Sunday, April 23, 2006

10 Wise Ways for Women's Wellness

That was the title of the article in Muse (a local feminist 'zine) that made me furiously angry. I believe it's anti-woman, and I have a huge problem with it being in a feminist magazine.

Activists keep on putting out really mainstream advice on nutrition, and then pretending it's radical because they use slightly different phrases (for instance if you don't want to talk about low-carbs, you can condemn wheat, or refined carbohydrates, for similar effect). There's this idea that nutritional information is hard to find. But much of the advice given in this article is also in a mainstream article, on how to keep well during your menstrual cycle, which was printed a few pages earlier in the same 'zine (I assume they were making fun of the mainstream article, but you can never be sure). You could find any of the advice (and much of the language) in Cosmo or Cleo. I would pay $100 to any woman who read that article and hadn't already heard at least 80% of the advice it contained many times.

Nutirtion appears to be one of the few areas where repeating mainstream ideas is portrayed as radical. I wouldn't think it did any harm, if I didn't think those mainstream ideas were harmful. But it's hardly a controversial idea that mainstream ideas about food and women's bodies are bad for women. I think most people would agree with me. Just a straight comparison shows that there isn't much difference between mainstream ideas and the ideas that keep popping up in feminist zines and so on. Therefore the ideas we're promoting are harmful. That's not a particularly hard bit of logic to follow. And yet...

It makes me particularly angry because knowledge about how to manage menstrual problems matters. I dealt with premenstrual depression, serious depression that would last up to two weeks and made it very difficult to cope, for three or four years. It was solved by changing my diet (I'm intolerant to dairy). My life is incomparably better now than it was before. But the advice in this article won't help any woman who is in the position I was in.

There are some truly ridiculous phrases in the article, that are begging out to be mocked, so I will oblige. But then I'll try and examine the article in more depth, and explain why I don't think it actually promotes wise ways for women's wellness.

2. Avoid Refined Carbohydrates: [...] They rapidly convert to sugar in the body which contributes to hypoglycaemia, and any excess (that is not burnt off with exercise) will turn to fat.
Well obviously food which might turn into to fat (unless you burn it off with exercise) must be avoided at all costs. Every feminist magazine should condemn food that might be turned into fat.
3. Avoid saturdated animal fat and hydrogenated oils. As well as contributing to obesity and heart disease...
Obesity and heart disease: one is medical condition that can kill you, the other is being fat. Notice which one is first placed first.
...Limit dairy products other than low-fat organic yoghurt
It's not just that she maintains a 'we must avoid evil fat' mentality, it's that she doesn't explain why. Why is low-fat organic yoghurt OK? Why isn't full-fat organic yoghurt? Will low-fat non-organic yoghurt turn you into a pumpkin? And what if you eat cheese?
4. Increase Your Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) Intake. These are the good fats...
Yes, these fats tidy their bedrooms, write to their grandmothers and look both ways before crossing the road. I would never take nutirtional advice from anyone who can't confuses food and morality.
5. Maintain a health body weight. A very low body weight will lower oestrogen levels to the point where periods may stop and bone density is reduced, increasing the risk of osteoperosis later in life. On the other hand, obesity, especially if concentrated centrally in the body, can lead to insulin resistance.
Number one this is just plain wrong. Insulin resistence is only just beginning to be understood, and while there is evidence of a correlation between body fat around the middle and insulin resistence, there is no evidence that fat around the middle causes insulin resistence.

Number 2 obesity is classified as having a Body Mass Index over 30. Obesity and fat are not synonymous, you are classified as obese even if you have a very low body-fat and lots of muscle. Presumably what she was trying to say was that you are more likely to get insulin resistence conditions if you are an apple shape as opposed to a pear shape. But that's not obesity concentrating centrally (and as I always said correlation does not prove causation).

Number 3 Advising other women to lose weight, in a feminist magazine? What the fuck ever.
6. Avoid Environmental Hormone Disruptors[...] Choosing to eat organically farmed meat, fish and poultry (including eggs) will reduce your exposure to the synthetic hormones which are conventionally used to encourage animal growth and milk production.
Whether or not we eat organically farmed meat is entirely a choice. Some of us choose to buy organically farmed meat, others choose to be too poor.

But there are other problems with the article. The author tells us to avoid aerobic exercise during menstruation without telling us why. She's also constantly warning us against excess hormones, without explaining how you'd know if you had excess hormones, and why they're are a problem.

That's the fundamental problem with the article. It reads as if the author thinks that all women's bodies are the same, and that all menstrual symptoms can be alleviated by the same behaviour.

She doesn't provide any actual information, just instructions. There's no talk about how your hormones work. Nothing concrete, just more reasons women should control different aspects of our diet.

There are huge variations in menstruation related symptoms, and not a lot is known about how they fit together and what they mean (this is at least partly because a decade or so doctors started prescribing prozac for menstrual problems, so from a medical perspective the problem is solved). For anyone who wants to try and alleviate any of their symptoms, either medically or alternatively, it's exhausting, not made any easier by the people who are trying to help you (and I'm more than willing to pass on my limited information, if anyone has any questions, because it sucks doing it by yourself).

I remember researching this, searching desperately for something, anything that could explain what was happening to me. All I would find was these long lists of things that I shouldn't eat, much like the one in this article, although most of them had salt as a forbidden food. I remember being incredibly frustrated with these lists, because they wouldn't tell you what would help what symptoms. I think, although it didn't say, that getting rid of salt was for people who got bloated round their period. I've never had that. I wouldn't necessarily be able to recognise if if I did. I didn't need to get rid of salt, but salt was included on the list, because you're supposed to eat less salt. These books all took the attitude that their goal was to perfect women's diet, rather than allievate our symptoms.

