As we head into the next presidential election, candidates are constantly making declarations on family planning, improving benefits for working moms or commenting on women’s decisions for their bodies in general, whether on taking rights away or passionately defending them.
And while this is not an article about my political opinions — I’ll spare you the rant — birth control, abortions, maternity leave, breastfeeding, elective mastectomies, periods and even vaginas are all part of the many big conversations happening all around us. Women are rightfully taking control of their health and fitness needs.
After all, when was the last time you scrolled through your Facebook feed without seeing an article about your health and how you’re either doing it wrong or totally nailing it, about how you can prevent cancer, the birth control you should be using or the things you never knew about [insert body part here]? And those are all trivial compared to the conversations about Planned Parenthood and abortion that aren’t going away anytime soon.
And, while Planned Parenthood is at the center of debates around women’s health right now, it’s only a sliver of the pie when it comes to how women’s health issues are treated and prioritized.
Over the years, doctors and researchers have learned that women’s health needs, beyond the obvious anatomical differences, are very different from those of men — even for the same diagnosis. And to state the obvious: Women get pregnant and birth babies, we have breasts and we breastfeed, whereas men have a whole different set of armor. It’s only logical that we study men’s and women’s needs differently.
But it might surprise you to learn that that hasn’t always been the case. It wasn’t until 1997 that the Centers for Disease Control published any comprehensive findings on the health of women in the workplace, even though women entered the work force in the 1940s. And it wasn’t until 2000 that there was a federal call for more awareness around breastfeeding, yet women had been having babies for far longer than any form of established government has existed.
Luckily, women refuse to be silent on the issues that directly affect their bodies. The women’s health movement boomed in the ’60s and ’70s when the first birth control pill was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, mammograms were revolutionized and Roe v. Wade legalized abortion — three issues that are still incredibly relevant today. No matter your opinions on these hot-button issues, we can all agree it’s crucial that we are discussing them.
In that spirit, here are 21 women who’ve made health and fitness their passion, who’ve helped make a difference by speaking up about everything from how we care for mothers and pediatric cancer awareness to how health issues affect different communities and the ways in which gender fluidity plays a role in the future of health care.