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A drug company’s view of the ideal woman

By Melinda Tankard Reist - posted Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Every time you turn around it seems someone has come up with a new drug or surgery to redesign women.

Weight loss pills, drugs to stave off ageing, cosmetic surgery, liposuction, botox. Women can’t just be themselves - there’s always someone who wants to intervene to “enhance” them - usually someone out to make money.

A new pill has been launched to eliminate a process usually seen as a healthy sign of a woman’s reproductive health: her monthly period.


The US Food and Drug Administration has just OK’d Lybrel - a name supposed to make us think of liberty - manufactured by Wyeth. It’s designed to get rid of periods completely. It’s also designed to increase Wyeth’s bottom line - Lybrel is expected to generate $US250 million in additional revenue to the company.

The announcement of the pill’s release has been welcomed by some here. New South wales Family Planning’s Edith Weisberg reckons it’s a great idea for Australian women.

Women in the US are being told they don’t have to feel “fat” and “messy” every month. You can picture the advertising - carefree girls in bikinis frolicking on a Malibu beach being chased by impossibly handsome men as an anonymous hand pours blue liquid (it’s never red) over a pair of white pants - “No unsightly leaks - ever!”, intones the voice over.

Teens are even told they’ll do better academically if they’re on the pill, and that their social lives will improve.

These unsupported claims are patronising and disrespectful.

The drug’s supporters say it’s “natural” and “healthy” for women not to have periods, even though there is no evidence to support this. The long-term safety of these pills is unknown and existing safety data frighteningly limited.


As health psychologist Paula S. Derry wrote in the British Medical Journal in May: “The long term safety of menstrual suppression cannot currently be determined with experimental data … Overall, the existing data are limited, and whether or not long term risks exist remains uncertain: this would require lengthy study … science involves logic and evidence, and the case against menstruation involves neither.”

Derry points out that lack of menstruation is normally an indicator of poor health.

“We do know that menstruation is what naturally occurs when women don’t become pregnant, and that a menstruating women is a healthy, probably fertile, woman - whereas unhealthy, malnourished, or massively stressed women are more likely to skip periods.”

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This is an expanded version of an article first published in The Courier Mail and The Daily Telegraph May 28, 2007.

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About the Author

Melinda Tankard Reist is a Canberra author, speaker, commentator and advocate with a special interest in issues affecting women and girls. Melinda is author of Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief after Abortion (Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000), Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics (Spinifex Press, 2006) and editor of Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls (Spinifex Press, 2009). Melinda is a founder of Collective Shout: for a world free of sexploitation ( Melinda blogs at

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