In the end I discovered how intolerant I was to dairy by accident when I got a really bad cold. About six months later my Mum found one of the books she'd bought me. It said that if you suffered pre-menstrual depression you could try and eliminate dairy. But it also said you should eliminate sugar, caffine, wheat, and a whole bunch of other things I don't even remember now. I never found the useful information because it was so crowded out with other 'useful' information.

31 comments:

  1. You're absolutely correct about that article, Maia. That sort of anti-woman nonsense has no place in a feminist publication. I'm so tired of "fat" being seen as the worst, most evil thing that could ever happen to anyone. You'd think that in a feminist magazine, of all places, we could have a holiday from that sort of Cosmo-esque, body-hating bullshit.

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  2. It seems patronizing and obedience oriented. Not unlike every other womens magazine in the patriarchial matrix we call society.
    Bit of a fraud to call yourself a feminist mag and then publish the standard patronizing pap.

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  3. A feminist magazine should also be well aware that this kind of regulated controlled "faddy" eating is a recipie for an eating disorder.

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  4. So it's not ok for a magazine to tell women they are fat, but you didn't mention anything about being skinny?

    Personally I love women's magazines. Nothing better on a Sunday than a pedicure and reading cosmo. I recognize the articles as the fluff they are but I love looking at the clothes and fashion section...

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  5. Stef I don't think I said what you think I said. Since an article can't see women, they can't call them fat, or skinny.

    This was supposed to be a feminist 'zine, not a women's magazine. Obviously the two should fulfill very different roles.

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  6. I found your blog when doing a search on muse, i found their zine in Olive and like it. I think they could make lots of improvements and i agree with some of your comments about the 'Am I still a feminist' article but I am glad they are doing something to stimulate feminist discussion (looking at you comments it has done that). By the way I didn't think that they were being anti fat or anti women and I found some of the info useful, at least it prompted me to do more research. And I am a feminist but starting to feel like maybe my feminism isn't as 'good' as your's?

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  7. I don't think it's a matter of good or bad feminism, as much as it's a matter of different analysis.

    I think the article was clearly anti-fat (it several timed mentioned getting fatter and obesity as things to be avoided). I think it was anti-woman because it ignored the context in which women are given advice about food and their weight.

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  8. Everyone is at different levels with their analysis. I had been thinking of writing for muse as I liked that they were ättempting to provide a space for young women's voices but now I feel like would something I write be up for attack. I guess it would and that is what you have to accept when you put your writings and opinions out there in the world,much like blogging I guess (which is all totally new to me) but in blogs most people don't put their names so it is more anonymous than their zine.

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  9. Jodi I'm sorry if what I wrote made you feel that way. I would encourage you to contribute to Muse.

    Of course making any work available publicly does mean that some people who read it may not like it.

    But I should point out that the only reason that I posted such a thorough critque publicly is that Anya is a practicing Naturopath. If it had just been a young woman exploring her ideas, I probably wouldn't have responded in the way that I did

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  10. I just feel like as feminists we are all working pretty hard in our own areas and good on them for doing what they are doing or at least going out on a limb and doing SOMETHING. If you have a problem with this article do you think that is enough to say you have a 'huge problem with it being a feminist magazine', were there not other articles that you thought were worth being published? I really like the creative writing, the sexual violence article, the Rosa Parks article, the in briefs - actually I really liked most of it. I get that my analysis might be 'different' to yours but I guess what I am trying to say is - do you think that because of this one article that they cannot call themselves a feminist zine? And if so are you saying they should stop operating? I would be sad to see that happen...

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  11. In the other post on Muse I wrote about what I liked (in particular the Rosa Parks article).

    I said I had a huge problem with that article being in a feminist magazine. Not that I had an objection to the magazine calling itself feminist, or continuing. That's your idea not mine.

    What I do think is that they should print a retraction, and not publish any more nutrition articles by Anya, if they're going to call themselves feminist.

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  12. Ok - I am sorry if I misunderstood your comment about the article as being anti-woman as a comment on the whole zine.

    If you recommend that they retract the article and don't publish anything by Anya again then have you let them know this? it seems like some more constructive feedback rather 2 pretty negative blogs (with one mention of an article you liked - so small i had missed it). I am not trying to get your back up but you have done some pretty full on critique publically through your blog and it would be nice to know that it might be resolved positively. After all, attacking other women is not pro women or pro feminist either, I wonder if Anya has seen you blog?

    Thanks for being a feminist anyway and for having feminist discussion on your blog, the more the better.

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  13. I have e-mailed the collective.

    I don't think attacking other women is particularly feminist (depending on the women, attacking Helen Clark is perfectly feminist) but I don't think I have attacked other women. I have disagreed with other women, and I have attacked some of the things they said. But I have not made those attacks personal. I have said what I said because I disagreed with them.

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  14. Are you for real? You think a female Naturopath who specialises in Women's Health, who writes for a feminist magazine is anti-woman and secretly wishes you all felt terrible anxiety about your body image? What were you smoking when you read this?

    Well obviously food which might turn into to fat (unless you burn it off with exercise) must be avoided at all costs.
    Well yeah, It is very widely accepted that excess fat is a large factor in many serious health concerns. Whats your point?

    Obesity and heart disease: one is medical condition that can kill you, the other is being fat. Notice which one is first placed first.
    Oh come on, which item in a two item list comes first... kinda clutching at straws aren't you?

