The Anatomy of Valuing All Bodies

By Janell Hobson   |   May 20, 2024

Our bodies harbor memories, histories, stories, and identities. They determine how we see ourselves and how others see us. Tied to such perceptions are the values given to our bodies based on our gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, class, ability, size, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

More than 50 years have passed since the first publication in 1970 of the book Our Bodies, Ourselves, written by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. Considered to be the comprehensive feminist health guide, it provided a much-needed and groundbreaking resource for women and girls to redefine and reclaim the power and health of their own bodies. Since that first publication, nine reprints have been distributed across and beyond Europe, Asia, and Latin America, in a host of different languages. It resonated globally, even as it often narrowed the scope of women’s experiences. Other books that have been published in its wake – from Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals (1980) to the collection This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981) to such variations as Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource by and for Transgender Communities (2014) – have demonstrated that such transformative projects can lay a foundation on which to build more complex, intersectional, and interconnected ways of thinking about the gendered body.

These published works stem from the grassroots work of rethinking the values of different bodies and advocating for the rights of those who are denied the privileges afforded certain bodies at the top of systemic hierarchies. In the U.S., we have a history of bodies confined to chattel slavery, based on racially constructed differences, or to second-class citizenship, based on gender differences. And we also have a history of, despite these inequalities, different individuals and communities rising up and resisting oppression. They freed their bodies from chains; ran away to freedom; wrote themselves a legible future through education, determination, and perserverance; and catalyzed the issues of voting rights, civil rights, and human rights.

For these reasons, activists have worked through various nonprofit organizations to ensure that our bodies are treated with dignity, respect, and full autonomy, especially when working against systemic oppressions that encourage the discrimination against, exploitation of, and unequal treatment of certain individuals and communities. Some of these organizations focus on gender differences, either tending to the concerns of women and girls or affirming the gender identities of transgender and nonbinary individuals. Some organizations advance racial equity and respect for racial differences, while others focus on the intersections of gender and disability, with respect to changing our environments toward more accessibility rather than locating limitations within the body itself. Gender and its intersections with other factors – from race to class to disability to nationality – continue to shape our perspectives, representations, and realities, which is why nonprofit organizations that shed light on these differences have the power to shift our thinking and our actions in life-changing and even death-shattering ways.

This chapter highlights four organizations that have emphasized bodily autonomy and integrity through different areas of specialty. Whether the focus is on access to breast cancer research, surgical training, and preventative care and treatment, or on maternity, neonatal, and postnatal care, both within and beyond the U.S., or even the simple access to abortion pills, these organizations are saving lives.

Our valued bodies may be integral to our own personal healing, but they are equally vital to the health of our various communities and the world. These organizations are part of our healing narrative. Here are their stories.