Fat Vaginas

I’m sorry. There’s no point beating around the bush. This happened yesterday, and now fat vaginas are on the agenda:

Milli Hill, author of Give Birth Like A Feminist, spoke on BBC Radio Scotland for a discussion about induction rates. With her was Dr Marco Gaudoin, brought in for the ‘expert’ perspective. However, it turns out that Dr Gaudoin’s expertise is in fertility, not obstetrics or gynaecology… which may explain why he said this:

‘With obesity you’ve got increased fat tissue in the birth canal, which makes the birth canal that much narrower, which makes it harder for the baby to squeeze through the birth canal. So you are more likely to end up with what is called an “obstructed labour”‘

Dr Marco Gaudoin, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland 12th November 2019

What’s worse was that this happened at the end of the interview! Milli had no opportunity to challenge the doctor on his statement, or ask for evidence.

Fat Vaginas – Fact or Myth?

It’s no surprise that Milli had never heard this before, because there is NO EVIDENCE for Dr Gaudolin’s words whatsoever. They echo a theory suggested in a research paper back in 1997, and no-one has provided any evidence for it since.

It’s just more fat shaming.

Fat Vaginas: a display of inside-out purses looking remarkably like a selection of vaginas.
Vaginas come in a plethora of different shapes and sizes… image courtesy of The Vagina Museum

Ugh. Makes me want to beat some people over the head repeatedly with a copy of Give Birth Like A Feminist. Shame it didn’t come out in hardback.

You’d really hope that a qualified doctor would stick to established, evidence-based information. Sadly (too often, in my experience) when some doctors feel under pressure, they dredge some half-truth they heard somewhere from the back of their mind and present it as fact, rather than admit they don’t know.

It’s why I recommend anyone embarking on a high BMI pregnancy journey do their research and ensure they’re informed.

I have spoken to countless midwives (who have extensive experience of actual vaginas giving birth) and most agree that with the right support, there is no reason why a high BMI pregnancy shouldn’t proceed as with any other. Indeed, most of them do.

What Happened Next?

On Twitter, plenty came forward to challenge the “expert’s” ill-informed and misogynistic statements.

Then to my surprise, for once, the print media responded positively to the story! This may be thanks to Milli Hill knowing the right people to approach, but it was a refreshing change! The resulting article was comprehensive and well written.

Screenshot of Grazia online article on fat vagina comments.

Then other media outlets picked up on the story, including the Sun, who got an actual expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to comment!

Dr Virginia Beckett, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists clarified that having an “obstructed labour” has nothing to do with “fat vaginas”. Which we knew, but it is nice that someone well qualified to address the issue has done so.

Screenshot of the Sun online article about fat vaginas

Next Up to fight our corner was the Daily Mail!?

Yes, really! Asking lots of people with much more experience and expertise… and me. So, yeah. That happened. I was tempted to be indecent and suggest that if our vaginas are so ‘restricted’, how lucky must our husbands and partners be? But I behaved myself. And contrary to my expectations, the journalist didn’t twist or change what I wrote at all, bar removing a paragraph that had already been covered by a previous interviewee. You can read what I wrote here:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-7680527/Doctor-claims-obese-women-fatter-vaginas-likely-experience-obstructed-births.html

Jaw on floor.

The article came with the usual stock headless belly image, naturally! But as soon as I realised and offered an actual picture to replace it, it was quickly swapped.

Of course, the article goes on to report the bloody relative risk stats rather than the true percentages, as always. So there’s still a way to go, but feeling strangely positive at how this story has turned out, for once!

As I have said before and seem to need to keep saying; having a higher BMI while pregnant is associated with a slightly increased risk of some less desirable outcomes. But there is also evidence that the precautionary way high BMI labours are managed may contribute to this.

There is no evidence that fatter people have fatter vaginas. There is no evidence that having a fat vagina (if such a thing exists) is a cause of birth obstruction.

If you want to read more about how micromanaging our births can cause a spiral of negativity and interventions – see article I wrote on The Impact of Negativity on Labour and Birth.

Boycott Trash Mags

The cover of Bella Magazine: “Claire’s Weight Misery – Two stone heavier after time abroad”, right next to an advert for a £4.99 ‘wonder serum’ and underneath “Fat Blast Diet – Lose 20lb this month”. A masterclass in how to make women feel inadequate and then try to sell them something to fix it. It’s time to boycott trash mags.