    It's not just that she maintains a 'we must avoid evil fat' mentality, it's that she doesn't explain why. Why is low-fat organic yoghurt OK? Why isn't full-fat organic yoghurt? Will low-fat non-organic yoghurt turn you into a pumpkin? And what if you eat cheese?
    Just as you have read 'Evil fat' into her article, One could just as easily read between the lines to see that she might have been maintaining that although organic yogurt is great for you, low fat is even better, Some of her readers may not be able to eat regular organic yogurt as it has too high a fat content, whereas it is not going to do anyone any harm to eat non-fat rather than regular.

    Yes, these fats tidy their bedrooms, write to their grandmothers and look both ways before crossing the road. I would never take nutritional advice from anyone who can't confuses food and morality.
    So even though you "could find any of the advice (and much of the language) in Cosmo or Cleo" You could still get this point totally and utterly wrong? Using such drastic language as "good" does not imply a moral high ground it implies that something is good... read desirable or maybe even positive; perhaps beneficial would suit you more?

    Number one this is just plain wrong. Insulin Resistance is only just beginning to be understood, and while there is evidence of a correlation between body fat around the middle and insulin Resistance, there is no evidence that fat around the middle causes insulin Resistance.
    Anya didn't say that fat around the middle causes insulin resistance, she said can lead to insulin resistance. ie (because apparently it needs to be spelled out) there is a correlation between the two.

    Number 2 obesity is classified as having a Body Mass Index over 30. Obesity and fat are not synonymous, you are classified as obese even if you have a very low body-fat and lots of muscle.
    Obesity is a concept that is being continually redefined. This is largely because no one, as yet, has developed a scientific definition of obesity because of the extreme difficulty in developing a simple method of body fat measurement that can be applied to all subjects. - wikipedia
    Obesity is not having a high BMI, nor is it a size or a shape;
    Obesity is a condition where the natural energy reserve, stored in the fatty tissue of humans and mammals is increased to a point where it is thought to be a significant risk factor in certain health conditions, leading to increased mortality...

    Number 3 Advising other women to lose weight, in a feminist magazine? What the fuck ever.
    Can you please point out where in her point about it being healthier to not be either underweight or overweight she advised you to lose weight? Has she ever met you? how would she know what you weigh? Did she use your name in magic ink?

    Whether or not we eat organically farmed meat is entirely a choice. Some of us choose to buy organically farmed meat, others choose to be too poor.
    I'm sorry I missed the bit in the article that explains how Anya is solely responsible for the high cost of Organic produce... I'm sure she's upset to find this out too! It's advise, I could advise you that you will live longer if you did not have the effects of gravity weighing on you, would you then harass me for the high cost of space travel?

    What I don't understand is where your moral high ground comes from, what is your background in women's health? How can you so easily dismiss what is so obviously well intended advise as not only unhelpful but anti-women?
    So whats the deal? It's fairly obvious to me you had already formed an opinion before you read this article and proceeded to read it in any way that would back that up or did you have some separate agenda here? I personally know Anya and know how terribly upset she would be, to think her advise had been taken so badly.
    She gives an enormous amount of her time and energy to the goal of improving women's lives and empowering them to retake their health into there own hands. If this is how you respond to an honest and concerted effort to help and inform women, I don't think much of you as a feminist.
    You could well have made positive critique and still let her know that you found some of it personally offensive; instead you call her anti-women and suggest she be barred from writing in feminist magazines.

    You appall me!

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  15. But I have not made those attacks personal. I have said what I said because I disagreed with them.

    Yes, these fats tidy their bedrooms, write to their grandmothers and look both ways before crossing the road.

    I find this very condescending

    Number 3 Advising other women to lose weight, in a feminist magazine? What the fuck ever.

    Very derogatory, and intended to cause offence.

    While they may not be personal attacks per se, I do think they are offensive, and most certainly not constructive. I know if this was about something I had written, I would feel like I had been attacked. I also think this was your intention.

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  16. OK - glad you had the guts to say it all Pete. I was feeling so uncomfortable about this blog and all the things it has stirred up in me but I wasn't totally sure why and I had totally been doubting my own feminism because of it. Thanks for putting it in perspective Pete - I AGREE.

    Maia - I want to know how you can be so destructive and negative publically and call that feminist and the rest of you - read the article BEFORE you comment!

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  17. "You think a female Naturopath who specialises in Women's Health, who writes for a feminist magazine is anti-woman and secretly wishes you all felt terrible anxiety about your body image?"

    I didn't say any of that. I want to make this very clear from the start, because you make this mistake frequently. I was writing my response to what Anya wrote. I was not writing about her, I don't know Anya, I wasn't imagining her motives. I don't care what she thinks and feels, I care what she says.

    "Well yeah, It is very widely accepted that excess fat is a large factor in many serious health concerns."
    Just because something is widely accepted doesn't mean it's true. The idea, as you stated it, is also widely challenged.

    "Oh come on, which item in a two item list comes first... kinda clutching at straws aren't you?"
    Actually my substantive point was the ridiculousness of implying heart-disease and obesity were problems that deserved equal weight.

    "Anya didn't say that fat around the middle causes insulin resistance, she said can lead to insulin resistance. ie (because apparently it needs to be spelled out) there is a correlation between the two."
    Lead to implies caused not correlated. Anyway the advice to 'maintain a healthy body weight' only makes sense if you believe weight gain causes the health problems she listed. If the reason for the correlation was that both were caused by a third factor (or if insulin resistence led to weight gain) then there'd be no reason for anyone to take any action about their body weight.

    You can quote wikipedia (well known for its infalibility) definitions of obesity at me all you like. It actually reinforces my idea that obesity is essentially a made-up term with very little scientific back-up. How on earth can you say that obesity is bad for you, if no-one knows how to define what 'obesity' is.

    "Can you please point out where in her point about it being healthier to not be either underweight or overweight she advised you to lose weight? Has she ever met you? how would she know what you weigh? Did she use your name in magic ink?"
    You appear to want to make this about me and her. I don't. This is about what was written in that article.

