To fully understand the following story, it's important, first of all, to know what fistula is. According to the Fistula Foundation: "An obstetric fistula develops when blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder (and/or rectum) is cut off during prolonged obstructed labor. The tissues die and a hole forms through which urine and/or feces pass uncontrollably. Women who develop fistulas are often abandoned by their husbands, rejected by their communities, and forced to live an isolated existence." Clearly, women suffering from fistula are in need of help. But what kind? A recent issue of African Woman magazine took the makeover approach. The story? "From Fistula to Fab!" In which Lovinsa, mother of two, gets a new hairdo, outfit and a photo shoot.
Lovinsa is recovering from surgery to fix her fistula (which she lived with for 10 years). The magazine copy reads: "Who knew that behind the facade of a shy and depressed young woman was a hot and sexy babe just waiting to get out? Look out world, Lovinsa has arrived!" Writes Uganda blogger Scarlett Lion:
The makeover genre is popular in the likes of Cosmo and Marie Claire, but usually the subject is a quiet secretary or former band geek or some other social pariah ready to join a stiletto-ed consumer army. Taking this trope, and applying it to a woman recovering from a fistula repair surgery seems callous. Though the African Woman article focuses on obstetric fistula (those caused by problems during childbirth), a lot of fistula cases are caused by gang rape, violent rape, or foreign objects used during sexual violation. It seems to me like someone who has had a fistula probably needs more than a makeover.
Frankly, that says it best. Western magazines may be the blueprint for publications around the globe, but that doesn't mean that they have the right formula. While calling attention to women living with fistula is important, the message seems to be that as long as you look good, you'll be okay. Is this the best way to spotlight this important issue? On Wronging Rights, another blogger, Amanda Taub, writes: "I bet she's glad that she got three hundred dollars worth of clothes and makeup, as opposed to, say, three hundred dollars. Cash would be way less useful to a person who had to save for ten years before she could pay for an operation to get herself sewn back together."
But cash may not be the answer either. After all, money can solve some problems — but not all. And can't charity often strip people of their pride? Don't people want to feel useful and valued and whole, not pitied? Women with fistula are made to feel shame. Banishing the stigma is a worthy cause. Is a makeover the right thing to do?
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The Problem With ‘African Woman' Magazine [Global Voices]
The Problem With 'African Woman' Magazine: From Fistula to Fab! [Scarlett Lion]
From Fistula To Fab [Wronging Rights]
Related: How To Help [The Fistula Foundation]