When it comes to health, journalist, author and former E! News host Maria Menounos has one important piece of advice for women everywhere: take control of your health journey
“We have to become the CEO of our health. We have to learn,” the host of “Heal Squad” said during a panel on women’s health at TheWrap’s 2023 Power Women Summit. Menounos noted that most people are at a “kindergarten level” when it comes to health and that most people rely on outside people such as doctors to dictate what their body needs.
“Unfortunately, it isn’t until you’re in a situation that you realize, ‘Oh s–t, this is really on me. I really need to figure this out,” Menounos said.
Menounos found herself in that very position in the November o2022. The health advocate knew that something was wrong with her, but her primary doctor did not take her complaints seriously. It was only after getting a second opinion that she was eventually diagnosed with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. After undergoing surgery, she is now cancer-free. But the harrowing experience has left her with a new outlook when it comes to medical diagnoses.
“I always say don’t be committed to your diagnosis. Be committed a possibility because that’s the only place magic exists. It’s the only place God can do his work,” Menounos said. “We believe in sports teams. We believe in Tom Cruise winning the Oscar. We believe in all this s–t, but we don’t believe in ourselves.”
Both Chelsea VonChaz, the founder of #HappyPeriod, and Melissa Berton, executive director of The Pad Project, echoed Menounos’ sentiments that women need to learn more about their own health.
“In order to combat [misinformation], it’s best for us to talk about it. Like seriously talk about your health. Be an advocate for your body,” VonChaz said during the panel.
That also means becoming more comfortable talking about anatomy and normal bodily functions. Called the first Black menstrual cup movement, #HappyPeriod is an organization that focuses on menstrual health education, advocacy and access. VonChaz noted that a “funny” thing she noticed is that no matter if she’s talking to girls who have yet to start their periods or women in their 40s, “both age groups are afraid of saying vagina or coochie or pussy.”
Berton, a Los Angeles-based English teacher who is also the executive director of The Pad Project, an organization that provides menstrual products to low income areas, pointed out that the general discomfort she’s noticed from her female students often extends to their relationships with their bodies.
“When I say, ‘What’s the answer to this?’ [the boys] say the answer. Most of the time — not all the time — the young women in my class will say, ‘This may not be right.’ ‘This may have already been said,’” Berton explained. She then argued that this mentality conditions women to trust doctors’ opinions over their own pain and noted that we need to teach young people to “be confident.”
“We’re going to be the best advocate, when it comes down to it,” Berton said.
VonChaz also highlighted one under-examined part of one’s health: finding a supportive community. VonChaz pointed to a story she found on social media about a woman who is going to prison for having a miscarriage that she had no control over.
“This is why we need more doulas. This is why we need more birth workers. This is why we need more education ourselves. So if we are at home and something happens, like what do we do?” VonChaz said. “It’s super scary. And at the same time, it’s a reflection of what a lot of Black and brown people and poor people have been going through for decades. So I’m hoping that by people actually forming their own community and safe spaces that they’re able to push forward with their education and their own advancement for their health.”
Though small steps have been taken to better understand women’s health, it still has a long way to go. “Women and women’s healthcare has been so underfunded compared to general health healthcare,” Berton said.
For all of TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2023 coverage, click here.