    "What I don't understand is where your moral high ground comes from, what is your background in women's health? How can you so easily dismiss what is so obviously well intended advise as not only unhelpful but anti-women?"
    I am a woman and a feminist, and I explained my interest in this subject in the post. The advice may have been well intended, but I think it is unhelpful, and in our current society I do believe it is also anti-woman. Those categories are not mutually exclusive.

    "So whats the deal? It's fairly obvious to me you had already formed an opinion before you read this article and proceeded to read it in any way that would back that up or did you have some separate agenda here?"
    I could hardly have formed an opinion of this article before I read it. I had already formed an opinion of the harm that activists do when they reinforcing mainstream nutritional advice.

    My agenda is that I have had, and still do have, too many friends who hate their bodies and punish them through food. I have had, and still do have, too many friends who justify what they do in the belief that is 'healthy' and alternative.

    "I don't think much of you as a feminist."
    I do always appreciate men telling me about feminism.

    "instead you call her anti-women and suggest she be barred from writing in feminist magazines."
    I did not do either of those things. I suggested that I thought the article was anti-woman, and that I don't think the Muse collective should print articles from her about nutrition.

    Pete: I was ridiculing the article, I don't deny that. I think ridiculing diet advice is an important part of the feminist project. I think it is extremely arrogant of you to believe you know my intentions from what I have written.

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  18. Just because something is widely accepted doesn't mean it's true. The idea, as you stated it, is also widely challenged.
    A wide acceptance by professionals educated in the subject, based on scientific evidence is a pretty good bet. Truth is a rare thing indeed.
    I did not state anywhere that the idea is widely challenged.

    Actually my substantive point was the ridiculousness of implying heart-disease and obesity were problems that deserved equal weight.
    I saw no implication to that end, as I said before two items in a list.

    Lead to implies caused not correlated.
    I disagree you could say "his drinking led him to a fiery rage" would that exclude any possibility that he had an anger problem? no, as such there is was a correlation between his fit of rage and his tendency to drink.

    Anyway the advice to 'maintain a healthy body weight' only makes sense if you believe weight gain causes the health problems she listed.
    This would also make sense if you believe it could be a factor in the health problems listed. A self controllable factor at that, which after all is what the article is about.

    How on earth can you say that obesity is bad for you, if no-one knows how to define what 'obesity' is.
    Again I did not say that, I said there is no scientific definition, and stated why so far there is not... I then gave a literal definition.
    And yes wikipedia has failed because this seems to be a pretty good scientific definition. http://www.mercola.com/2002/jan/26/obesity.htm

    You appear to want to make this about me and her. I don't. This is about what was written in that article.
    My point was that you took this personally, I think you got it.
    However you did not answer me, where does she advise you or any other feminist to lose weight?
    I think what is fairly obvious from all of this talk of obesity and weight loss, is that every body's ideal weight is different based on a number of factors, however most people will know if they are an unhealthy weight and this is what she is getting at.

    The advice may have been well intended, but I think it is unhelpful
    And your opinion on this is valid because you; have studied women's health? Actually tried this advise at some point and felt no better for it? Just like giving your opinion where it is unwarranted?

    I could hardly have formed an opinion of this article before I read it.
    Sorry, I should have said you formed an opinion before fully reading this article... My mistake.

    I had already formed an opinion of the harm that activists do when they reinforcing mainstream nutritional advice.
    Well that's hardly fair, you had a preformed opinion that this was mainstream before you read it? did you just prove my point for me?

    My agenda is that I have had, and still do have, too many friends who hate their bodies and punish them through food.
    And I fully appreciate the enormity of this problem, but to lay blame for its endurance at the hands of a well intentioned and very knowledgeable naturopath is irresponsible to say the least.

    I do always appreciate men telling me about feminism.
    I concede that what I said was an emotional response and I apologise.
    I do not think it good practice for any member of a group to ridicule the thoughts and knowledge of one of it's members.

    I did not do either of those things. I suggested that I thought the article was anti-woman And if we told you that an article you wrote within a field that you not only studied years to be qualified in and now have chosen as your career because of a passion for this field, was anti-women... you don't think that amounts to much the same thing?

    Look, editorialise all you like, but the fact is that obesity is massive a health problem and it does influence many other areas of our health...
    This article was not an opinion on how every woman should diet and be paranoid about what they eat. It was an article about what women can do to decrease their personal health risks and improve their own well being through diet. If you don't think there's a problem with these facets of your life then that's fantastic, but don't dis-empower those that do by reading into it what's not there and then publicly publishing your flights of fancy.

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  19. Pete my main complaint with you is this:

    "My point was that you took this personally, I think you got it."

    No I didn't take it personally, and I didn't take your point.

    You keep saying that you know what I was thinking, you know what I meant. You keep on being wrong. I really resent the arrogance of a man telling me what I'm thinking and feeling on a feminist blog. So I'm officially warning you that if you do that again I will ban you and delete any further posts. We can then continue this discussion in e-mail, but I'm not hosting this sort of patronising attitude towards women on my blog.

    I also disagree with you. My main disagreement is this:
    "Look, editorialise all you like, but the fact is that obesity is massive a health problem and it does influence many other areas of our health..."

    This is not a fact. It's a highly contested statement. If you want to make the argument then make the argument. But just stating that it's true is not adequate.

    Just to answer some of your other points:"And yes wikipedia has failed because this seems to be a pretty good scientific definition. http://www.mercola.com/2002/jan/26/obesity.htm"
    That's a totally standard definition of obesity based on a BMI. I have been disputing that view ever since I started writing this blog, and I'm not alone.

