by Vanessa Fernando
I first came across a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in a used bookstore when I was fifteen. I had been making myself throw up for about a year by that point, counting calories and restricting my sugar intake during the day just to sneak downstairs at night, quietly eating pretzels and cookies while trying not to wake my mother up. My world consisted of a high school where the ‘pretty’ girls were all white and wore two-hundred-dollar jeans. I was hungry for all the things I couldn’t name- community, self-acceptance, a feminist analysis that could help me sort through the layers of my identity (queer, mixed-race) and find wholeness.
I can’t say that Our Bodies, Ourselves ‘cured’ me of my bulimia and solved all my problems. But what OBOS did was help me realize that women– women with very different backgrounds and from very different life experiences — have been mobilizing for years to create resources for girls like the one I was then. OBOS provided a community of sorts, a refuge, in which women discussed their own thoughts and fears and insecurities and shared information with one another in a way that alleviated my fears and my feelings of isolation.
Throughout my teenage years, as I started trying to stop my disordered eating and replace it with less destructive habits, questioned my sexual identity, and thought about becoming sexually active, OBOS was there with me, a friend to turn to in the middle of the night as I tried desperately to resist purging, as I tried not to listen to those voices in my head telling me that I was ugly, that I was disgusting, that I wasn’t worth loving.
I am proud to be a part of this project [ed note: Vanessa is on the cover of the new edition of OBOS], because I know that I have come a long way since then, and OBOS has helped me countless times as I’ve worked so hard to get here. OBOS has also allowed me to share my growth with others. I gave my mother a copy of ”Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era” when it first came out, hoping that she might be able to find a similar refuge in its pages as she struggled to embrace menopause and her aging body. Since then, I’ve noticed that her copy’s pages are dog-eared. In addition to providing me with personal support, OBOS has also helped build empathy, as well as solidarity, between myself and my mother. That, I believe, is feminism in action.