So, the Navelgazing Midwife has offered up her commentary on the vaginas of fat women. And, you know, I respect her experience as it pertains to her. But she also makes a lot of VERY broad generalizations that speak to a deeply ingrained shame/hatred of fat.

Elusis, over on livejournal, originally pointed out the article to me and I am really glad she did.

Because sometimes I forget. I forget that people who claim to have your best interests at heart… well, sometimes they don’t. This medical professional (because midwives count, people – respect the midwives!) would have me believe that my vagina is defective and that it is because I am fat. This medical professional would have me believe that all fat women wet themselves because their vagina is fat. This medical professional would have me believe that all fat women cannot reach their own genitals. This medical professional would have me believe that if I cannot orgasm from penetrative sex alone, it is my fault because I am fat.

You do realize all of that is bullshit, right? At the risk of sharing too much information, my vagina is, if you’ll excuse the expression, pink and healthy. I don’t pee when I laugh. I can reach things just fine. The orgasm from penetration thing is hit or miss, but that has more to do with the construction of female genitalia than it does me being fat.

I have to wonder if this woman has totally written the clitoris off as a source of pleasure or if she has bought into the Freudian idea that vaginal orgasms are “better.”

I do have to be sympathetic because, while I don’t understand how it happened unless she wasn’t wearing any bottoms, the incident with the tampon in the pool sounds really very humiliating.
But I don’t have to buy into her explanation that it happened because she was fat.

Vaginal laxity is a common occurrence after the birth of a child, particularly if one has had multiple children. She’s a midwife, so I wonder if this is when she is examining most of her patients.

I’m glad she shared her experiences. I DO think we need to get over the thing where we’re all afraid to talk about the health of our bits. That leaves us to wonder if we are mutant aliens because something down there doesn’t look like the ones you see in porn. But I find the condescending tone she has used to respond to people infuriating (“the angry fat women have come out to play”) and her insistence that all fat vaginas = broken really just pisses me off.


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18 Comments

  1. Posted May 1, 2007 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    This only mostly relates to your post, but I’ve never before had anywhere even close to appropriate to wonder this out loud.

    What is up with those special “plus size” maxi pads? The things look like mattresses. Maybe I’m just thinking this through all wrong, but to my way of thinking, the fatter you are, the less space you have between your thighs. Shouldn’t that mean the pads should be narrower, rather than wider?

    • Elizabeth
      Posted August 19, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      i think those pads are for people that bleed more? i might be mistaken though.

  2. Posted May 1, 2007 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    What she has to say about conducting exams on women who have problems with their weight putting pressure on their bits and forcing them down, making the vaginal walls collapse inward, is interesting, and I think quite valuable information. I don’t doubt that it happens, I can easily see why it might. It doesn’t seem to be laxity, it seems to be internal pressure.

    The only thing I can call her on is that she seems to have a little of that attitude thing going in the comments: “I used to be one of you?” What the hell? Not helpful. Also, her experience of sex is most definitely uniquely hers; I’m very suspicious when anyone tells me that doing X magical thing will make me come easier/more often/harder/without clitoral stimulation.

    Discussing this issue, that of physiological differences between wome who are large and women who are not, yet keeping it divoced from moral judgements could be very helpful. Practical approaches like she suggested, that’s valuable information, and I’m glad she shared it.

    Not all fat women are going to have those issues. I didn’t, when I was at my heaviest (but, then, she is talking about women who are bigger than I was, for the most part).

    I think bringing it up in the context of “here’s this thing I’ve observed in a lot of women, and here’s how to conduct an exam on those women it affects” is good medicine, and I have to give her props for talking about something I frankly have not ever seen talked about.

    I dunno. I think it’s interesting, and I think what she has to say has some value, even if things about how she said it sort of chap my hide.

  3. Posted May 1, 2007 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I think you reallly nailed what’s wrong with her post. There are elements of fact and truth in it, I’m sure, but overall it’s organized in a way to shame and demean.

    On my blog I’m dealing with the misuse of medicine in the same way. Because I’ve been reading about the history of homosexuality in medicine I can’t help making the links between the rhetoric used to pathologize and shame fat and the rhetoric that’s been historically used against queers.

    And this in particular reminds me of 19th Century doctors probling into homosexual anuses to find damning evidence of…well anything damning. And they found lots of it: funnel-shaped anuses, conjoined penises and relaxed sphincters abounded.

    The Navelgazer insists that everything she finds is “true” because the people she talks to confirm it, but the plural of anecdote is not data. And her insistence that these problems are solely and only due to fat is also at best an oversimplification and at worst flatout wrong. There’s clearly a mix of issues at work that she’s describing. The linkage between prolapse and childbirth is so strong (50% or more) that it’s just amazing that (having undergone 3 deliveries) she discounts it entirely simply because the weight loss helped. That’s like saying I know that tuberculosis is caused by dry air because when I use a nebulizer I feel better.

