Tuesday 30 July 2019

Marla Ahlgrimm: Women’s Health Conditions That Never Were

Marla Ahlgrimm

Medicine has come a long way since ancient times. Nonetheless, according to Marla Ahlgrimm, there have been many “conditions” that were never problems in the first place, and some that persisted into modern times. Here, we look at two of these specific to women.

Bicycle face

Just before the turn of the 20th century, Dr. A. Shadwell was published in National Review for his views on a unique condition common in women of the age. Bicycle face, he asserted, was the result of a person pushing themselves further than their physical prowess allowed. Marla Ahlgrimm explains that women with bicycle face looked anxious, irritable, or strained while pedaling around town.

Fortunately, reason was not all lost and another physician, Dr. Sarah Hackett Stevenson, quickly rebutted in Phrenological Journal citing that the contorted look on a bicyclist's face was due to inexperience. Marla Ahlgrimm notes that Dr. Stevenson presented evidence that cycling was not injurious and was instead a boon to overall health. Soon, the world finally came to understand that once a woman – or man – became proficient with their bicycle, these undesirable looks were no more.

Female hysteria

Marla Ahlgrimm laughs at the idea of female hysteria and the related wandering womb. But before PMS and other hormonal disorders were fully understood, male physicians strongly believed – or at least claimed to believe -- that mood swings, sadness, or uneven temperament were caused by this nervous disorder.

We know now, thanks in part to Marla Ahlgrimm, that emotional ups and downs are simply par for the course and a natural occurrence in reproductive-age women. Surprisingly, it was not until 1980 that female hysteria was officially shunned by the American Medical Association. While hormones are the blame, there is still much work to be done before we fully understand the impact of women’s hormone shifts.


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