(one of the first editions circa ’73)
The summer before I left for my freshman year of college my mother came into my room carrying a massive grey book.
“I want you to know that this is very hard for me,” she started; my ears perked up at this. I thought she was going to go into some long emotional speech about how she was going to miss me when while I was in New York. I waited for her to continue.
“I this was my Bible when I was younger and I’m going to let you bring it with you to school, but I am very upset to see it go.” I got pretty indignant at this. A book? A book was more important than your only daughter leaving for college two states away? Then I read it and I understood.
This large tome was Our Bodies, Ourselves; an in-depth and groundbreaking collection of information on women’s health. Our Bodies began in 1969 in Boston when a group of women (that’s right- Boston’s awesome) attended a conference at Emmanuel College called Women and Their Bodies. During this conference, the women realized that there was very little ready information about their health available for them. They shared stories and experiences they had with insensitive male doctors who would patronize them and would not explain things about their bodies.
(The founders of BWHBC)
These women realized they had a right to understand these issues. So they decided to do their own research on various topics on women’s health and meet up regularly to discuss them. During these sessions women would share there own personal stories relating to the issues at hand. All of this was written down and members of a small New England movement publishing company encouraged this group of women (who would later be known as the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) to publish these papers as Women and Their Bodies- A Course by and for Women.
This booklet was designed to help women all over the country lead discussions on their health and encouraged them to send in their research, questions, and stories to BWHBC to help “keep the conversation going”. And did they ever. By the time Our Bodies, Ourselves was renamed and commercially published for the first-time it had expanded from a little course book to 275 pages (then 400 pages for the second edition in ’76 and over 700 for my ’98 edition and I believe the most recent version from 2005 is pushing 900 pages). It was becoming a fully comprehensive text covering everything from sexual health to lesbianism to menopause.
(The 1998 Edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves that my mother gave me)
It is the combination of a clear presentation of facts and personal stories that makes this book so popular. It is truly “by and for women. Kathy Davis, author of The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves, refers it as a feminine “success story.” It has sold more than four times as many copies as de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and even compared to world-wide phenomenon of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues it is still the U.S. most popular feminist “export.”
Since it’s first publication (almost 9 editions ago), Our Bodies, Ourselves has been published in 32 countries and even more languages. The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective continuely strives to support the promotion of women’s health in as many countries as it possibly can.
(The 2005 edition of OBOS)
And I gotta tell you I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK. Next month we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of OBOS (and the release of a new edition!) and in those 40 years there still isn’t another book like this. I am constantly referring to it for everything. My friends refer to it. If you haven’t read this book, you NEED to; it will change your life. It teaches you about your body, so nobody else has to misinform you. It explains things you don’t want to ask your mother about and it still contains friendly and sage advice to help you through it all.
When I think of female empowerment. I think of this book…and SlutWalk NYC
OUR BODIES, OUR BLOG -offical OBOS blog.
The Impact of Our Bodies, Ourselves: