Breaking Taboos in Women’s Health
Even four years ago, declaring a Women’s and Gender Studies major was perhaps considered a joke curriculum, underscored by unshaved armpit stereotypes and the trope of the angry woman. Now, it’s metamorphosed into a reputable education that holistically examines gaps in our gendered system.
The word taboo, as of late, has become more synonymous with women’s health than the eponymously-titled board-card game hybrid that used to sit behind our Monopoly and Scrabble sets. Not because it’s a novel idea – women’s health taboos have existed long before The Scarlet Letter — but because we’ve just begun to confront that there exists a complete lack of discourse when it comes to women’s bodies and health as an entity.
“We've seen a rising tide over the past three years especially,” says Carolyn Witte, Co-Founder and CEO of Tia, a women’s healthcare platform. “From rising maternal mortality rates to increased cardiovascular disease to anxiety and depression, it's become apparent both within the medical world and the public zeitgeist that we cannot afford to treat [women’s] health as taboo.” With vibrators sold in the clinic’s lobby and a range of gynecologists, nurse practitioners, and technicians on staff, Tia serves as an intersectional health clinic that caters to women’s specific health needs. The visibility of such a clinic certainly puts my whispered birth control questions with my pediatrician to shame.
We’ve just begun to confront that there exists a complete lack of discourse when it comes to women’s bodies and health as an entity.
Tia is just one of many examples of how individuals, corporations, and brands have begun to prioritize eradicating the stigmatization of women’s bodies. Tatiana Fogt, founder of the sexual wellness podcast Bedside, sums it up: “Normalizing tabooed conversation has come out of a need for a new narrative – something that lives between the hyper-sexual and hyper-clinical standards we’ve been set up with.” In other words, Dukes of Hazzard and Rosemary’s Baby are not the only yardsticks by which to measure women and their health. This is where brands like pubic hair care company Fur, pink tax-free razor brand Billie, and body-safe vibrator purveyors Unbound come in.
When one moves to New York, they think maybe, the conversations that have pushed the established boundaries of the family dinner table would find solace in revolutionary spaces. And while that is indeed true, such progressive themes are embedded in the DNA of these companies and products. The ethos of such brands is taboo conversations, brought to life in an accessible yet disruptive way. Unbound’s vibrators allow sexual wellness to transcend hushed middle school conversations about masturbation, Billie’s razor campaigns normalize an aversion to bikini season, and Fur’s pubic hair oil makes post-shower grooming…something one can actually consider. Like Fogt said, these products come from a need for a new narrative — an amalgamation of anecdotes that these CEOs have crafted into viable businesses.
"It's become apparent both within the medical world and the public zeitgeist that we cannot afford to treat [women’s] health as taboo”
“[There are] some super smart new kids on the block who do finally feel unashamed to encourage each other to speak up in retaliation against suppressing the most basic, everyday things, like body hair, for so long,” says Noemie LeCoz, Billie’s creative mind behind all things design. These so-called new kids on the block are reinventing what it means to build something by seamlessly embedding the tools to encourage social responsibility into the brand.
“People wouldn’t wash their face with body soap today, yet they would shave their pubic hair against the grain and then not use anything to soothe their skin afterwards,” Laura Schubert, Fur’s co-founder says when explaining the development of pubic hair products. In the case of Fur, women’s wellbeing is at the forefront of the products they create, and the education of wellness options are part of the brand’s mandate.
“Normalizing tabooed conversation has come out of a need for a new narrative"
On the other side of the coin is pregnancy; the thing that women have been historically conditioned to almost fear by way of celibacy, at least until we’re beautifully wed and become vehicles of reproduction. The piles of swaddles and toys gifted at a baby shower seem to imply a sort of “this is the new you” declaration. While that might just be the point of a baby shower, one has to wonder why we don’t gift the actual mother anything for her use. Instead of chew rings and stuffed giraffes, why not gift her belly masks and stretch mark cream? is the mentality put forth by Ever Eden, a skincare brand that focuses on mothers and families. “It is a responsibility to speak about lesser-mentioned topics, like the challenges of having sex after children, body image issues and mental health problems amongst mothers,” said to CEO Kimberly Ho. As such, she owned up to her responsibility and created a company that goes beyond a conventional pregnancy narrative.
The fact that these brands have come to life beyond an idea in a startup or think tank is a reflection of the way our society is shifting. Individuals are building businesses that reject catering to the antiquated status quo, and instead mimic the real needs of real women. As Unbound’s CEO Polly Rodriguez puts it: “Humanizing the entire experience of being a marginalized group trying to improve your wellbeing is the most compelling, honest, and raw argument to make.”