    "Well that's hardly fair, you had a preformed opinion that this was mainstream before you read it?".
    Obviously I didn't know how mainstream the advice was before I read it. But having read it I decided it was mainstream, and therefore decided to respond.

    "I think what is fairly obvious from all of this talk of obesity and weight loss, is that every body's ideal weight is different based on a number of factors, however most people will know if they are an unhealthy weight and this is what she is getting at.".
    I hope that's not her opinion. If it's yours then it shows how little you know about women's health. Many, many, many, many women 'know' they're at an unhealthy weight, whether they're tiny or huge.

    The point is whether people are actually exposing themselves to any extra risk is extremely contested. The correlations are actually not nearly what you'd think, http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/JAMA_flegal.pdf. The causations are anyone's guess given the current state of research.

    "And your opinion on this is valid because you; have studied women's health?"

    As I mentioned in the post I have done quite a lot of reading about women's health. I also have quite a developed analysis of food and women's bodies.

    They're certainly more valid than yours, since I have actually lived in a woman's body.

    "I do not think it good practice for any member of a group to ridicule the thoughts and knowledge of one of it's members."

    Again I don't think your opinions of good practice among feminists have any validity whatsoever.

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  20. Firstly Maia, I want to say that I appreciate that you have read muse and felt strongly enough about its content to comment publicly in your blog. I wish however, that I could thank you for your constructive criticism, but I feel that you have made a number of attacks towards my writing and my expertise in natural medicine and women’s health specifically. I did not find this constructive, I found it very distressing.

    I would like to address each of the criticisms you have made in turn.

    You begin by calling my article ‘anti-woman’. I am a woman. I am a feminist. I am a natural health professional with a passion for women’s health and I want nothing more than to try and empower women so that they can make informed choices about their health and prevent the problems that the medical system provides limited treatment options for. Your interpretation of my article is that it is anti-women, but I can assure you my intention was for it to be anything but.

    You go on to say that my views are ‘mainstream…pretending it’s radical’. I resent this statement. I am appalled by much of the mainstream dietary advice which many women are exposed to; I see it as unsubstantiated, often incorrect and usually with the sole intention of assisting with weight loss or gaining an ‘ideal physique’. What I am trying to do with my writing and my practice is to dispel the dangerous myths surrounding women’s health and dieting and to promote a healthy lifestyle and body image.

    I quote: ‘… much of the advice given in this article is also in a mainstream article, on how to keep well during your menstrual cycle, which was printed a few pages earlier in the same 'zine (I assume they were making fun of the mainstream article, but you can never be sure)’. I don’t know where you got this from; there is nothing about keeping well during your menstrual cycle a few pages earlier in muse. Perhaps you were referring to my article in Issue 1, in which I discussed a specific (and different) aspect of menstrual health.

    I felt that given the direct and specific nature of my article in muse issue 1(about alternative menstrual resources and the potential dangers of conventional sanitary products); I should go on to address some of the common contributing lifestyle factors (to menstrual health) which I see so frequently in my clinic. I also intended to write further articles about specific women’s health issues which I felt all needed this information as a foundation for self-help and the prevention of these issues. I realise that they are broad and general recommendations, but I state in the opening paragraph that ‘these are simple ways to improve your overall health as well as avoiding common female health complaints’. I stand by this point and it saddens me that you took this as meaning ‘that all women's bodies are the same, and that all menstrual symptoms can be alleviated by the same behaviour’. This is so far from the way that I view women’s health; I feel that these recommendations are a starting point on the way to overcoming hormonal disorders but the whole naturopathic philosophy is based around addressing the individual and this is precisely what I do in a consultation. It is impossible to do so in a magazine article. I intend to go into far more depth about specific disorders but it wasn’t possible to do so in the scope of this particular article. This is an enormous field, which is why I felt it made sense to start with the fundamental points. Perhaps I should have stated this more clearly.

    You have discussed your personal struggles with menstrual health and I respect that you have put your own personal experience across. I quote: ‘But the advice in this article won't help any woman who is in the position I was in’. This is an unfair assumption. I don’t claim to understand the position you were in but I can assure you that the advice I have given in this article, along with an individualised treatment plan, has helped countless patients who I have seen in my clinic.

    Your next statement – ‘There are some truly ridiculous phrases in the article, that are begging out to be mocked, so I will oblige’ is again nothing but an attack with nothing to gain bar slamming me down and promoting yourself to a higher moral ground.

    It is obvious that your biggest gripe with my column is that I have discussed the issue of obesity in connection with hormonal imbalances. Let it be clear that this is not an opinion piece and these are not merely my opinions. This information was gathered by professionals from whom I and my colleagues consider to be experts in the field of women’s health, as well as the lecturers who educated me in the subjects of nutrition and food as medicine. You will find some of these listed with my references and I can provide more at your request. I feel that you have grossly misinterpreted my points and I am greatly concerned that others may have now done the same.

    I do not believe that this article was suggesting that we all need to be counting calories and watching our weight. My point was that research that I trust, connects obesity with insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances, and I have personally seen cases where this is so. A condition known as PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), which I encounter frequently in my clinic, is compounded by excess body fat as there is a negative feedback cycle with this along with insulin resistance and androgen (testosterone) excess. I would be happy to provide evidence of this research. I believe that there are countless body types and shapes which are perfectly healthy and do not need addressing in any way. I made no comments on body image in my article and it was far from my thoughts when I wrote it, as it would have been neither relevant nor appropriate in a women’s health column in a feminist magazine. When I am discussing obesity it is in a clinical sense, namely that which is deemed potentially harmful due to the stress that it is placing on vital organs and the impact that it is having on the endocrine (hormonal) system. I think it is excellent that you are questioning this research and looking for further evidence as I too believe that you can’t necessarily take this information as factual. There are so many variables and factors which need to be considered with any clinical research or studies that often aren’t picked up on when these (often hyped) medical discoveries are made public. I would not have cited this information had I not encountered it in many reputable sources which have scientific recognition.

