Motherly Collective

As the hot pink dust settles on our Barbie summer, there’s one moment that continues to replay in my mind. It’s not Margot Robbie’s parade of archival outfits, or even America Ferrera’s perfectly on-the-nose “It’s impossible to be a woman” speech. It’s the fact that in her first, self-empowering act as a “real woman,” Barbie simply sets out to learn about her body: She goes to the gynecologist.

We inhabit female bodies, and yet we lack the basic knowledge about how they work. When our reproductive autonomy continues to be stripped away, fighting ignorance with basic body literacy suddenly feels like the most profound form of empowerment—especially against the backdrop of a system that has kept us in the dark for so long.

Most recently, I encountered the perfect example of this issue. The New York Times published a quiz that allowed women to determine how well they understood their menstrual cycle. And while we can appreciate their attempt to promote the idea that women should be informed about how their bodies work, their efforts were in haste: The quiz is hidden behind a paywall. This is profoundly counterproductive. Thanks to a culture that was essentially built on keeping them in the dark, women know so little about how their bodies work, and this globally respected media brand is doing a disservice by constraining the information we do have and making it inaccessible—the media equivalent, we’d argue, of a pink tax

The gap doesn’t stop or end here

This gap doesn’t start or end here. Its origins trace back to the very dawn of medicine. In Pain and Prejudice by Gabrielle Jackson (2019), she unearths a jarring truth: For much of history, women have been excluded from clinical study and so we have a healthcare system that has been built by and made for men. As recently as 1977, the FDA excluded women of “childbearing potential” from clinical research studies ( It wasn’t until 1993 that the FDA issued a new guideline, formally rescinding the 1977 policy that banned women from participating in studies (FDA, Guidance for Industry). Fast forward to 2023 and we are still feeling the impacts today. Female-specific conditions often take 6 to 10 years for accurate identification and diagnosis.

It’s time to challenge the stigma surrounding terms such as “hormonal” and “hysteria” in the context of women’s health. Historically, these words have unfairly labeled and dismissed women when they expressed medical concerns, wrongly attributing their issues to their inherent biological characteristics.

Women’s bodies have long been reduced to oversimplified constructs by the patriarchy, and the depth of understanding surrounding them remains shamefully under-researched.

What do we even know about our own bodies, anyway?

The TL/DR to this question is as unsettling as it is simple: NM, you? A study conducted by Perelel’s Women’s Health Initiative Fund found that nearly half of respondents said they do not have a proper understanding of the menstrual cycle and a staggering 60% of participants were unaware of how many phases are in the menstrual cycle (the answer is four, although some will tell you two—here lies my case in point). 

Similarly, a 2020 Tampax Period Education Survey revealed that an astonishing 94% of survey participants said they didn’t know how many days the average menstrual cycle lasts (the answer is 28 days) and 62% of women said they can’t locate a vagina on a diagram. 

It’s revelations like these that serve as a clarion call for our generation: We must unearth women’s understanding of their own anatomies, not only as an act of empowerment but to foster a culture of informed self-care while advocating for investment in women’s health research. (We are proud to be backing Stanford Medicine as it investigates why women miscarry with the largest national participant registry to-date.)

Women everywhere are finally hearing this call: There is an undeniable rise in interest in our bodies and our cycles—a long-overdue dismantling of the reductive ways we’ve been taught to associate with our health. #PeriodTok currently boasts over 2 billion views on TikTok, and is full of educators and consumers alike questioning and talking about the different phases of our cycle—not just PMS. We’re finally learning that experiencing painful cramps or heavy periods are actually not typical things to suffer through—they’re signs of a hormonal imbalance that cannot continue to be underestimated, particularly for black women and other women of color who are often the most overlooked, sometimes with deadly consequences. 

Google search interest in terms like “luteal phase,” “hormonal health,” and “cycle syncing” has tripled in the past year alone. It’s heartening to see this community of women (many of whom are Gen Z!) take their bodies into their own hands, especially during a time when so much of that autonomy continues to be stripped away. 

And therein lies the central conflict within our society: While there’s a cultural demand for women’s health to receive the attention, resources and the support it deserves, there’s a simultaneous systematic erosion of women’s fundamental reproductive rights.

Frankly, it’s both reductive and insulting to describe women’s health as “having a cultural moment”. Like other crucial matters, it should consistently remain at the forefront.

Where do we go now? The gynecologist

The expectations placed on women to excel in multiple roles—career, family, personal development—results in stress, burnout and disregard for our own health. I should know: While being honored at the Forbes 30 Under 30 retreat, I broke out in shingles, which later revealed a self-induced thyroid disease as a result of living the “do and be everything” lifestyle expected of young, female executives. This experience accelerated my insatiable quest to better understand my body. In better understanding my own body, I continue to develop a deeper sense of purpose in my advocacy. It’s imperative that we drive systemic change to center around education and advocacy—both physical and mental.

Just as Barbie’s visit to the gynecologist marked her first step towards empowerment, our collective journey towards understanding our own bodies is a powerful act of self-liberation.

Educational systems need to invest in research to close the knowledge gap in women’s health but they must ensure that knowledge backed by experts is included in updated curricula, widely dispersed, and accessible. 

And so, as we watch the sun finally set on Barbie, let’s not forget that final green flash: Let it inspire us to dismantle the antiquated notions that have confined women for centuries, replacing them with a newfound appreciation for our intricate hormonal landscapes. In this pursuit, we’re not merely breaking down barriers; we’re breaking free from the confines of ignorance and reclaiming the power to write our own stories—stories of informed self-care, advocacy for women’s health, and a world where women’s bodies are no longer shrouded in mystery but celebrated in all their complexity. Just as Barbie’s world transformed, so too can ours, as we continue to strive for a future where women’s health remains at the forefront, not as a cultural moment, but as a priority.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.