February Links

Debbie says:

Just after the turn of the year, when everybody and her sister was telling you how they were going to lose weight in 2016, Veronica Bayetti Flores at Feministing released a whole post of great music videos to counteract the bullshit.  Here’s just one of my favorites, from Mz 007 in St. Louis:

And we really need those antidotes, because Ragen Chastain at Dances with Fat, who is always alert to fat-shaming, found one of the most horrifying anti-fat stories ever (and that’s not easy):

Elaine Yu, an assistant professor and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, will be conducting a clinical trial to see if taking pills containing the freeze dried fecal matter of thin people will make fat people thin….

Fecal transplants have been found to a legitimate, and very helpful, treatment to help people with bacterial infections, and the freeze-dried poo pill technology was developed as a way to facilitate these transplants. So now Professor Yu is going to give 20 fat people 6 weekly doses of poop pills (far fewer than in the bacterial infection studies where subjects were given 15 pills a day for 2 days), then track their weight at 3, 6,  and 12 months, telling subjects not to make changes to their eating and exercise habits (obviously, that’s difficult to determine, and I imagine that knowing that you are ingesting poo might have an effect on appetite – I know that researching ingesting poo did for me.)

Further into the post, Ragen deconstructs the assumptions behind this incomprehensible experiment with her usual good sense and flair.

Also deconstructing assumptions about fat we find Ampersand reviewing the Swedish study which said, basically, that you can’t be fat and fit.

I’m not saying that this Swedish study should be ignored (although it has limitations – see below). But it’s one data point among many…

This study only measured fitness at age 18….

So the study didn’t measure if being currently fat and fit reduces current mortality; it measured whether being fat and fit at age 18 reduces mortality over the next three decades. That’s an interesting thing to study – but it’s hard to see how this speaks to whether or not someone like me – a 47 year old fat man – might reduce my risk of mortality with regular exercise in my current life.

Furthermore, since the study only followed male subjects, it’s unclear if these results can be generalized to women.

Staying in the same arena, I saw lots of  links to this story by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley at Gastropod about why calories don’t correlate to weight. This article doesn’t excerpt well, because it makes so many separate points. If you are at all interested in what calories are, how they are calculated in the lab, how the lab calculations relate to what happens in your body, and why restricting calories doesn’t seem to change your weight (if it doesn’t), this is a don’t-miss story. I’m adding it to my file of “send to people who claim losing weight is simple” links.

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I did not realize that 2015 showed a marked spike in news and information about menstruation, but apparently I’m the only person who didn’t. Reina Gattuso at Feministing links to a number of mainstream articles on the subject, and then focuses on two student-led anti-period-shaming groups: Pads Against Sexism and Happy to Bleed.

According to the organizers, Pads Against Sexism (also called Pads Against Patriarchy) was inspired by a public art project by German artist Elone Kastratia, who celebrated International Women’s Day by sticking sanitary napkins (period diapers? vagina towels?) with feminist messages across her city….

Activist Nikita Azad started Happy to Bleed in November, as one of a chorus of feminist responses to a statement by Prayar Gopalakrishnan, president of the Travancore Devaswom Hindu Temple administering Board in the southern state of Kerala. Women aren’t currently allowed access to the state’s Sabarimala Temple (one manifestation of many world religions’ charming tendency to stigmatize menstruation). Gopalakrishnan posited that this could change when a magical machine was put into use to detect whether blood was — in the immortal words of Trump – coming out women’s whatevers

In response, Azad posted a rallying cry wherein she encouraged feminists across the country to post their own messages of menstrual solidarity on pads and social media.

A flurry of media activity in response to both campaigns helped lower the stigma and raised the profile of menstrual issues in India. Writers also took down the idea that periods are only chill because they’re important in making babies and babies are important to patriarchy. And Azad and other activists pointed out that menstrual stigma particularly affects lower-caste women and women living in poverty, who are often forced to miss school during their periods or have no sanitary accommodations at work. 

Oh, how I wish this conversation had been around when I was in high school and college!

