Our Bodies, Ourselves: Why is this 40-year-old book still controversial?

Long before women’s magazines began publishing tips on great sex, before you could google every health concern, even before Oprah, there was a book called “Our Bodies, Ourselves”. First published in 1971 by the Boston Women’s Book Collective, this book taught women about everything from menstruation to menopause. Perhaps most famously, it encouraged women to know every part of their own bodies (and we do mean every part).

The frank and illustrated tome about women’s health and sexuality caused a stir when it was commercially distributed in 1973. That was the same year Dr. Henry Morgentaller was arrested for setting up an abortion clinic in Montreal.  Just four years before, advertising and selling the Pill in Canada had been illegal in the Criminal Code. So it’s no surprise that “Our Bodies, Ourselves” would be controversial at that time.

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What’s interesting is that the book remains topical today. To mark the 40th anniversary of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the Boston Women’s Book Collective has released a ninth edition this month. And even now, four decades after it made its controversial debut, a re-release of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is making the news. Why should we care about the re-release of a 40-year-old book?

While health care for women has improved, we face new and different issues today. True to form, the newest edition raises controversial concerns of women today; such as the debate about mammogram screenings. While a U.S. panel recently recommended biannual screenings for women over 40, not all experts agree that’s appropriate (Canadian health experts recommend that women 50-69 have a mammogram every two years). The new issue also raises questions about technological advancements including fertility treatments, plastic surgery and increased cesarean section births.

Beyond delivering information on new and evolving health issues, the new edition of “Our Bodies Ourselves” may show a whole new generation of women a different way of looking at their bodies. In her essay for the Washington Post, Jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes writes that the book still has the ability to “shock and awe” for different reasons today.

“It is a tangible reminder of the beauty and complexity of the female body and the amazing things it can do. It also stands in stark contrast to the larger culture, which has nipped, tucked, Photoshopped and hypersexualized women’s bodies to the point where the female form has become virtually unrecognizable.”

 Have you read “Our Bodies, Ourselves”? If so, what did you think?

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