    As far as the points I had made with which you felt there was insufficient explanation, I do apologise for this. You are right in that I should have explained the symptoms of hormonal excess – I did intend to go into this in more detail in further articles. As far as the subject of certain exercise during menstruation goes, Ruth Trickey: author of ‘Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle’ (listed in references) explains (and provides evidence) that this can promote a retrograde menstrual blood flow which may contribute to endometriosis.

    My comments on the low-fat yoghurt issue would be that this is the best form of dairy which provides beneficial bacteria, calcium and complete protein with few likely adverse effects (i.e. it is a pre-digested form of dairy, therefore containing far less lactose than other dairy products, and has had the saturated fat removed). I think most people understand that saturated fat is unnecessary in our diets, devoid of beneficial nutrients, potentially harmful and therefore undesirable. All natural yoghurt is good food you but the low-fat varieties are ideal.

    I do realise that I’ve annoyed you by discussing ‘good fats’ as opposed to unhealthy ones (I never said ‘evil’ or bad’), and I see that this may not have been the best choice of terminology. I was trying to make the distinction between two vastly different forms of lipids which can act positively and negatively in the body. It was more that I was encouraging the intake of essential fatty acids, which are deficient in many women’s diets and can be so effective in relieving PMS, period pain and skin problems. Conversely, a high intake of animal fats can aggravate these issues, as it converts to the inflammatory prostaglandin, arachidonic acid once in the body.

    Lastly, the organic debate for me is a significant one. I have worked in the organic food industry for 6 years and have a pretty good understanding of the potentially harmful affects of conventional agricultural farming on our (not to mention the livestock and land’s) wellbeing. Of course I realise that an entirely organic diet is unattainable for most people, which is why I suggest to my patients that if they want to reduce their exposure to pesticides and synthetic hormones, they could reduce their intake of meat (and increase vegetarian protein), by having one to two serves of organic meat per week, rather than conventional meat every day. This usually ends up being not only a realistic but positive choice on the part of the patient.

    The points I made were in no way meant to be instructions and they certainly were not meant to patronise the reader in any way. They were intended as reference points and guidelines which readers might benefit from and investigate further if they chose to. I don’t claim to be any kind of guru in my field; I am only in my third year of practice and am the first to acknowledge that as a health practitioner I myself am constantly learning and must be continuously seeking out further knowledge. However, I would never pass on any advice that I didn’t feel was safe, beneficial and well-founded.

    I don’t know if you realise how damaging your comments have been, not only to my morale but potentially to my reputation and profession. I question your motives as a feminist in destructively attacking another feminist with good intentions.

    I am undecided as far as whether or not I will continue to write for muse magazine. This is not because you think they shouldn’t let me, its because I am reluctant to put myself out there for more attacks and ridicule when I am putting hours of my personal time and energy into a project aimed at helping women (for no personal gain). I have to wonder if it’s worth it, but when I hear the amount of positive feedback I receive from women who have understood and gained from my articles I feel encouraged that it is.

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  21. Anya, I can't really see how Maia's speaking out against an article she considers to be of questionable value within the context of a feminist publication can hurt you professionally. She isn't a health professional herself as far as I know, and criticism within a personal blog can hardly be damaging to your livelihood. Surely only the criticism of your peers could have that effect. I can't see how Maia could have any effect at all on your career or reputation. All of us come up against criticism in our professional lives. It can hurt like hell, but we have to deal with it.

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  22. pirogi10:33 pm

    The most striking thing for me about the original article was the emphasis on reduction, less fat, less carbs, less hormones, lighter periods, smaller, self-managing, self-healing women... as if we accept that society would prefer us 'disappeared'...

    not excessive, abundant, angry, in their faces - about the toxins which fuck up our systems (that only rich women can afford to avoid), about a culture that denies the validity of emotional cycles, about the hatred and fear of our bodies we have been steeped in...

    anyway, maia has done a pretty thorough dissection of anya's article and suffice it to say that i agree with her.

    What I find interesting about the ensuing conversation is how many posters seem to wish it wasn't happening. Maia's feminist credentials are being questioned repeatedly because she actually engaged with what another woman said in a feminist zine.

    Personally I think it's the least of our responsibilities as feminists to examine and challenge what's being said in the name of feminism. And it has to be said, good intentions will never destroy sexism. It takes hard work, solidarity (which cannot preclude), robust debate and (will not protect us from sometimes painful) self-analysis.

    I'm sure many women have opposed abortion rights with good intentions, that doesn't make their work feminist.

    Anya, I think Maia's biggest gripe with your article is not that you discuss hormonal imbalance with regards to obesity, but that you don't discuss "obesity" with regards to our society's hatred of women and obsession with controlling their bodies. Whether I trusted the science behind your advice or not, I don't believe a feminist article on health can be complete without explicitly recognising that "fat" is a weapon. It's one that all aspects of our culture have colluded to load (with connotations of repugnance, undesireability, poverty, sickness, uselessness, laziness, weakness, dirtiness etc ad nauseum) and point at women.

    Using it almost always harms us.

    Cushioning it with an alternative set of rhetoric, about healthiness rather than sex appeal, which still exhorts women to lose weight
    makes this harm more insidious.

    I'd love to talk about food... but like most of us, it seems, I've a long hard road to finding healthy, celebratory, feminist ways of doing so.