  4. Posted May 1, 2007 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    It saddens me so that I am seen as fat hating. From one post, you all have judged me in a way I have worked my entire life to not be seen as. I work my (fat) ass OFF on the behalf of fat folks. My entire clinic is fat-friendly *because* I *know* – I KNOW – and I never want others to feel what I lived feeling for 40 years. Medical care was horrific for me as a fat woman. Humiliating is an understatement. I have worked *so* hard as a midwife to offer my Self to women – with my practice, my knowledge, my heart, my non-judgemental hands, my non-judgemental eyes, my understanding ears… and here, in this one post and these comments (and the ones surrounding it because of what I wrote), I am dismissed as one of the fat phobic, one-of-them medical providers.

    I say I am not taking it personally, but my heart aches that one of you isn’t sitting with me over coffee and talking *to me* – a woman who is on your side more than most. How many care providers even stock gowns for clients over 600 pounds? How many chiropractors have tables for people over 500 pounds? How many offices make sure to have chairs (12 in fact) that hold people up to 550 pounds? If I have deficiencies (and good goddess, don’t we all?) then share them with me gently and kindly… I mean, I *am* trying! Yelling at me and pointing fingers at me does nothing but bring back all those memories of how I felt in high school… useless to do anything to rectify the situation… watching it all fall into oblivion.

    I want to be more productive that that now. I am an adult. I’d enjoy a conversation instead of a scream-fest. You?

  5. admin
    Posted May 1, 2007 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Rin — those things freak me out! They are bigger than my forearm!

  6. admin
    Posted May 1, 2007 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Midwife, I’m not sure you are really getting what is being said in the comments I left to you and the comments here. No one is screaming. I can’t speak for all of the comments you received, but I can assure no one here is having a scream-fest.

    Your post made me angry. Yes, that’s the only post of yours I had at that point read. But that is the nature of the internet — things, especially blog entries, can be sent around and we have no context for them. It makes the clear communication of ideas essential. And while your regular readers might know that you are an avid worker for fat health care, well, none of us know that. We only know that you think fat vaginas are bad and, from your response to comments left in your journal, you seem to dismiss everyone who says they have a different experience.

    If that isn’t what you were trying to do, awesome! That puts us all on the same page, talking about our genitals and making sure they are healthy. But, especially as a fat woman who has had bad experiences with medical professionals, surely you know how downright scared many people are of doctors. EVERYTHING is blamed on our fat. Your post made many women feel like they were being judged, without benefit of exam, defective.

    Please understand, you say we are misjudging you but you haven’t given anyone any reason to think so. I am really glad you responded here because it gives me and some other people a chance to see what your intentions are.

    The fact is a lot of people read your post as passing judgement on ALL fat women’s vaginas. When someone presented this to you, why did you lump everyone into the category of “angry fat woman” and dismiss their concerns? It might have nipped the whole thing in the bud if you had just clarified – you were talking about your own experience and that you weren’t generalizing about every fat woman.

    It would be great to have a dialogue about this. I just need you to understand that NOT having your experience doesn’t make me an angry fat woman. It makes me a fat woman who has had a different experience.

  7. admin
    Posted May 1, 2007 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Fatfu (GREAT name, by the way) – I really want to put “The plural of anecdote is not data,” on a tshirt.

    Naamah – My main issue is that, in her comments on her blog, she seems to be totally dismissing people’s concerns about her dismissal of THEIR experience. I think it’s an interesting situation that she brings up and I also think it’s fabulous that she even raised the topic. But I don’t care for the broad generalizations – that’s just not my vagina being described and, at 300 pounds, I also don’t have any of the access issues it’s being assumed I have, you know? She has commented here and that gives me some hope that we can open up a dialogue about this and sort out whether or not she really means that this is true of all vaginas. I’m glad she’s taking part in the discussion!

  8. Posted May 1, 2007 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    Midwife I didn’t want to accuse you of being anything. I was only critiquing what I read in that post and the comments of your blog.

    I know it’s hard not to see that as a personal attack (i’m no better at separating myself from what I write), but it really isn’t.

    But get over yourself. Did you not write:

    “Ah, the angry fat women are coming out to play! I used to be one of you, too. However, it’s much nicer to breathe deeply, love completely and walk in Truth.”

    You went around denying everything everyone said about their own experience and wrote it off as being “angry fat women.”

    BTW You’re still an angry fat woman. There are worse things to be.

