The Origin of Body Literacy

A note from Laura Wershler, the creator of the term “body literacy.”

It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since the printed page below sent the idea of “body literacy” out into the world of menstrual advocacy. I’ve reread, referenced, and quoted from this page many times since it was published. What strikes me now is how distinctive, yet complementary, were the perceived meanings my colleagues and I had about what body literacy meant to us in 2005.

My perspective was influenced by my background with sexual and reproductive health organizations, including Planned Parenthood Alberta where I then worked. I believed that understanding our menstrual cycles was the key to fully participatory, informed decision-making about our health. Megan Lalonde’s simple and elegant description of body literacy as “learning to read and understand the language of our body” broadened both its scope and accessibility. Geraldine Matus emphasized that we acquire body literacy over time through sharing with peers and mentors, an idea certainly borne out by the growing network of menstrual cycle educators and advocates sharing their wisdom with women in 2020.

What’s most satisfying to me is how the concept of body literacy has taken hold within the women’s health community. But I don’t take full credit for its initiation. In 2012, while researching a blog post tracking how the concept was spreading, I found that Tathapi, an Indian women’s and health resource organization had been using the term since 2000. Perhaps other people in other places and other times also developed the idea in ways we’ve yet to learn about. What I know for sure is that body literacy is an idea whose time has definitely come.

~ Laura Wershler, January 2020.

Page 6 of the 2005 Issue of Femme Fertile

“Femme Fertile” was published from 2005-2007 by Justisse Healthworks for Women and its director Geraldine Matus, PhD, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Matus founded the fertility awareness based Justisse Method, Justisse International, and Justisse College. You can learn more at Justisse.ca. Megan Lalonde, MSc, RM, is a registered midwife and assistant professor in the School of Nursing & Midwifery at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

3 thoughts on “The Origin of Body Literacy”

  1. I’ll add to what Lara has mentioned by posting this link which will take you to a series of articles by Dr. Prior that speak to the value of ovulation. These articles on the power of ovulation to protect bone, breast and heart health, provide scientific rationale for why menstrual literacy, specifically the ability to self-identify consistent ovulation, is important to women’s health. http://www.cemcor.ubc.ca/resources/preventive-powers-ovulation-and-progesterone

  2. Dear Lara, dear Laura,

    I am currently writing a thesis on period tracking apps. In my theoretical background I am introducing the concepts of menstrual literacy, as a more scientific concept (Eschler et al. 2019) and body literacy as a more activist concept.
    Are there other papers or articles on body literacy that you can recommend for my citation? I couldn’t find something on pubmed.

    Thank you very much!
    Best wishes,
    Sarah

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