Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Big, Fat, Menstrual Untruth in Cameron Diaz’s The Body Book

February 5th, 2014 by Laura Wershler

I was curious. If Cameron Diaz’s purpose in writing  The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body was empowerment, helping women to understand how their bodies work, would she include information about the menstrual cycle?

There was no way of knowing from her Jan. 22, 2014 radio interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC’s Q. I listened to Diaz explain that conversations she’d had and overheard in the last few years made it clear to her that women are completely confused about their bodies. She said this had her thinking, “Wow, that’s such a crazy thing that after so many years of living in your body that you actually don’t have an understanding of it.”

Then she revealed her intention in writing the book – to empower women to make “informed decisions about their nutrition and their physical activity.” Judging from this comment, the book’s subtitle, and the fact she did not mention menstruation during the interview, I wondered if the menstrual cycle would even be mentioned.

I sought out The Body Book at my local bookstore and quickly scanned the table of contents and index. I found myself smiling, thinking about Betty Dodson, author of Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving, and how she revealed in Chapter 1 that whenever she gets a new sex book she “immediately” looks up “‘masturbation’ to see where the author really stands on sex.” Whenever I see a new book about women’s health I look up “menstruation” to see what the author really knows about the menstrual cycle. Turns out Diaz, and/or her co-author Sandra Bark, know both a lot and not so much.

In Chapter 21, Your Lady Body (the book’s introduction starts with the salutation Hello, Lady!), she presents a fairly accurate endocrinological description of the three phases of the menstrual cycle: follicular, ovulatory, luteal. So far so good. But then, in the last paragraph of the luteal phase section, comes the big, fat menstrual untruth, the implication that whether you use hormonal birth control or not, this is how your menstrual cycle unfolds. It’s an absolute falsehood, and one that many women in this age of burgeoning body literacy are sure to see through.

Photo Illustration by Laura Wershler
Note: This is the only reference to contraception in The Body Book

The last paragraph of this luteal phase description (page 182) is ridiculously misleading. If a woman’s birth control method is the pill, patch, ring, implant or (Depo-) Provera shot, the synthetic hormones each contains will shut down her normal menstrual cycle function. She most definitely will not experience a cycle with follicular, ovulatory and luteal phases. Hormonal contraception does not “protect” her eggs. She will not ovulate, therefore the egg will not die. She may have a “withdrawal bleed” but it is not a true period. This is the truth.

I can understand, possibly, why Diaz made this egregious implication. What were her choices? Open a can of worms? State categorically, as every description of menstrual cycle function should, that you don’t ovulate or experience a normal menstrural cycle while taking hormonal contraception? 
Maybe something like this?

Hey Lady! If you use hormonal birth control none of this fascinating menstrual information applies to you. Wish I could tell you what this means for your health and fitness but, sorry, that’s beyond my area of expertise.

If Diaz’s intention for this book is to empower women to better understand their bodies, then she failed when it comes to the menstrual cycle. I hope she’ll correct this big mistake in any future editions.

  

18 Responses to “The Big, Fat, Menstrual Untruth in Cameron Diaz’s The Body Book”

  1. Yeah, I started out reading the beginning and was actually surprised by some of the information (and was wondering what book it was since I had only seen the picture). Then the end came. That is definitely a bit of a face-palm paragraph on multiple levels, I think.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      I’d love to know the reasoning behind misrepresenting so falsely the impact hormonal birth control has on one’s menstrual cycle. It’s odd, too, because this is the only reference to birth control in the whole book, as per the index.

  2. Stella says:

    Sad that none of the – presumably female – editors caught this, either. Telling.

  3. Correction: the ‘egg” dies about 12 hours after its release. Mensturation is 12-14 days later.

  4. Perhaps it got edited into nonsense? I can imagine an editor, finding the description too wordy, deciding to miss out on a few steps of explanation for brevity.

    It’s surprising to me that she tackled the menstrual cycle at all. I figured it would be more diet/weight loss/fitness centric.

