Taking Care of my Gynecological Health Is a Feminist Act

Embarrassing. Gross. Painful. Uncomfortable.

These are just some of the words that come to mind when I think of all the things I’ve heard and read throughout my life about the experience of going to the gynecologist.

Since I’ve started taking charge of my own gynecological health, I’ve been thinking more about what these words. What do they mean in broader context of the female experience, the female body, and feminism in general?

My experience with feminism comes through academic and scholarly research, and through conversations with women from around the world about feminist issues. Through both, I’ve come to learn how important it is for women to be able to own their bodies.

The culture and religion around me have always told me that my body is bad, sinful and dangerous, and that I should somehow separate myself from it.

This message has had a particularly negative consequence in my life in relation to an anxiety disorder that began in childhood. Anxiety makes me feel out of control – and particularly out of control of how my body is reacting.

I’ve also been told by religion and culture that I should separate my body and my mind from my soul. Through my work in therapy and research however, I’ve been learning that I don’t have to separate these parts of me. They all work together to make me the person I really am. I cannot fully inhabit myself or fully be in the world if my mind, body and soul are disconnected.

And so, I’ve been learning how to inhabit my own body. Most importantly, I’ve been learning how to care for it – including for my gynecological health.

Uterus, cervix, vagina and vulva are not dirty or embarrassing words.

They are part of my body and of who I am, and to care for my overall health and well-being I must take care of them.

During my latest Pap test (also called a Pap smear or smear test), I experienced quite a lot of discomfort and even pain. (Most people don’t experience pain during these tests. However, there are some reasons why pain might occur, so it’s vital to be open and honest with your health provider.)

I spoke up as soon as I began to feel pain. I said it loud and clear and my provider heard me. She kindly apologized for the discomfort and pain I was experiencing and moved slowly while walking me through the whole process. She kept checking in on me – “How are you doing now? Are you hanging in there?” – and I kept speaking up whenever something hurt or became uncomfortable. In just a few minutes, the exam was over. The relief of knowing I had done something so important for my health was worth the temporary pain and discomfort.

At the end of the appointment, I felt proud of myself and empowered because I spoke up instead of keeping quiet when things didn’t feel right in my body.

Saying “That hurts!” was not just a good way for my provider to better care for me, but also for me to take some control of my body in a situation where I didn’t have full control of it.

Despite the discomfort, I felt connected with all parts of myself during the experience of my gynecological exam. Because of my anxiety, I had been doing a lot of grounding and breathing exercises to prepare. I made sure I was fully engaged in the conversation with my provider, listening to her advice and tips and answering her questions honestly and openly.

By taking time out of my day to focus entirely on myself and my body, I felt like I was finally validating my body’s existence and needs in all its complexities. The female reproductive system is a marvellously complex world of its own. I was speaking up against the voices that have told me that my body is dirty and shameful, and saying loud and clear, “No! My body is good and an essential part of me that deserves care and love.”

Taking control and care of my body are concepts that are becoming increasingly vital to how I live my life.

I wholeheartedly believe that doing so – even through something as routine as attending a gynecological exam – is a feminist act.

Acne Acceptance, Self-Love & Solidarity on Instagram

I’m 19 and have struggled with acne for almost 10 years. I’ve never met anyone that looks the way I do and felt really alone growing up. At times, it has been soul destroying to live with.

My skin problems are a result of having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – a condition that affects up to one in 10 women and has really taken its toll on my life.

In the last few years, I have been focusing heavily on trying to accept and love the way I look.

It’s very difficult, as my scarring is so severe and I get stares, questions and nasty comments from so many people. I absolutely hate when people stare and whisper in public places about my skin, or offer their opinions and tips on products they think would help. If I had a pound for every time someone suggests a miracle product from Lush I would be a millionaire!

I’ve had acne for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember what my skin looks like without it.

For a long time, I felt that bad skin was the end of the world – especially in school. I felt so rubbish about myself all the time and often felt alone and frustrated due to the way I was treated. People I considered friends would make jokes about my skin and bring me down at any opportunity.

It felt like I had nobody to turn to when I was feeling down. I can see now that the people I was surrounded by were toxic and unhelpful in my journey towards acceptance. I realised that far too late – once the damage was already done.

It has taken me a really long time to accept the way my skin is.

For years, I was unable to go out in public without makeup out of sheer embarrassment. Today, I can go about my daily life with very little notice of it. I still have bad days when I hate my skin but they are becoming few and far between.

I developed an interest in makeup about 4 years ago due to needing and wanting to cover my skin. More recently, I have created an Instagram account to show my skin journey. I just want to try and help people learn to love the way they look no matter what flaws they may have, and to help people build their confidence.

With @abis_acne, I want to show the world that acne does not define you. Acne doesn’t change you as a person in any way shape or form, and it isn’t permanent.

From my own experience, I know how mentally challenging it can be to live with acne. I made the instagram for anyone that feels underrepresented, especially in the age of social media. It’s a reminder that you aren’t alone and that your skin does not define you or alter your level of beauty.

On some days I feel like I’m at my wits end. It’s so disheartening when you think you are getting places and then things get worse. The stares and questions are bad enough, but I’ll never understand people who grimace at the sight of my skin or have something rude to say.

A few weeks ago, somebody pulled up to me in traffic. They made me roll my car window down so they could tell me my skin was “disgusting” and I “shouldn’t expose people to the sight of it”. This wrecked me and really hurt me on a deeper level. It was completely unprovoked and just an outright awful experience.

Over time, I’ve learned to brush people’s opinions off. I’ve often edited my social media pictures or used filters to cover up my skin and make it look better than it actually is. However, I have come to realise that nobody is walking around looking airbrushed. Everyone has their flaws and nobody looks like an Instagram model.