  9. mostlymead
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    *blushes* those huge maxi pads are for people like me, at night, who would otherwise wake up with red everywhere.

    I decided I couldn’t read this article, because I’m not up for it right now. However, it is odd that sometime in a chat conversation a week ago, a guy made a comment about fat women’s vaginas. And up until that point I had no idea there might be any difference or perceived difference, and that it might be viewed in a negative way. Gods, this issue gets into everything, doesn’t it?

  10. admin
    Posted May 2, 2007 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Mostly – we might not be talking about the same pads. I can’t find them on the Always website, but for a while they were marketing pads specifically to fat women. And the pads were not only longer and thicker, they were much, much wider than even the heavy flow maxi pads.

    And, yeah, stuff about fat crops up in the most unexpected places! I’ve heard guys discuss that fat women’s vaginas must be loose and floppy and how gross that must be. And it just is not automatically true, you know?

  11. Posted May 3, 2007 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    And please know that my piece NEVER says that fat vaginas are loose and floppy at all. It says they are gooshy and fluffy. They are full and tight and feel like marshmallows inside.

    Sounds delish to me!

  12. Posted May 4, 2007 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow.

    The response to “It would be great to have a dialogue about this. I just need you to understand that NOT having your experience doesn’t make me an angry fat woman. It makes me a fat woman who has had a different experience” was “I never said your vagina was loose, I said it was gooshy”??

    Wow.

    Oh M… your post and your comment were so calm and generous and reasonable. You are and always will be kinder than I could ever aspire to be. And this is how you’re repaid.

    I might have had something to say to Midwife, but after that last comment, it’s not happening.

  13. Melanie
    Posted May 9, 2007 at 1:31 am | Permalink

    Navelgazing Midwife,

    I, personally, can assure you my vagina is not gooshy or fluffy; neither does it feel like marshmallow.

    And i have never, ever, sneezed out a tampon.

  14. Moongoddess
    Posted May 10, 2007 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Interesting reading posts on Navelgazing’s site and this. I do think her heart was in the right spot. I think however the thing that may be rubbing people the wrong way is the fact that she is taking her experience as a fat woman, which seems to have been very difficult for her, and projecting it onto all fat women. I think it is wonderful that she tries to be considerate of the needs of fat people, but I wonder (gently) how non-judgmental she can truly be if she has so much disdain for her vagina as it was when she was 350 pounds? I personally have never stood for medical professionals who say negative things about my body based soley on its appearance, and I most certainly don’t let them near me with a speculum. “Wishing you all energized, not-taking-sh**-, hot, happy vaginas” (Ensler) no matter what their size or shape.

  15. admin
    Posted May 10, 2007 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Melanie, yeah, I was a bit taken aback by the “gooshy” remark as well.

    Moongoddess – Thanks for coming over and for taking the time to comment. That’s the biggest thing here – that while her heart may be in the right place, she seems to be insisting that she knows the vaginas of all fat women better than they do themselves. And that makes me sad because I think we really all COULD work together. We have the same goal.

  16. Jackie
    Posted May 11, 2007 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    So lets see, Navelgazing Midwife. It’s awkward to ask fat women to insert a speculum themselves. However, it’s not awkward to explain you need to use condoms on the speculum to keep their walls flat, because you are either too cheap or incompetant, that you will not update your equipment.

    I don’t really understand why telling people of your personal trumas and humilation will help people understand why you do certain things, when the solution is as simple as buying a new speculum. Sounds more like you are taking out your frustration with fat patients, while at the same time trying to sound empathetic with “I understand I’ve been there myself” anecdotes. I’m sorry but if any gynocologist, or midwife tried to use condoms on a speculum with me. I’d leave, and I’d tell whoever I knew not to go to them.

    A professional would manage to try and make their patient as comfortable as possible, not cut corners and blame their incompetance on a patient being fat, or not having firm vaginal walls.

    I’m sorry if hearing the truth may offend you. I just know myself, from personally writing my own rants where I’ve tried to justify offending comments, by adding in a little joke or a little “I have been there” anecdote. So I’m rather good at seeing when someone else is doing the same.

  17. Dolley
    Posted May 13, 2007 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Oh, I’ve sneezed out tampons! At least a couple of times in my life. See, that happens when you have really strong abdominal muscles, and the tampons are supersaturated. I weighed about 125 pounds at 5’6″, at the time.

    I also used the “plus-sized” pads, which were for plus-sized bleeding, not for plus-sized bodies (as far as I knew). I was going through one every fifteen minutes. See “sneezing out tampons,” above. The only time, as far as I know, that those parts are “gooshy” is when something is gushing – that’s not necessarily a good thing, depending on what and why.

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