Week 13

It is really interesting to compare the health issues in women from a developed country such as Australia compared to developing countries. Its surprising that in a country as privileged as Australia, that the highest cause of death in women aged 15-24 is suicide, and that the main reason that women take time off work and take medication is due to anxiety and depression. Many developing countries have comparatively low suicide and anxiety and depression rates among women. Its strange to think that women in Australia, who are generally housed and fed, with access to paid jobs, education and health care, supposedly 'having it all', are not happy with their lives. Where as women in developing countries, not knowing where the money for their next meal is coming from, struggling with sickness and disease, are not in depressive states. I understand that it is a concept that is very relative, and I am certainly not demeaning the seriousness of depression in western cultures. I merely wanted to comment on the different standards of what make women 'happy'. I noticed whilst in Vietnam, how appreciative many women appeared to be from the smallest things in life. A passing smile and hello to them in the street caused them to beam with happiness, and a small thank you card and gift of lollies to our hotel made them gush with gratitude. When we visited the rural community, the women we met told our supervisors that we had 'made their day' just by visiting and talking to them. Although only on the surface and from the outside, these examples of the ease to please these women from a developing country support the low rates of mental health issues and high rates of life satisfaction, despite their poor living conditions. For most women in Australia it is obvious that what sort of acts 'make their day' would be quite different. I know that my day can be made by receiving a good result back from a uni exam or assignment or even having my favourite meal for dinner, although I do not represent many of the women that lead much more stressful lives. I can only imagine the pressure that some women would feel trying to maintain a career, whilst raising a family, on top of the stress to maintain their physical appearance. I guess one day I won't have to imagine and these will be the stresses of my life once that stage begins - something to look forward to! The key, I assume, is trying to find a way in which to manage this stress and find simple ways in which my day can be made so that life does not become too overwhelming!

Week 12

Unfortunately I was unable to attend Tuesday's lecture this week, ironically (due to the lecture's content) because I was visiting my grandma in hospital after she fractured her back. My 84 year old grandma lives alone in a self contained apartment and has admitted to me that since she had been living alone (my grandpa passing away 4 years ago) her diet and levels of exercise have significantly deteriorated. Due to this, it was not unexpected that she injured herself in this way. My nanny has never enjoyed drinking milk and therefore has always had a low dairy intake. When admitted into hospital her calcium levels were very low. After reading the lecture slides about how important calcium and exercise are for ageing women, particularly in the periods following menopause, it was obvious about how at risk my grandma is for osteoporosis. I think this incident has been a bit of a wake up call for my grandma and I have been discussing with her ways in which we can boost her calcium intake without just sculling milk everyday. This did highlight for me though how difficult it is for ageing women, especially when they are living alone. Nanny said that since Poppy died she can never be bothered to cook proper meals for herself - "it's just not worth the effort". She said she would just snack on little things all day and then she wouldn't be motivated or hungry enough to prepare a decent meal. Not only was this sad for me to hear but it worried me about what state of health she is in and how much worse it would become if she continued to have these feelings and attitude.

The idea of 'ageing gracefully' definitely doesn't simply refer to minimising the amount of visible wrinkles and age spots on the outside, I think the signs of age inside are much more important and need to be considered so! From the outside, my grandma looks fantastic for her age, yes she has wrinkles and age spots but she has definitely taken care of her skin and she doesn't look 84. However, evidently she has not been as obliging to her insides and it is starting to take a toll.

My mother is currently going through surgically induced menopause and I am definitely going to stress to her the importance of her diet and exercise at this stage of her life after the evidence presented in the lecture. Hopefully she can take better care of her internal ageing and not find herself in the same painful situation as my grandma!

Weeks 8-11

The past 4 weeks I have been in Vietnam as a part of my placement for my degree. This experience was invaluable and I learnt so much that I wanted to share some of the women's health issues that we witnessed whilst in the field. We had the opportunity to go out and meet expecting and new mothers in a rural province called Phu Tho. Through discussions with these women, we learnt about the pressures on them concerning motherhood, some of which were very similar to the concerns that Australian mothers also face. The lecture that we had on women returning to work was very prevalent in my mind during these interviews. Almost all the women we met did not breastfeed, due to a variety of reasons. Many of the women had to leave their newborns in the care of their grandparents as early as 3 months after birth because they had to return to work. There is no maternity leave system in Vietnam and many of the women worked two or three hours away from their home, meaning that they would be away for up to 12 hours a day. Due to the high rates of poverty in this region, these women had no choice but to return to work as soon as possible! This meant that they had no opportunity to breastfeed and had no choice but to formula feed their children at a very early age. On top of this, they were all exposed to relentless and aggressive marketing of formula, as well as the recommendation of formula over breast milk by their gp's. This inaccurate representation of the preference for formula feeding over breast milk for infants in vietnam has contributed to the high burden of childhood stunting. Mothers are raising stunted children and these children are growing up and also raising stunted children. This vicious cycle is very unfortunate for the Vietnamese population and our purpose whilst in Vietnam was to investigate a way in which to attempt to intervene and break this cycle. Through education of these women who have been fed false information, we aimed to empower them to improve their feeding practices. Unfortunately, there seemed nothing we could do to break the trend of women returning to work early, as they had to make a living. The teen pregnancy lecture was also relevant in this setting as most of the mothers were late teens or early 20s. The mother in the photo below was my age (20) and she is here with her first son who was about 24 months old and her second son (3 months old) was at home with grandma.