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  23. “I wish however, that I could thank you for your constructive criticism, but I feel that you have made a number of attacks towards my writing and my expertise in natural medicine and women’s health specifically. I did not find this constructive, I found it very distressing.”

    I am unsure what sort of constructive criticism you seek. I was not writing for you, or about you. I was writing about an article, for a feminist audience. I am planning to write an article about what I think feminist nutrition advice would look like, which you may find more constructive. I’ll post it tomorrow.

    ”You go on to say that my views are ‘mainstream…pretending it’s radical’. I resent this statement. I am appalled by much of the mainstream dietary advice which many women are exposed to; I see it as unsubstantiated, often incorrect and usually with the sole intention of assisting with weight loss or gaining an ‘ideal physique’.”

    And what you wrote did not differ in any substantial way from what is found in any women’s magazine. I picked up a magazine at random while getting takeaways this evening. It was called ‘She’, but I didn’t notice the date or number. There was an article on 50 ways to live longer, I didn’t have time to read them all, but I did skim to see if any of the advice you mentioned came up. It included recommendations about maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, eating more soy, eating more whole grains, and eating more broccoli. I found half your advice in a mainstream women’s magazine chosen at random that I read for a minute. If you’re claiming that your advice is not available in mainstream sources then I’d like some evidence.

    You may not do this with the intention of recommending women losing weight or gaining a physique. But if you know anything about eating disordered behaviour you would know that physical appearance is only a small part of what is going on. A large part of eating disordered behaviour is about control. Your advice promotes control of food. It promotes control of food to a group of women who would feel uncomfortable with giving their physical appearance as their reason for doing so. It gives them ‘health’ reasons to justify eating disordered behaviour

    “It is obvious that your biggest gripe with my column is that I have discussed the issue of obesity in connection with hormonal imbalances.”

    You discussed avoiding obesity, and not eating food that might lead to gaining fat, separately from hormonal imbalances

    I didn’t have ‘gripes’ with your article I disagreed with it politically. I also don’t think it’s for you to say what I objected most to. Could you please engage with what I am saying rather than making assumptions.

    “I do not believe that this article was suggesting that we all need to be counting calories and watching our weight. My point was that research that I trust, connects obesity with insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances, and I have personally seen cases where this is so.”

    What do you mean by connect correlate or cause? Because there’s a really fundamental difference between the two. I am aware there’s a correlation between weight gain around the middle and PCOS, I mentioned that in my post. But that does not prove causation.

    “I made no comments on body image in my article and it was far from my thoughts when I wrote it, as it would have been neither relevant nor appropriate in a women’s health column in a feminist magazine.”

    I’ll go into this in more detail in my argument for what feminist nutrition should look like. But I believe that discussing body image is both relevant, appropriate vital in a women’s health column in a feminist magazine.

    “When I am discussing obesity it is in a clinical sense, namely that which is deemed potentially harmful due to the stress that it is placing on vital organs and the impact
    that it is having on the endocrine (hormonal) system.”

    I’ve heard that definition of obesity before, and I find it very circular. Obesity is fat that is associated with health problems. Most of the time they can’t prove that it’s fat that causes these health problems (correlation doesn’t prove causation after all). So why look at the fat at all? Why not just look at the health problems?

    But if that was the definition of obesity you were using, you should have made it very clear, because it’s not the common definition that most women reading the article would have understood. The most common understanding of obesity is a BMI over 30.

    “As far as the subject of certain exercise during menstruation goes, Ruth Trickey: author of ‘Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle’ (listed in references) explains (and provides evidence) that this can promote a retrograde menstrual blood flow which may contribute to endometriosis.”

    So your stated point blank that all women should avoid aerobic exercise because it can lead to something that may contribute to a medical condition that they may or may not be prone to?

    “All natural yoghurt is good food you but the low-fat varieties are ideal. “

    Again you confuse food with morality. Look I’ve written more about my issues with this in much more detail here . I object to the idea of there being ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food, not just because of the morality issue, but because it assumes that foods have an absolute quality. Actually any effect food has depends on our individual bodies, the state the body is in, and what else we are eating.

    In a way you’ve chosen a great example of this, because any kind of yoghurt would make me terribly ill.

    “I question your motives as a feminist in destructively attacking another feminist with good intentions.”

    I didn’t attack you; I attacked what you wrote.

    I would point out that you are the one who is questioning me as a person, and my motives. I did not make any reference to what I thought the state of your mind was when you wrote the article (because I didn’t know, and it didn’t make any difference).

    If you’re going to question my motives as a feminists could you do it, rather than just referring to doing it? Could you make clear what that question is rather than refer to it obliquely? Or ideally could you challenge my ideas rather than me as a person.

    Your intentions don’t matter to me. Recently I have done something under the name of feminism that may turn out to do a great deal of harm to some women. If this happens I will not hide behind the idea that my intentions are good, because it’s the affect of my actions that matter, not my intentions.

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  24. hi,
    there's been a lot of detailed debate here.
    i have a personal stake because the naturopath in question helped me thru pelvic inflammitory disease where doctors doped me up.

    but apart from that i'd like to back the debate up.

    everyday we get pounded with bullshit media and mistruths, distortions and ill intended bullshit in our media.

    so a bunch of women tried to do something different. give a bit of slack please! i think we have a bigger, more common demon to attack before we start in on each other.
    Full respect to both Anya and Maia- lets fight together (there's so few of us as there is) and words are so limiting.