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Two victories for trans people. The Transgender Law Center reports on advances in restroom availability:

This week, San Francisco joins Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Austin, Seattle, Santa Fe, and New York City in requiring all businesses and city buildings to designate single-stall restrooms as all-gender. While transgender and gender nonconforming people have the legal right to use restrooms that correspond to their gender, this kind of legislation is still a relief for people with disabilities, trans and gender nonconforming people, and families with small children — not to mention women simply tired of waiting on line for the women’s restroom while the single-stall men’s bathroom stands empty.

And Bobby Hankinson at Towleroad reports on advances in competition guidelines:

Previously, trans athletes were required to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. According to guidelines made public on Sunday, the new recommendations remove any restrictions on trans men, and allow trans women to compete in the Olympic Games after one year of hormone replacement therapy.

“The new IOC transgender guidelines fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules,” chief medical physicist, radiation oncology, Providence Portland Medical Center Joanna Harper wrote to Outsports via email. “Hopefully, organizations such as the ITA will quickly adapt to the new IOC guidelines and all of the outdated trans policies will get replaced soon.”

Harper, who is also a trans woman, attended the Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism that helped craft these guidelines in November.

And finally, if you are interested in artistic interpretations of human/cyborg/machine transformations, George Dvorsky at io9 shared a fascinating video. Sonoya Mizuno dances in “Wide Open,” the latest music video from the British electronic duo The Chemical Brothers.

 

All links from my regular reading, which includes Feministe, Shakesville, and Sociological Images,, along with Feministing, and io9, which are featured here, along with other sites. Also, we’re always on the lookout for interesting posts that connect racism and body image, and even more so during Black History Month, so send links if you have them.

Pap Smears Come with an Expiration Date: Who Knew?

Debbie says:

medical cross-section of female reproductive system

I was completely surprised to learn a couple of weeks ago that virtually all medical experts suggest that most women stop getting pap smears (vaginal tests for cervical cancer) at age 65. I had one last week at age 64, and it’s probably my last one.

The basic reason for the recommendation to stop is that very few women over 65  develop cervical, ovarian, or uterine cancer.  A review of several studies concluded that the risk is quite small:

According to this review, fewer than 1 in 1000 (and possibly as few as 2 in 10,000) women aged >60 years with a history of a normal baseline Pap smear will develop cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) 3 or cancer. By comparison, women being screened for the first time had rates of CIN 3 or cancer at 2.3 per 1000 for ages 50 to 64 years, and 1.7 per 1000 for women aged 65 years.

Because this is a literature review, all of the studies had different methodologies and participants, but it seems likely that the participants were not screened for level of sexual activity, because that would probably be called out if it had happened. Since I can’t find any studies that specifically did screen for sexual activity, each of us has to make our own decision without much data.

As I’ve dug further into this, I’ve been interested both in what I can find out, and what I can’t find out, which pretty much reflects what has been studied and published, and what has not.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

Cervical cancer specifically is caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). Ovarian and uterine cancers, which also become less frequent as women age, are not HPV-related. All three of these are slow-growing cancers, which means that if one begins to be detectable in your middle 60s, it may not become any kind of a problem until you are 80 or older, at which point many people decide against aggressive cancer treatment.

Some reputable groups and clinics specifically recommend stopping testing regardless of sexual activity. Some recommend continued testing only if you have new or multiple partners. In a New York Times story from 2011, a gynecologist relates a delightful anecdote:

Dr. Feldman was surprised to see an abnormal Pap result in an 80-year-old patient who had been a devoted caregiver for her husband of 55 years, who had dementia. “It seemed like an odd finding,” Dr. Feldman said, until she learned her patient was having an affair with a young man she had met at Starbucks.

You have to pause for a moment to be happy for her; what a way to balance a life with a demented husband! What’s more, both the article and the rest of the literature make it clear that an “abnormal result” is not a cancer diagnosis, though we don’t know what happened to this particular woman.

But back to pap smears. For myself, with no family history of gynecological cancers, and no abnormal pap smears, I’m just done. I can stop putting my heels in the stirrups and scooting my ass down to the edge of the table. And the evidence regarding sexual activity isn’t conclusive enough for me to change this if I suddenly find new partners.  Other women may, of course, make different decisions.