The Body Feminine

by Ana L. Palles

Woman For many teenage girls back in the 70’s, getting a hold of a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves was almost as risqué as getting one of our friends to buy the Burt Reynolds centerfold edition of Cosmopolitan at the local drugstore. You know, the one behind the plain brown wrapper. Looking back, it seems ludicrous that a book on women’s health and sexuality, written in an understandable and practical manner, generated so many comments about the lack of morality and depravity of my generation.

The book was written for women, by women and was true to its title. For teenagers entering puberty, answering questions about our bodies was exactly the point. Many of our mothers often didn’t know the answers themselves or were too embarrassed to discuss it. Often husbands knew more about the way women’s bodies functioned than women did themselves.

Part of the problem was that the book discussed topics considered taboo at the time, such as pregnancy, abortion, and sex from a woman’s perspective. The book had graphic pictures, diagrams and a variety of stories written by women regarding their personal experiences. For many, it came to be synonymous with the feminist movement. Of course, many more of us weren’t interested in any particular political ideology; we simply wanted to know more about ourselves. The real value of this book and those that followed, from my perspective, was that it opened frank dialogue about women’s bodies which, often, we ourselves found mysterious and puzzling.

So, we began openly discussing and monitoring one’s health and hormonal cycles through observing moods, eating patterns, breast tenderness, vaginal discharge and water retention. We started becoming educated about performing self-examinations, pulled out mirrors, and familiarized ourselves with our own curves, lumps and bumps. Slowly but surely, it was no longer a matter of furtive brown paper bags hiding packages of tampons and sanitary pads as we paid for our purchases at the grocery store. To some of us, we were surprised when we realized that men knew we had monthly periods and were only embarrassed by it because we were so mortified they might find out.

For some of us brought up in households where modesty and propriety expected a more demure expression, it was a difficult transition. Still, it was about time for us to realize that our bodies provide us with great service, one that requires regular maintenance, observation and care. Slowly, but surely, the idea germinated.

Fortunately, someone with the Wisdom of Solomon was smart enough to ensure boyfriends were educated in reading the signs, not necessarily understand the reasons for the tears, but just provide a warm comforting shoulder and rich chocolate in case of emergency. Now it is common to see husbands and boyfriends in line at the checkout picking up those familiar feminine products, and, yes, some of them even tuck in some chocolate. Kudos to the men!

Thirty years later, the focus for the generation of baby boomers and their successors is now on ageing. This includes wellness, physical appearance and for women, managing the effects of other life transitions, such as menopause.

This topic comes up often in various online discussions and self help groups. Once a woman enters her 40’s, the period of peri-menopause begins and she starts noticing signs of changes in her body. Accounts from various women list a variety of indications. The most common are hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia, even though some women never experience these.

It can be a mixed bag of symptoms. In some cases, the libido drops, while in others, it goes over the top. An acupuncturist I spoke to said she believes that in some cases, the body realizes it only has a few more years to reproduce and tries to ensure that reproduce, it will! Images of Golden Girl Blanche Devereaux and her reputation for wildness spring to mind.

Some women experience problems with their skin quality. Menopause can affect the skin’s elasticity and suppleness, so moisturizing creams are in high demand. A good online resource for skincare products is www.skinstore.com. The single most reiterated advice from doctors about skincare is remembering to use your sunscreen. Get a good quality sunscreen product with as high a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) as you can find. You will be glad you took this precaution as you get older.

Of course it goes without saying to stay away from tanning beds!

One interesting skin moisturizing product is Na-PCA by TwinLab. It is a sodium salt of pyrrolidone carboxylic acid that is intended to pull water out of the air to moisturize the skin. It is not expensive and you may find it effective. Remember to read the labels and go for ingredients that are good for your body.

Skin quality also needs to be addressed internally. This is where nutrition and supplementation play important roles. Flax seed oil, Vitamin E, and fish oils all help support the skin. Eat a balanced diet so that your body can continue replenishing those skin cells.

Detoxification programs rank high on various complementary health care regimens and it is certainly helpful during menopause. Some nutritionists recommend a modified fast to help flush out the body’s organs. Even if you don’t fast, sometimes a light lunch of a fresh, vegetable juice can be very welcome.

Rolfing, massage and various forms of therapeutic touch also aid the body by increasing circulation and shifting the body’s tissue, enabling better access and movement. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Anything that helps to flush the body also places a heavy burden on the organs dealing with elimination. Be kind to your body and assist the processes it performs for you daily.

Reflexology, acupuncture and herbal supplements are also excellent complementary care practices to assist the body through life cycle changes. Acupuncture is particularly effective for women’s issues and is also often covered by many health insurance plans. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Mayo Clinic websites have excellent information on complementary care. Please educate yourself fully on the pros and cons of any treatment plan.

One last suggestion, all women, regardless of shape, size or age may benefit from an Iyengar Yoga class. B.K.S. Iyengar developed his form of yoga with the objective to make yoga accessible to all. As such, the yoga postures are performed with the aid of props such as blankets, blocks, straps, and bolsters. They are no less effective and certainly challenging, but doable. I am currently in a class with someone who is just now starting yoga at the age of 84. She attends class regularly and after these past 6 weeks, the changes in her body are noticeable.

One of the benefits of Iyengar yoga is the effect of the postures on the body’s internal organs. A good yoga instructor works with the individual student’s body and assists the student in addressing their particular physical restrictions. Some yoga teachers even specialize in offering classes focusing on hips and shoulders. Your local recreation center is a good place to start.

For women, yoga helps bring greater mobility to tight hips, shoulder and mid back areas. Some of the poses stimulate the thyroid, help the adrenals and massage the spine. Whether we’re discussing osteoporosis, helping regulate monthly cycles, or assisting balance and coordination, yoga is a powerful tool for health and wellness.

There are a number of complementary strategies for women in order to improve their wellbeing, longevity and provide support during various life stages. I’ve touched on only a few. Our referral area has some excellent practitioner resources. Don’t miss checking out the practitioner interviews for some insights into these specific disciplines. If you have any specific questions, you can also discuss them with our Advisory Assistance service. As always, please consult your doctor before starting any health care regimen.

We owe it ourselves and our loved ones to feel good and enjoy life.

Resources

Acupuncture, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Exercise Tips and Benefits, Mayo Clinic
How to Find Medical Information, Free Guide from the Federal Citizen Information Center
Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga.
Our Bodies Ourselves
Reflexology
Rolfing, Structural Integration

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