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The Media's Role in Women's Health

So in a landscape where health and wellness is coming to the forefront in everything we see and there are more choices than ever -- how do we drive this narrative in a way that's not confusing, that doesn't offer backwards messaging, that doesn't just set people up to fail?
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In May of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. In the initial days of my mother's diagnosis, I was fielding endless emails, texts, and phone calls from all of our friends and family. They understandably wanted to know what was happening, know how my mother was, and most of all, express their concern and offer their support. While this outpouring of love meant more to my family than anything, we simply couldn't keep up with all of the communication, while also trying to navigate the early days of this new and arduous journey ahead for both my mother and my family.

So I decided to do what I had seen many people in situations similar to ours do before -- I started a blog. At first the blog was simply meant to serve as a central hub and an easy way for our network to get updates on my mother, her health, and her progress (in one direction or the other). However, coming from a media and communications background, I knew this wasn't simply a place for medical facts and updates, but instead, this blog would become the narrative of my mother's journey. I knew that not only would my mother herself be reading what I wrote, but this would shape the way in which all of our friends and family would learn about her journey, and in turn that narrative would lead to how they reflected it back to her. It was through this narrative that I could have my mother surrounded by people who were worried, scared, and sad, or we could tell them a story of humor, courage, and hope, which in turn would make them champions for my mother. You see, my mother's journey was ALL of those things, but this simple narrative on this simple blog chose to focus on the positive as much as we could, and it was more powerful than I could have imagined.

In turn, my mother became just what was reflected to her -- not just the victim of a terrible disease, but the hero of a long and brave battle. Was this to say that our little blog took away the many days of pain and suffering that were inevitable on such a journey? No. Did we pretend like everything was just fine when it clearly wasn't? No. Did we choose to direct the overall narrative for how we looked at the situation, and in turn how it manifested in our lives? 100 percent.

For me, this was one of the not-yet-known beginnings of my now budding-little-media-platform, The Sweat Life ( Having been a storyteller my whole life, then majoring in it in college, then making a career of it in film and television, I have always understood the power of a good narrative. However, until this point, I was mostly working with fictional scripts and characters. This was the first time -- at least consciously -- I witnessed first-hand the power of the narrative in our lives, and how we choose to write it.

It occurred to me that if I could take something as scary and often hopeless as the journey through stage IV ovarian cancer and turn it into a story of humor, love, hope, and strength, why couldn't that be applied to everything? Specifically, I saw a need for a change in the narrative of health -- which at that point, was mostly a story filled with fad diets, weight loss "secrets," ab exercises, and bikini body transformations. To me, this was not a narrative that would actually motivate or empower anyone to want to get healthy, and even if they did, they were just being set up to feel like they were failing.

So I chose a different narrative -- the one I truly believe in. The one in which health is a gift to be cherished, the one in which our bodies are our temples to be treated with the utmost respect (no matter what the shape or size), the one where getting healthy is not only highly personal and emotional, but is something that is fun, positive, often hilarious, filled with failures and learning, and something we should love having in our lives. A narrative that has no best of anything, only what is best for you. A narrative where you are not the victim of unhealthy behaviors or five pounds lost or gained, but a narrative where you are the hero of your own amazing journey of becoming healthier, stronger, happier, and more powerful. This is, what I truly believe, the narrative of healthy living needs to be.

However, in mainstream media this is not yet the case. The message of health is still one lead largely by the endless noise of conflicting and confusing information. It is still too often lead by eliciting fear in people as opposed to empowering them with a positive message. It is lead by a search for what is best, not what is best for YOU (and I'm sorry, you aren't Gwyneth Paltrow -- you are YOU -- so her healthy habits may not work for you). And what is this all driven by? More clicks, more viewers, more subscribers, more followers, and that all adds up to more advertising dollars.

To take it a step further, these advertising dollars are often from companies and brands only keeping people unhealthier -- fast food chains, beauty products with empty promises, and drugs -- unless amounts of "legal" drugs. No wonder people's heads are spinning!

So in a landscape where health and wellness is coming to the forefront in everything we see and there are more choices than ever -- how do we drive this narrative in a way that's not confusing, that doesn't offer backwards messaging, that doesn't just set people up to fail?

We have a responsibility as the media to drive this narrative, and we have the ability to change it. Which story are we going to choose to tell?!


This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Women to Women by Julia, in conjunction with the 4W Women Well-being Wisconsin and the World summit (Madison, Wisconsin, April 14, 2016). Women to Women by Julia is a non-profit dedicated to changing the future of women through a series summits on Health, Spirituality, Sexuality, Divorce, Entrepreneurship and Mindfulness. For more information about Women to Women by Julia, visit