Learning 'About Your Body' through Design

We are thrilled to introduce the founder of About Your Body, Rachel Holt, as a contributing writer for deardiaryxo.com. Within this article, Rach shares how her time at university, love for design, and passion for women's rights turned into the creation of @about.your.body on Instagram and her podcast.

I’m inherently creative, and I want to make a difference for women around the world.


For a while, I had trouble reconciling these two desires. Is it possible to do both? Is creativity a waste of time, a mere distraction from more pressing issues? I know now that this isn’t true, but I was sure I was wasting my energy by pursuing a creative degree throughout university.


I studied a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). I knew I didn’t want to pursue a “traditional” career trajectory (i.e., becoming an in-house designer in an advertising agency, climbing the ladder, then progressing to corporate), and I could also see that I wasn’t as interested in “design” as some of my classmates. Instead of reading blogs on design and architecture, I explored global feminist perspectives, speciesism, and the Arab Spring.


Then, in my second year at UTS, I took a Contexts of Visual Communication subject (class). Our task was to explore how a particular issue - any issue of our choosing - was portrayed in mainstream media and to suggest communication improvements based on design-thinking methodology.


This was when I realized that design is infinitely more than creating aesthetically satisfying illustrations. All design has an agenda.


Most design around the world - whether interiors, physical accessibility, digital accessibility, industrial technology, or education - does not have women in mind. The world as we know it was not created for women, but for men: women are simply expected to slot into cracks in the infrastructure. Caroline Criado-Perez has written a fantastic book that touches on this, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.

In my final year at university, I experienced some minor (albeit scary) gynecological issues. My parents are both doctors, and I worked as a medical receptionist at the time, so I thought I’d do my best to understand the issues. I was instantly repulsed on Googling imagery of the uterus, the cervix, the vulva, and fibroids. I felt pretty nauseous. Everything was so bloody and graphic...my weak stomach simply couldn’t handle it. And this was how About Your Body was born.


I remember this thought: “I wish somebody would do some nice drawings of the uterus, so I didn’t have to look at these laparoscopy pictures.” Then: “Wait - I could do that!” So, I carefully illustrated the bio-female reproductive system in full, translating medical textbooks into a colloquial language to explain each image. My goal is to educate women about their bodies through consciously curated design.


This leads me to what I was hoping you could take away from this article: why women must understand our bodies.


I wonder how many people reading this are petrified of giving birth, of having sex for the first time, or of getting their period. So many of us are scared of what our bodies can do. This is a design of the patriarchy, which keeps a hold on women by trapping us in fear of our bodies and our sexuality. It has tried to convince us that our bodies are for them. The last thing the patriarchy wants is for us to reclaim our bodies because understanding your body can eliminate your fear.


There is a way to escape this prison of fear. By unlearning what we have been taught about our bodies, we reclaim them as our own. Once you learn how amazing your body is, you are far more likely to feel empowered in yourself. Yes, childbirth is excruciating, but it is also a miraculous accomplishment. Yes, getting your period is annoying, but how cool is it that your hormones are constantly evolving? When you don’t know what to expect, one often anticipates the worst (think back to the first time you had a pap smear). But when you see what is happening, you feel in control.


It is undeniably the result of patriarchal systems that we don’t understand our bodies. I believe that it is up to us, as women, to change that.


(For free diagrams and resources to help you understand the bio-female reproductive system, check out About Your Body on Instagram: @about.your.body)


XO