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  25. Louie I'm glad that you managed to get help with PID. As I said in this post I know what it's like to

    But I'm sick of people trying to make this about me and Anya. This is a political difference, not a personal fight. By trying to personalise it people are denying that the issue I'm writing about are political issues, they are depoliticising women's politics. I am going to argue with other women when I disagree with them. This has nothing to do with what I think of them as people (particularly when I don't know them)

    I don't think I would have had the same reaction if Anya and I had both been men, and we'd been talking about a non-feminist political issue. I don't think people would have cast my politics into doubt because I articulated my disagreement. I don't think I would have been encouraged to drop this disagreement.

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  26. Heya again,
    I think i understand that the concern lies with 'nutritional' and 'health' advice being separated from the social/political roles women play, and the article being specificly on our physical wellbeing to the point where it disregarded the wider political context around healht/fat/women/oppression/expectations/control/mass media/slavery.
    Lets hope there are many more atricles,issues of zines/blogs that address these wider issues, like this one!

    But i do see the personal here. i am uncomfortable with the patriarchal university style analysis where a debate is picked apart without taking into account the personal. we are human beings and understanding each other's personal feelings enriches a debate (informs us in a different way.)
    that may sound a bit hippyish but i've never felt comfortable with disconnecting passion and personalities from an issue. if i agree with a person's economic theory and find her to be a racist, it matters to me. attempts at holding back emotion and being 'unbiased' are bullshit, especially among political creatures.
    after all men in the past dismissed women's knowledge as emotional-based rubbish.
    Excuse the tangent.... love your work

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  27. I'm coming in late to this but I want to challenge this:

    "I think most people understand that saturated fat is unnecessary in our diets, devoid of beneficial nutrients, potentially harmful and therefore undesirable."

    Especially because it was written by someone who is a professional within a scientific research context.

    There is research based argument that whole fats, including saturated fats, are nutritionally dense and both necessary and beneficial to humans.

    http://www.westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/index.html

    http://www.westonaprice.org/knowyourfats/import_sat_fat.html


    Maia, I haven't read those articles with a feminist analysis of obesity before, so my apologies if they feed into the good/bad food thing further (that site does have a tendancy to use the terms 'good' and 'bad' which I too find unhelpful). The reason I wanted to post the links is because part of the rationale for making dietary fat 'bad' is that science appears to prove this. In fact science doesn't prove this and I feel an obligation to point this out to science based professionals in these kinds of debates.

    (I'm also interested in the connections between seeing dietary fat as bad and seeing people's fat as bad)

    I'm in full agreement that health is personal, context specific, and political, and that health information needs to address all of that.

    I tend to the view that 'obesity' correlates to poor health statistically because for some people the thing causing the poor health may also be causing the higher body fat.

    eg the current diabetes increase is a result (amongst other things) of what people are eating over a lifetime not that they are fat.

    However I think the point being made that 'health image' is the new body image we can beat ourselves and each other with is incredibly important and I need to look at my own beliefs around nutrition in regard to this.

    I want to thank you Maia for giving me something to think through.

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  28. I keep coming here hoping for a solution, i guess to the conflict not the larger issue, that would be too big for us but I have to realise that is not very likely to happen. I'm the sort of person that like resolution and moving forward.

    I guess that is why the blog had upset me so much, I didn't feel like it suggested a way foward. I suppose that is not Maia's job but my perspective (and mine only) is that when I give criticism I suggest a way forward. I find that others don't respond well to anger no matter how warranted it is and I don't expect them to.

    My point is that the tone and content of this blog and responses from Maia upset me as a feminist and has upset others. No matter how often someone says this was not the intent, it was the effect. In much the same way Maia says Anya's intent is not the point it is the effect of her writing, the intent of Maia's blog is not the point it is the effect - some being upset or hurt. Maia - do you disagree with this?

    Thanks Anya for being brave enough to explain your position and for apologising where warranted.

    As well as Louie I also see the personal here and believe that seeing the personal is part of being a feminist, that is part of my own feminism and analysis I guess. I like to see women supporting each other and think that the issue Maia had with this could have been managed a lot more carefully.

    As a young woman new to feminism, I am scared of this sort of reaction to something I might say or think from another feminist.

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  29. Jodi you keep on stating that there is some kind of conflict between me and Anya that needs resolving. That's simply not true. We disagree about a political issue.

    As for people being upset - not upsetting people isn't high on the priority list for my blog. I'd rather say what I think is important than make sure I never upset anyone

    I am sorry that you feel less able to express yourself because of this. As I said previously on this thread, I would not react the same way to someone who was just exploring their ideas as I did to this article that was written by a professional.

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  30. the bewilderness I didn't think there was anything patronising about your comment either - I really appreciated it.

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  31. Thankyou so much for challenging this stuff maia. i totally agree with everything you have said.

    Women who no longer feel it is ok to talk about not eating certain things because it might make them fat, instead feel able to justify their desire to control their bodies and what they eat in terms of what is healthy. This is still a controll issue. this is still unhealthy mentally if not physically.

    "10 wise ways for women's wellness" colluded with those sorts of unhealthy patterns. To be giving healthy and helpfull information to women on food and nutrition (information that could be seen as feminist) the article would have had to acnowledge the issues that women face with regard to food and body image.

    To tell women to avoid putting on weight is like telling a brain surgeon to avoid cutting off his hands! it's not like most of us don't think about our weight all the time (even if we try not to)!

    The main reason i wanted to comment was cos i wanted to check that the people who've been participating in this debate for a while now should read Maia's post on what feminist nutritional infrmation would look like. i feel like it may go some way to suggesting the way forward that jodi is looking for... it's constructive anyway.

    because this is a feminist blog and feminism is about women's experiences and i am reading this blog because of research for writing i am doing about my body image and writing about this is making me feel sad and angry i just want to end by saying that I’m not sure that I will ever be able to separate how I feel about my body from how society talks about women's bodies and I feel absolutely furious about this.

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