I’m learning to stop comparing myself to the absurd standards which are promoted within the beauty industry.

I try not to let my acne stop me from doing things or achieving certain things, but it is easier said than done. Obviously, I look different to most people I know and to be at peace with this has taken me a long time. Even now, I will admit it stops me from meeting new people.

Through Instagram, I’m starting to find people I can relate to and chat to about our experiences and feelings. Finding new friends and the lovely people I have encountered so far is heart warming. I definitely think my confidence has risen since I started the account. It’s helping me to just love myself a bit more and appreciate that this is my skin and I have to own it!

By sharing my own experience, I hope I can at least help one person. If I can, that’s my job done.

Can the Feminist Body Hair Movement be Intersectional?

For the longest time, I believed that white women had no body hair. How lucky! No waxing, no shaving = no worries.

I was proven wrong when I was 12 years old and shopping for jeans with my father. I went off to the changing room, only to find Sienna Miller plastered on the door. There they were. Thin strands of hair. Visible only because of the lighting in the photograph and the close-up shot. What a revelation!

I had never seen women in the media with body hair.

It is no wonder that South Asia is obsessed with women’s body hair. A colonial hangover and the hairless ideal promoted by the media don’t make for a good combination. This is evident when tracing and reflecting on the history of body hair removal and hearing experiences of Indian women.

In India, waxing is a sacred ritual that starts as young as 12. It is common to hear your neighbourhood aunty snicker that you are due a parlour visit to ‘clean up’. 

Living in the Netherlands has changed my relationship with my body hair.

Long winter months are greeted with tights. Waxing prices are restrictive. The Dutch dress practically thanks to the wind and rain they cycle through daily. When summer comes around, many women shave their legs. Most tend to be more relaxed about their arms, as arm hair is generally lighter and less visible, and hence, not such an ‘issue’.

However, this is not necessarily the case for Dutch minority women. And this is the exact reason why the feminist body hair movement spearheaded by celebrities like Miley Cyrus have come under fire for lack of representation.

Although I still occasionally remove my hair, the pragmatic culture I’ve found myself living in has rubbed off on me for the better.

I suppose getting older (and wiser) also has something to do with it. I don’t remove hair as often, nor do I let my hair removal calendar dictate when I can or can’t wear a skirt.

Of course, I am not advocating that we must all stop removing body hair. We navigate and negotiate our ‘choice’ in the issue. When I return to India, I slip back into old patterns – albeit consciously. To avoid uncomfortable stares, I choose to wax. This is the reality for many with poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and for minorities with coarser hair, for whom the costs of rebelling against societal norms are too high.

How do we move away from the idea that hair is ‘dirty’ and create an intersectional feminist body hair movement that all South Asians can own?

Reframe and contextualise body hair in sex education.

Sex education should go beyond mentioning pubic and armpit hair. Discuss the options of body hair removal so that young women can be informed, without encouraging it as an inevitability. Talk about why it has become common, and place it in your country’s context. Frame body hair within changing fashion trends. And parents, support your kids to develop self-confidence.

Get the boys on board.

If you are lucky enough to have received sex education, you will know that there is often very little dialogue between girls and boys during puberty. As a result, many boys and men in India have disappointing attitudes to hair on women. Boys must not only learn about their own body hair, but also that of women, so that they understand what is natural and normal.

Let hair be seen.

Even adverts for razors in India are afraid to show actual body hair! Deepika Padukone, a famous Bollywood actress, shaves an already hairless leg in this one to show the wonders of her Gilette razor. I think a serious makeover of Indian school uniforms is needed, too. Mandatory skirts don’t allow girls to show their hair on their own terms.

Let us change the way women are represented. Have images in school textbooks that depict women with body hair. Check out illustrator Aqya Khan for inspiring examples.


Let’s take control of the narrative of body hair and allow it to be seen – for all those 12 year-old girls across South Asia.

Seinabo Sey: The Rising Iconic Feminist Soul Queen

In the dimmed lights of the packed prestigious music hall, Malmö Live, and to the sound of Maya Angelou‘s soothingly strong voice in the speakers, Seinabo Sey took center stage last Sunday night.

I braved the Swedish February cold, fighting back a seasonal flu to see Seinabo Sey perform live – a birthday gift to my husband. It was the first time we’d seen her IRL and it will definitely not be our last.

Seinabo Sey’s presence was powerful and unforgiving.

Her voice has a depth to it that puts her right up there with the legend Nina Simone, whom she so beautifully covered that night. She was accompanied by a new band that created a lively pulsating vibe across the hall.

There is something so refreshingly feminist about Seinabo Sey’s voice, songs and presence. During the show, in which she did little talking, she explained how she had decided to be kind to herself as she toured by allowing herself to not be “perfect”. She also expressed her gratitude to the audience for making a little girl’s dream come true. This performance was as close to perfection as can be and I was uplifted by Seinabo Sey’s humility.

In her latest album, I’m A Dream, she explores love and being yourself unapologetically. In I Owe You Nothing, she sings about her independence and not needing to explain herself and sings these vigorous words “these aren’t tears, this is the ocean. These aren’t fears, this is devotion.”

The lyrics of Breathe is a strong statement of self acceptance, self love and the power of being ourselves and ultimately believing in our future.

“I love it here
‘Cause I don’t have to explain to them
Why I’m beautiful
‘Cause I am beautiful
And back home they’re scared
Oh so scared of me
But I became scared of me
I become scared of me”

Experiencing Seinabo Sey live was strengthening and invigorating. It was as if a beautiful intersectional feminist manifesto was blasted out to an audience of women and men – and we all loved it.