn Harris explains: 

When I first noticed hair growing in my pubic area, my instinct was to shave it all off. Not because the sight of it frightened me—I’d been told to expect it from a certain age—but because something about removing my pubic hair made me feel bizarrely grown-up....Nowadays, however, I leave my pubes to grow out for so long that if I wear a skirt or a dress in high temperatures, I run the risk of starting a bushfire.....We are getting much closer to lacerating societal ideals about what our bodies should look like in order to be accepted or desired. 

Women are taking back their agency by supporting the decision of keeping or not keeping their pubic hair. If you want a bush, let it grow. If you want to be hair-free, here's some ibuprofen for your next wax. Women are increasingly accepting of and knowledgeable about hair and the lack thereof. Now, if only men could catch up!

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Although some education exists on what to expect when your period first arrives, The Independent reports that 44 percent of girls don't know what's happening to them the first time they have their period. Education also falls short when it comes to the symptoms of mensuration. With cramps, in particular, few actually know how much pain is normal.

One in 10 women suffers from poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, which can lead to infertility and ovarian cysts. The same number of women in the U.S. suffer from endometriosis, a condition that causes longer, heavier periods and debilitating cramps, and many remain undiagnosed. 

Common conditions like these are swept under the rug, only emerging for the occasional vague commercial to advertise a new drug. As a result, girls grow up inclined to bear their pain in silence, uncertain that what they are feeling is unlike the person next to them. 

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While it's clear that standardized mensural education falls short, there are a number of organizations working to combat this very issue. Education on periods, symptoms, and potential complications is paramount, as periods have historically prevented women from joining life outside of the home. Global WA's Amber Cortes highlights some of these organizations and movements for greater education:

Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated all over the world this year on May 28, was started in 2013 by health and hygiene non-profit WASH United to address this 'menstrual equity gap.' And this year, several Washington state-based global non-profits are promoting period pride–a global menstrual health movement with impacts that can last a lifetime.

Knowledge of menstruation has a long way to go, but the tide is moving toward greater education for girls and boys on what periods are and what to expect when they arrive. 

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Birth control. Although the majority of women are grateful for the option to pursue contraceptive methods, these pesky pills are often prescribed to regulate periods, rather than to prevent pregnancy. The result is a generation of young women using hormones to alter their bodies' natural state, exposing themselves to a host of side effects–ones that are particularly hard to put into words when reporting to a doctor. 

Common side effects to birth control pills include increased risk for depression, suppressed libido, weight gain and headaches, yet few doctors explain these symptoms, how long they'll last, and what different birth control methods could do to your body. In the modern era, sexually-active women are expected to take the pill just as men are expected to wear condoms. But increasingly, women are asking themselves at what cost? 

Blogger and certified nutritionist Joy McCarthy put it this way: 

How many of you out there would eat something every day that could cause infertility, dry vagina, yeast infections, lost libido, cause hormone imbalance, or alter your choice in a mate? My guess is nobody would knowingly do this, but they are in fact side effects of taking the birth control pill, and over 100 million women worldwide take this tiny little pill that can potentially cause all these problems.
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Having access to birth control has been extremely liberating for women. As PBS reports:

As the 1960s progressed, the women's liberation movement gained momentum alongside the civil rights and anti-war movements. It was a time of tremendous change, especially for women...Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited employment and educational discrimination, helped make it possible for women to go into professional fields, the Pill also played a significant role. With almost 100% fertility control, women were able to postpone having children or space births to pursue a career or a degree that had never been possible prior to the Pill.

But most know that when it comes to female sexual expression–particularly the act of having sex for pleasure rather than to reproduce–a taboo is still alive and strong. Popularizing birth control increases freedom and diminishes stereotypes. The pill empowers women to freely engage in their sex-lives without being dependent on a partner for protection. 

Every person's reaction to birth control is different, and doctors are educating patients to the best of their ability on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, women are talking about the pill and its side effects more in their own circles, as well as with their physicians. Conversations like these will only increase with time and attention. 

FINAL RESULTS
Culture
Are we educating girls enough about their bodies?
A festive crown for the winner
#FemaleBodyIsAMystery
#WomenKnowPlenty