Tag: health care

Beyoncé and Serena are changing the narrative for postpartum women

01-beyonce-vogue-september-cover-2018(CNN)Beyoncé and Serena Williams have once again proven that they are icons — but this time, it’s not for the reasons you might think. I’m not referring to their legendary professional accomplishments, but rather to their willingness to speak out publicly to counteract the pervasive fat-shaming that surrounds women’s postpartum bodies.

Earlier this week, in a rare and candid as-told-to Vogue feature, Beyoncé spoke about her difficult pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir, revealing that she weighed 218 pounds the day she gave birth by emergency C-section because she had been suffering from toxemia — more commonly known as pre-eclampsia and whose typical symptoms are high blood pressure and swelling of the limbs — and had been on bed rest for over a month.
She contrasted this birth with that of her daughter Blue, when she felt pressure to lose all the baby weight in three months. This time, she said, “During my recovery, I gave myself self-love and self-care, and I embraced being curvier. I accepted what my body wanted to be. … To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it.”
Twitter went particularly crazy over the kicker of this part of the feature: “But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.” And rightly so: the Queen of popular music and one of the sexiest women in the world has embraced her “Fat Upper Pubic Area” (the “p” sometimes stands for a different word), the fatty pouch that hangs over the genital area that is the bane of many a mother’s existence.
Beyoncé’s public revelation of her weight was a real bombshell, as it represents for many women (myself included) one of the most private details of a woman’s pregnancy. Right after giving birth to my second child a little over six months ago, a nurse asked me what my last recorded weight was and I was ashamed to say it out loud with my husband in the room.
This despite the fact that I have become a rather vocal critic of fat-shaming and am constantly striving to let go of what I now see as the fat phobia that surrounded me during my childhood and adolescence. And yet, I was still embarrassed by that number on the scale because it began with the number “2.” I never imagined Beyoncé’s number did, too.
I felt a similar sense of relief a month ago when, before becoming a finalist at Wimbledon just 10 months after giving birth, Serena Williams revealed that she struggled to lose weight while breastfeeding, despite observing a strict diet and exercise regimen. She said, “You hear when you breastfeed you lose weight and you’re so thin, and it wasn’t happening to me. … For my body, it didn’t work, no matter how much I worked out, no matter how much I did.”
In fact, Serena said she quickly lost 10 pounds once she stopped breastfeeding. This statement exploded the common assumption that breastfeeding and weight loss go hand in hand, and resonated strongly with me and, I’m quite sure, thousands of other mothers for whom breastfeeding did not result in weight loss.
While I would never argue this is a myth, the notion that breastfeeding will automatically lead to weight loss — which is reinforced by virtually all medical professionals, lactation consultants, and parenting websites a woman encounters during and after pregnancy — is a generalization that doesn’t account for the diversity of body types among women. It directly contributes to further unrealistic expectations for women during the postpartum period, namely that women should “bounce back” (return to their pre-pregnancy weight) as quickly as possible.
It’s also not lost on me that Beyoncé and Serena are two black women putting forth a different narrative about the ways women’s bodies change during and after pregnancy. This is particularly significant because black women suffer from disproportionately high maternal mortality rates, partly because they are too often not believed or taken seriously by medical professionals.
According to her interview in Vogue earlier this year, had Serena not advocated for herself and been so familiar with her medical history, her post-birth complications could have been even more serious. It’s possible that Beyoncé’s pregnancy complications were also affected by her race, as black women are 50% more likely than women of other races to have pre-eclampsia or eclampsia (seizures that can develop in women with pre-eclampsia).
Not only do black women have to fight harder to advocate for themselves during and after pregnancy — which sometimes means refusing a doctor’s suggestions — but they also have a long history of challenging mainstream beauty standards that privilege thinness and whiteness. Serena and Beyoncé are the most public examples of the myriad ways black women are modeling self-care and self-love in a society that regularly denigrates them as too loud, too arrogant (see the petty reactions by some white women to Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement), or too aggressive/”mannish” (see the trolling Serena has received throughout her entire career).
Taken together, these statements by the greatest performer and the greatest female athlete of our time, respectively, are challenges to the toxic body-shaming of women during and after pregnancy that our society urgently needs to hear. Anyone remember Kim Kardashian’s first pregnancy, during which she was compared to a whale?
I am grateful for these public statements by celebrity mothers of color — which also include the blunt and hugely relatable Instagram and Twitter feeds of model Chrissy Teigen — that destigmatize pregnancy-related weight gain and encourage women to accept that their postpartum bodies will never mirror their previous ones, even if they breastfeed their babies.
As women who have not historically seen themselves on the cover of magazines, mothers of color — particularly black women — have a lot to teach us, not because they can save us from ourselves (painting them as saviors only strips their humanity and freedom to mess up like the rest of us, and it’s not their job to carry us on their backs!) but because they have had to advocate for and love themselves against all odds for centuries.
This is the kind of strength and self-acceptance I want my own daughter to see as she grows up.

Segregation Linked in Study With Lung Cancer Deaths

NYT2008112512091880CAfrican-Americans who live in highly segregated counties are considerably more likely to die from lung cancer than those in counties that are less segregated, a new study has found. The study was the first to look at segregation as a factor in lung cancer mortality. Its authors said they could not fully explain why it worsens the odds of survival for African-Americans, but hypothesized that blacks in more segregated areas may be less likely to have health insurance or access to health care and specialty doctors. It is also possible that lower levels of education mean they are less likely to seek care early, when medical treatment could make a big difference. Racial bias in the health care system might also be a factor. “If you want to learn about someone’s health, follow him home,” said Dr. Awori J. Hayanga, a heart and lung surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who was the lead author of the study. The study, published in JAMA Surgery on Wednesday, divided all counties in the country into three levels of segregation: high, medium and low. It found that lung cancer mortality rates, a ratio of deaths to a population, were about 20 percent higher for blacks who lived in the most segregated counties, than for blacks living in the least segregated counties. Lung cancer is the top cause of preventable death in the United States. Blacks have the highest incidence of it and are also more likely to die from it. For every million black males, 860 will die from lung cancer, compared with 620 among every million white males. The rates were calculated over the period of the study, from 2003 to 2007.

The study drew on federal mortality data from that period, and segregation data from about a third of United States counties that had African-American populations large enough to measure. About 28 percent of Americans live in counties with low segregation, 40 percent in counties with moderate segregation and 32 percent in counties with high segregation. The gap in outcomes persisted even after accounting for differences in smoking rates and socio-economic status, Dr. Hayanga said. For whites, high levels of segregation had the opposite effect, a finding that surprised the authors. Whites who lived in highly segregated counties had about 6 percent lower mortality rates from lung cancer than those who lived in the least segregated counties, though researchers pointed out that the difference was slight enough that it was not clear whether it was meaningful. Dr. David Chang, director of outcomes research at the University of California San Diego Department of Surgery, who wrote an accompanying editorial, said he hoped that the study would focus attention on the environmental factors involved in the stark disparities in health outcomes in the United States because they lend themselves to change through policy. Medical researchers tend to focus on factors that are harder to change, like thegenetics and the behaviors of individuals.

“We don’t need drugs or genetic explanations to fix a lot of the health care problems we have,” he said.