    If the information had all been correct, it would be cause for celebration to see this in a celeb-written, well publicized publication.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      “Edited into nonsense”- now that’s quite possible. And I agree Holly. Her intentions are great – help women better understand how their bodies work. If only the information in the menstrual cycle section was 100% accurate.

  5. I also immediately picked up the book and went straight to that chapter! :)

    The only thing I noticed was that she says that ovulation happens two weeks after menstruation. Close but no cigar.

    Astounding how this misleading information is still being published in this day and age.

  6. Also meant to say – doesn’t her statement cause some confusion of a level that might provoke the “hormonal birth control causes abortion” camp? It seems like she’s saying that you do ovulate, but the fertilized egg is shed. It certainly muddies the issue unnecessarily.

    I find it interesting that when a right winger says something absurd about women’s bodies – universal outrage across the Internet – but this has not been picked up on until now.

  7. Lisa Leger says:

    Thank you Laura Wershler for jumping on this confusing quote from The Body Book with your usual vigor. I’m sure that the author and editors had good intentions, but you are right in pointing out the poor job they have done of explaining a simple process. Misinformation like this perpetuates notions that are simply not correct and further muddies the water we fertility educators are trying so hard to make clear.

  8. While this is disappointing, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the fact that she claims this:

    “I’m not a scientist. I’m not a doctor. What I am is a woman who has spent the past fifteen years learning about what my body is capable of, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”

    Wow! I love celebrating women who take charge of learning about their bodies and their health!!! She’s right, we don’t have to be experts or doctors or scientists to begin a journey…one which society does not invite us to take. It is obvious that she did not learn about the body education that is the foundation of FA. So…now that that’s obvious with her first book here, why not invite her to learn so that perhaps she’ll write a sequel??

    Laura, or any other FA educators who have become experts in the years of teaching: have you considered inviting Cameron to one of your workshops? Perhaps if she gets kind and encouraging invites from all professionals in the field it’d catch her attention. It seems such an introduction to FA would rock her socks off! One of you wonderful womb warrior women could be her very next co author or at least inspiration for a sequel to this book, eh? Wouldn’t that be grand for a celebrity on a journey such as Cameron to learn FA details accurately and write a book with accurate details of the menstrual cycle and beyond? Talk about streamlining FAM (accurately) into the mainstream!!!

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic here, but I definitely see opportunity. Of course, it does all go back to the editor and publishing company to decide what will sell. Which as Holly mentioned, is a feat in and of itself.

  9. Sarah says:

    And what of the numerous IUD babies? What about birth control inserts clearly stating that part of the BC action is thickening of the mucus and prevention of implantation?

  10. Lisa Leger says:

    Justina has a point – perhaps a friendly offer to correct that passage is in order. We have always talked about how great it would be to get a celebrity charter.

  11. Diane says:

    Big mistake is right! The whole time I was on the pill I had no idea I was not ovulating. It is not something my Doctor bothered to discuss with me. I think it is such a big mistake because it is a common misconception that women still ovulate on hormonal contraception. A book about women’s bodies should contain accurate information. I am glad someone is watching and has pointed this out. Thanks!

  12. theo says:

    I have always known when I ovulated n I have token the pill I did ovulate. Right after I started my period. I’m not saying she is correct. Just saying girls do ovulate on the pill maybe not all. I see her statement is wrong on couple of things but just had to put this out there.

    • Laura Wershler says:

      Hi Theo, The pill works by overriding a women’s hormonal cycle and preventing ovulation. Ovulation while taking the pill would only occur if someone did not take the pill consistently, every day and at the same time every day, and IF a woman ovulates while on the pill she is not protected from pregnancy.

      • theo says:

        Laura I know it when I had my period I would stop for 5 days. I did ovulate. Just not at the right time. Girls don’t ovulate .hr correct time while on the pill. Which is supposed to be two weeks about before we have our period. But on the pill it was during my period. I will never use the pill again. N I’ll tell my daughters not to be either.

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