Claire Sweeney on cover of Bella magazine - titled 'Claire's Weight Misery' - boycott trash mags

Shame on @bellamagazineUK for publishing this, and hurrah for @clairesweeney for calling them out on it, particularly as it comes during #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

Why do editors continue to peddle this crap? Such lazy and vindictive journalism; find an unflattering picture of someone and then write some nonsense piece to go with it about how their life must be falling apart, usually with no factual basis whatsoever. Surely this wasn’t why they chose a career in journalism?!

Character Assassination Sells – so we need to stop buying!

The trouble is, we all know why magazines and newspapers do this; celeb character/image assassination sells. Daily Fail’s sidebar of shame is testimony to that; people love to gawp and revel in the misfortunes of others. But why?

What is it about our society that loves to build people up and then knock them down again? How is it OK that a celeb can be the darling of a publication one week and their metaphorical punching bag the next? Why is this form of public bullying still acceptable, when it’s the publishing equivalent of throwing rotten veg at someone in the stocks?

As a person who hasn’t bought a magazine in at least a decade, this both fascinates and concerns me. Is my lack of attention to these magazines one of the reasons why I am happy in my own skin, perhaps (and why I spend very little on expensive skin and make up products, ha ha)?! Surely this spiral of judgement and derision isn’t helpful for anyone’s self esteem?

Here are my top tips for banning the negativity, and hopefully feeling lots happier about yourself as a result!

Banish the negativity!

Don’t allow trash publications in your house.

  • Don’t buy them, don’t feed the monster. It’s bringing us all down. Boycott trash mags altogether!

Recycle any you do have.

  • If you’re keeping it because you find an element useful, take a snapshot, file it in a virtual folder and get rid. In future, source whatever it was elsewhere; you can get tons of recipes online and even see others’ reviews before going to the effort. If it’s makeup tips you’re after, maybe watch some YouTube make up tutorial channels. If it’s fashion you’re interested in, there are plenty of fashion blogs you could subscribe to, you can probably even choose one which more closely fits your kind of style than the generic offerings you get in magazines. Or if it’s the puzzles you like, there are numerous free apps. The only thing you actually have to give up is the celebrity gossip – and think of that as negativity decluttering!

Don’t even read them while waiting at the doctors/dentists/hairdressers!

  • The articles in these magazines, whether praising someone’s appearance, or criticising someone else’s, just feed into the idea that appearance is worthy of judgement. It isn’t. If they/you feel good that’s all that matters. Read a novel/non-fiction magazine/do sudoku to fill the time instead!

Check your impulses to criticise others

  • Even if you were only doing so mentally. It takes a while (particularly if you have grown up amongst relatives who like nothing more than to gossip and criticise!) to retrain your brain not to look for imperfections, but when you start to notice all the instances you would have said or thought something critical, you realise how much you were focusing on and feeding negativity. You can change this habit, and it gets easier as you keep doing it!

Feel free to notice and compliment other people’s appearances instead!

  • Everyone feels great when someone gives them a genuine compliment, especially if it’s a stranger so there’s no suspicion of an agenda – if you think someone’s hair/shoes/clothes are great – tell them! It’ll make their day, and will give you a warm fuzzy feeling too.

When people compliment you, don’t brush it off.

  • It’s tempting to negate nice things people say about us, sometimes because we feel it’s endearing to be self-deprecating, sometimes because we’re uncomfortable hearing nice things said about us. But that person took the time to say something nice; own the compliment, say thank you, and smile!

Compliment your children on more than just their appearance.

  • It’s nice to think our daughters are pretty and our sons handsome, but what about looking at other personality traits, like commenting on kindness, bravery, innovation, and perseverance?

If you have children, talk to them about advertising, airbrushing, and unrealistic beauty standards

  • They need to know how the advertisers who pay for the publications need you to feel insecure so they can sell you products to make you feel better about yourself.

Most of all – Be fabulous in your own skin!

It wasn’t even true!

Claire Sweeney looking fabulous. On the same day she'd supposedly gained 2 stone... boycott trash mags

In response to this Bella cover, Twitter is now awash with people sharing pictures of Claire Sweeney looking svelte and glamorous at events she’s attended over just the last couple of days. She clearly hasn’t gained 2 stone recently at all.

Ironically their meanness has led to lots of positive publicity. But even if she had gained weight, why would that be evidence she is miserable?

Again, kudos to Claire – she hasn’t posted any pictures of herself to prove lack of weight gain and refute the magazine’s claims – that’s no-one’s business, and would just perpetuate the myth that fat = unhappy. She just replied with the hashtag #nomisery. Respect.

It’s time to boycott trash mags.