This experience really showed how lucky we are as women to be living in a country like Australia. Although we complain about our circumstances surrounding pregnancy and motherhood not being ideal, it could definitely be worse. The women in Vietnam have a lot more barriers to contend with to give their children the best chance at life possible than we do here in Australia. I know it all depends on the context and is situational but it did make me very grateful to be able to raise my children in a country as privileged with good health care opportunities, information and emotional and financial support available, compared to that in Vietnam.


Week 7

I am aware of how many women have fought tirelessly for the future generations to have more equal rights with men, be able to work and receive the same pay, study and job opportunities and I think that it is fantastic that we have all of these choices now days. I plan on becoming a successful woman in the business world and when the time comes, using that well earned money to have a family and continue to be in the workforce as they grow up. However, I can't help but notice an increasing amount of girls who are growing up way to quickly and trying to be teenagers before they are out of childhood and the teenagers are trying to be adults! The only thing that I can think of is a lack of parent involvement and I have to be honest when I say that I have witnessed proof of this in my high school years.

I see girls in primary and high school walking around brisbane in tiny short shorts and mid drifts tops and all I can think is 'my mum would have never let me wear that'. So why are these girls parents letting them? I don't know if the increase in women in the full time workforce is directly related and I'm not saying that this trend isn't a good thing at all, I just think that it could be contributing to the increasing rate of girls trying to dress, act and be older than they are.

Witchery this year has released a new range of clothing for 8-14 yr old girls that look exactly like the rest of the clothes in their adults range, just in smaller sizes. The girls who are the faces of the new campaign are very good looking girls, however, the do not look as young as 8-14 in their model photos, nor are they a very accurate representation of the wider public. We spoke previously this semester about how the media impacts on body image and girl's self-esteem. If this is how girls are supposed to look at this age, no wonder they grow up to have these insecurities and even eating disorders. On top of that, dressing girls in adult looking clothes, with maekup and hair done as in this campaign photo, I believe it makes them want to act like teenagers and adults. From what I have heard and seen, the age that girls are having sexual contact with boys has significantly dropped since I was a teenager, which wasn't even that long ago! And I believe that it is continuing to drop, especially when the media and fashion industry is encouraging them to look more grown up!

Ideally, it is up to the parents to guide their children into making better choices about what to wear and how to act. I believe my mother has set me up with great morals and attitudes towards these kinds of issues. But I think if she wasn't around as much as she was than this might not be the case.
I think that women in the full time workforce is the best thing for us as adults, I am just not sure how good it always is for our children.


Week 6

From this lecture I thought that the issues and concerns surrounding abortion to be extremely interesting. I cannot understand why the laws of abortion are so different even across Australia:

Queensland & New South Wales: Abortion a crime for women and doctors. Legal when doctor believes a woman’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger. In NSW social, economic and medical factors maybe taken into account.
Australian Capital Territory: Legal, must be provided by medical doctor.
Victoria: Legal to 24 weeks. Legal post-24 weeks with two doctors’ approval.
South Australia & Tasmania: Legal if two doctors agree that a woman’s physical and/or mental health endangered by pregnancy, or for serious foetal abnormality. Counselling compulsory in Tasmania. Unlawful abortion a crime.
Western Australia: Legal up to 20 weeks, some restrictions particularly for under 16s. Very restricted after 20 weeks.
Northern Territory: Legal to 14 weeks if 2 doctors agree that woman’s physical and/or mental health endangered by pregnancy, or for serious foetal abnormality. Up to 23 weeks in an emergency.

I cannot begin to comprehend the confusion and stress that a women who found herself to have an unplanned pregnancy! There are so many things to consider in the decision to keep or abort the baby. There would be enough pressure placed on you from friends, family and society as it is, but to add the pressure and guilt placed by the government on whether your decision is illegal or not and I do not think that this is fair. Teen pregnancy is very prevalent in Australia and it poses so many issues to the mother, baby and society. I know if i fell pregnant at my age, I would not be able to finish my degree, i would therefore not be able to get a job that pays enough to support myself and my baby. If the father of the baby wasn't around to help, it would be even more difficult. Not to mention the social exclusion from my friends and possibly family. If this did happen to me, I would have to consider all of these factors and on top of that the ethical concerns of whether it is more moral to keep a baby that I cannot provide a good life to as well as possibly being hugely detrimental to my well being or if it is considered 'murder' to chose to not have it. I think that these pressures alone are enough for any pregnant teen to be physically and mentally endangered, which in all states of Australia would be considered qualifiable for legal abortion. So why is it not legal for all women? It would result in one less cause of stress to the multitude that they are inevitably facing!

