More often than not, the message from the US healthcare system to endometriosis sufferers is that their pain is all in their heads.
By Denise Zubizarreta June 27, 2023
From societal taboos and gender bias to misinformed doctors and profit-driven healthcare, Below the Belt: The Last Health Taboo exposes a widespread problem in our healthcare system when it comes to the research and treatment of endometriosis — a disease in which the endometrial tissue of the uterus grows in different parts of the body, causing extreme pain. The documentary film, which made its national debut on PBS on June 21, examines how the fight to live with the disease has become an all-consuming battle with the United States healthcare system — and it reveals how millions are silenced.
Produced and directed by Shannon Cohn, an attorney and filmmaker, with executive producers Hillary Rodham Clinton, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Rosario Dawson, Corinne Foxx, and Mae Whitman, Below the Belt follows registered nurse Jenneh Rishe, Emily Hatch Manwaring, and Brooklyn-based artist Kyung Jeon-Miranda. The disease (which Cohn also addressed in her 2016 film Endo What?) threatens one out of 10 women, and remains a mystery to many. More often than not, the message from the healthcare system to the subjects is that their pain is all in their heads.
Jeon-Miranda’s art is woven in with the storytelling, presenting a captivating and excruciating depiction of her connection to femininity as well as her internal struggle with endometriosis. A Korean visual artist working primarily in painting, she is best known for her whimsical gouache and watercolors of children in fantastical narratives. The film brings her story and artwork on body politics to the conversation. These elements challenge the established norms, systems, and beliefs that are upheld by the healthcare industry regarding endometriosis, but they also serve as a cathartic and brave expression of the often unexpressed and traumatizing realities of living with the disease.
Jeon-Miranda unknowingly began creating artwork around the subject of women’s health and endometriosis back in 1998, when the topic was still largely unfamiliar. Paintings like “Carry, Mis-carry and Un-carry,” depict the struggle that many women experience with the disease and the highly probable issues with infertility and conception that ensue. Approximately one-third to one-half of women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant. What do you carry with you, she asks in her work. The memories of the hospital gown after a miscarriage? The empty void of losing a child, or the sense of motherhood as a distant journey that you may never complete? The artist’s gentle and soft aesthetic is in stark contrast with the complex and sometimes devastating stories the artworks tell.
In a bipartisan effort to raise the profile of the fight against endometriosis, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) co-hosted a screening of Below The Belt this past March. In a virtual introduction, Hillary Clinton said, “The goal with this film is to change both hearts and minds in ways that lead to progress in policy, research, funding, education, and widespread awareness.” The film effectively raises awareness about endometriosis and in doing so lays crucial groundwork for improving the healthcare system’s recognition of the disease and its realities.
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