October 29, 2021

How Are Health Conditions That Are Primarily Associated with Women Represented Visually?

Carys Reilly

SculptureTransfer I, 20202.4cm (w) x 3cm (d) x 9.2cm (h)

This piece explores my experience of severe endometriosis, critiquing the hyperfeminine imagery used to depict health conditions primarily associated with women. During my recovery from surgery, I began to question ‘How do I actually feel about what I went through? What is my emotional relationship to this illness?’. I was struck by the hyperfeminine imagery used in medical articles; flowers and domestic objects used to euphemistically represent the tissue of the disease. I feel this is symptomatic of the medical sexism surrounding the condition: one doctor felt that since I didn’t want biological children it wasn’t ‘worth’ operating on me, and that I was ‘too emotionally fragile to handle surgery’; another told me ‘periods are SUPPOSED to hurt’ and that the reason I was in pain was anxiety causing me to over-think about my endometriosis. This felt similar to the language and treatment weaponised against women diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ – this work explores the similarities between the hyperfeminine and domestic imagery used historically to represent hysteria and today to represent endometriosis. ‘Transfer’ references the endometriosis tissue that had undergone ‘neoangiogenesis’. It also reflects the cathartic nature of sharing my story as a means of combatting the misinformation about this illness.