A new story about the medical establishment shaming female doctors for social media posts of bikinis and Halloween costumes has many people asking how the system can hope to deliver empathetic care to women as patients.
The uproar started when the prestigious Journal of Vascular Surgery published a study which claimed that female surgeons posting bikini photos and underwear shots on social media is “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.” The authors argued that these images negatively impact patients’ respect for their physicians. An immediate uproar ensued as female physicians began posting photos with hashtag #medbikini to demonstrate their outrage. The article, entitled “Prevalence of Unprofessional Social Media Content Among Young Vascular Surgeons,” was quickly pulled by the journal.Read More
From the SurvivorNet community’s perspective, this is hugely troubling because of what it says about how parts of the established medical system still view women; namely through antiquated and offensive ideas rooted in hurtful stereotypes.
The paper’s warning that “young surgeons should be aware of the permanent public exposure of unprofessional content (bikini photos on social media) that can be accessed by peers, patients, and … employers” is certainly deeply troubling for female physicians. But for any woman who has been ignored at the doctor’s office, or felt judged for their appearance, this episode is shocking evidence that dangerous stereotypes still exist inside medicine. Women routinely tell SurvivorNet that their cancer symptoms are indeed ignored by their male doctors.
Journal Founded By Michael Debakey, Pioneer of Coronary Bypass Surgery
Many of the physicians SurvivorNet spoke to found it shocking that an elite medical journal founded by one of the most famous names in medical history just completely failed to see the offensive nature of this sort of allegedly academic study. The journal is still edited by major names in medicine.
As the hashtag #medbikini went viral, and the Journal’s editors retracted the paper, they posted this statement on Facebook: “We offer an apology to every person who has communicated their sadness, anger, and disappointment caused by the article.” But that didn’t stop the flood of outraged responses:
Brains and Bikinis!
“Meet Dr. Scott Hardouin who works at @The_BMC,” Dr. Michael Gold tweeted. “He published a paper sharing his beliefs that women doctors posting pictures of themselves in bikini swimwear are “unprofessional.” It is time for sexist, misogynistic garbage like this to stop. #MedBikini.”
“My body in a bikini still carries my brain that has the knowledge to … detect breast cancer in my patients. I can still be a healthcare worker and wear whatever I want,” @Kaeedub tweeted. ”
One of the most touching posts came from a surgeon and breast cancer survivor, Dr. Sharon Ben-Or, proudly showing herself in a bikini post-mastectomy, still bald from chemo:
2 years ago: first time in a bikini after double mastectomy & chemo. This pic does not show unprofessionalism; it shows #hope & #resilience. #MedBikini #ILookLikeASurgeon @DrSusanLove @Liz_ORiordan @WomenSurgeons #CancerAwareness @tssmn @PROWDWomen pic.twitter.com/ffnxDxS5wj
— Sharon Ben-Or (@sharonbenormd) July 26, 2020
In another Tweet, @doctortater wrote, “Wore a swimsuit on a family vacation and now I’m too slutty to be a doctor,” adding, “don’t let this happen to you #medbikini.”
In an Instagram post (below), Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center writes, “I want young female physicians to know that they can be their best selves, however they wish to define it. The more we honor all parts of who we are, the more we can connect with patients to help them be their best selves.”
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Aristotle once wrote, “there is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” I choose to be myself. If it results in criticism, so be it. By now, many have likely seen the now retracted article in the Journal of Vascular Surgery in which 3 men created fake Insta accounts to assess allegedly “unprofessional social media content” among the Instagram accounts of vascular surgery physicians. Women wearing bikinis was classified as unprofessional but men in swimsuits was not. Female physicians are now posting pictures of themselves in bikinis #MedBikini. While we can debate the merits and utility of social media for doctors, one thing is for sure, double standards will not be tolerated. I’ve had my fair share of my body being dissected in professional settings in ways that my male colleagues did not experience. The social media uproar about this article reminded me of countless hurtful encounters. Just a FEW : In Med school, I was asleep in a call room during my surgery rotation @massgeneral, a resident woke me up by touching my breasts. When I finally had the courage to tell the program director, his response: “you weren’t assertive enough.” During same surgery rotation, I walked into an OR and the attending physician asked me: “what is your porn star name?” Another attending requested that I wear my hair down during rounds because it would “make the patients feel better to see your beautiful hair.” As an attending, I’ve had pictures of me analyzed & advised about how men in positions of power will perceive the way I look. Not all the comments were by men, more recently a female colleague told me that in a commercial I am in: “you just don’t look like a doctor. Why is your hair down? Why are you wearing make up? You are just too much.” One thing is for certain, deep seated structural biases exist in medicine. I want young female physicians to know that they can be their best selves, however they wish to define it. The more we honor all parts of who we are, the more we can connect with patients to help them be their best selves. Now PLEASE, let’s have the medical community focus on the bigger crises we have in our society!
In a lighthearted, but still very relevant Tweet, Dr. Jennifer Dhingra tweeted, “As a hard-working and empowered woman in medicine, sometimes I like to get my coconuts out on the beach. Our swimsuits do not define our professionalism… #MedBikini.”
Another popular response came from Rachel Bocchino, who poked fun at the paper’s assertion by tweeting photo of herself wearing a lab coat in a pool and asking, “am I doing it right?”
— Rachel Bocchino (@RachelBocchino) July 25, 2020