Week 5

I found today's lecture by the guest speaker to be very interesting and thought provoking on a number of topics. The first thing that I wanted to mention, relates to how women's body's are portrayed in fashion. I am certainly not a fan of the anorexic looking models that have been previously used in many high fashion campaigns and runway shows. However, I do think that in recent times many brands have recognised the negative body image that these models relay to the impressionable youth and have consequently adopted more real sized and healthier looking models. My issue lies where people start to employ and accept women who are not fit, healthy and curvaceous but are actually over weight or obese as what 'real sized' models should look like. I dont think that this body image is any better of a portrayal than the anorexic looking models as it is not at all healthy for women, or any one for that matter to be that size. This normalisation and acceptance of obesity should be just as shocking as the promotion of the super skinny body image, the impacts on health are just as serious! It would be ideal if everyone could settle in the middle of these two extreme body images!

The other topic that got me thinking was the lengths that women go to to be beautiful. Almost every weekend I go out with my friends and wear ~15cm high heel shoes for hours and endure the pain in the balls of my feet all night and the numb toes lasting all week afterwards. And all my friends and I consistently do this without complaint because we consider it worth it to look and feel good on the night. Some people would definitely read this and think how silly that might be, but I know that I would much prefer to suffer the discomfort of wearing heels than walk around for 6 months on broken legs. The leg lengthening surgery that was discussed in the lecture (and shown below) seriously shocked me! It got me thinking, with all these painful things we do to beautify ourselves, where is the limit? Just as some of you may think, my obsession with high heels may be ridiculous, I cannot fathom having the leg lengthening surgery, but obviously to many women it is worth the sacrifice!


Week 3

The last lecture on women's bodies got me thinking about how the 'ideal' body shape and image so rapidly changes. Prior to and into the 1800's, extra weight on a woman was seen as a sign of good health and wealth. Voluptuous, plump, full figured bodies were desired by both men and women as the ideal body shape. Furthermore, white, pale skin was also considered a sign of health and wealth, being most sought after by females of this era. rubens.jpg6a00e554f1ae9388330120a6964020970c-800wi.jpg

However, In the 1900s this ideal of women's bodies did a complete flip, where by women were desired to be slim, as the fashionable sign of wealth and health. I think Julie-Anne may have light-heartedly attributed this shift to the introduction of mirrors. I think that the modern consumer culture shaped this female body image through cosmetics, fashion, Hollywood and the media. The concept of dieting was introduced and the skinny look, previously associated with the poor, was now desired by the rich. Of course, this new ideal then introduced the issues of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Plastic surgery has also then been a rising phenomenon as another means of people to reach this ideal body. Although I don’t know how women consider cutting them selves open, breaking bones and giving themselves bruises and scars to be ideal?

Despite this, recently there has been a push to encourage a more healthy and balanced body ideal for women, I believe that it is still not considered the desirable body type for most females, as the whole of society is not committed to endorsing this healthy shape. It is, however, a step in the right direction towards positive body image for women and to promote self confidence.

Week 2

From Last weeks lecture the topic that caught my attention the most was the growing phenomenon of labiaplasty. It spurred me to watch the documentary ' The Perfect Vagina' (you can access it in full through this link). My mother had been nagging me to watch this short film for a long time now, however, I predicted it to be too confronting. I wasn't wrong! It follows stories of women who are unhappy with their labia, including the filming of a labiaplasty operation and also the making of the The Great Wall of Vagina artwork, also discussed in the lecture. Despite scarring me for life, it did give me a lot to think about.

Are women, as young as 14, choosing to undertake these painful operations for themselves, their own self confidence and happiness or for men to find them attractive? One 21yr old female in the documentary had been teased by her sister, dumped by boyfriends and laughed at by her mates about her labia. She said that she was too embarrassed to get pap smears because of her appearance. Many women also mention discomfort due to the size of their labia. These obviously pose both physical and mental health consequences for women. So the main question is why this has all of a sudden become such an issue?

What The Great Wall of Vagina (see below) showed me, that I had honestly never known before, was how different and diverse vaginas are. I naively assumed that we all looked pretty similar in that area. Interestingly, I don't think that I was alone in this assumption. All of the images of female genitals that girls are exposed to in the media or in sex education are edited to depict what is supposedly considered a 'normal' vagina. However, looking at that wall, I have no idea what a 'normal' one would actually be, as they are all so unique and varied. As stated in the documentary, a medical journal showed that the average labia ranges from 2cm to 10cm! I know I never learnt that in sex education. The pursuit of the perfect vagina as followed in the aforementioned documentary seems a ridiculous concept when the 'perfect' ones seen in pornography etc aren't even real! No wonder women and girls are so self conscious about that area when they have nothing to compare it to but photoshopped and edited versions of themselves.
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