Whispering Words of Wisdom: Let It Be

Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­as you surely will, adjust your lives, not the standards.
Ted Koppel

Ten years ago during this week in August, my clinical work was routine and ordinary but took a quick turn when I got a message from the media director at my university that a 14 month old medical opinion article I’d written for the student newspaper and then posted as a regular contributor on www.kevinmd.com was suddenly being quoted on the Huffington Post, Salon.com and other websites.  

Within hours, over a dozen media websites were citing “A War on Pubic Hair”

The original article was written as one in a series of opinion pieces on medical issues pertinent to college students requested by the student newspaper. I wrote it in spring 2011 after draining my umpteenth staph bacteria genital abscess due to the increasingly common practice of cosmetic removal of pubic hair. I felt the students needed to understand the hazards of what they were doing and hoped I could spare the next patient from experiencing an infection so painful and potentially serious.

So it went viral, over a year after it was written, all in a matter of hours. I was being quoted as if I had just been interviewed by these news agencies, which I had not, and they began feeding wrong information to each other: I was identified as “a leading British physician” since the first media report originated in the U.K.  One British site actually asked permission to reprint the original article, which I appreciated so that my words could not be taken out of context, but they attached a photo of me to the article lifted from my family picture on my personal blog.

Soon my personal cell phone started to ring in the middle of the night and my email in-box filled up. Messages from Europe, South America and all over the U.S. came in with requests for interviews, wanting me to elaborate in more detail on my very “provocative” point of view. I said no to every one of them even though some were respectable agencies, like the BBC, because I’d said all I had to say on this particular subject. I did not want my long career to be reduced to my defense of pubic hair or my life motto to read “Leave it alone!” Indeed I can hold my head up and be proud to tell my grandchildren someday that I actually turned down the Playboy Channel.

The online comments on the articles rapidly reproduced themselves, numbering in the thousands, with many hostile to my perspective and saying so in the most mean and inflammatory ways possible, citing my age, my looks and obvious lack of sex appeal as showing I lacked credibility in this subject. I dared to question the point of a multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry spawned by the even bigger multi-billion dollar porn industry, and no one was going to let me get away with it unscathed.

Civility has become even more endangered on the internet in the intervening ten years so I believe I actually got off easy at the time. Human beings lack accountability for their words and actions while hiding behind anonymous comments on media websites and blogs. It is easy to attack, lie, threaten, and bully when it is only words on a screen directed at someone you don’t know and will never meet. Decency and civility are lost forever when the standards for moral and ethical behavior disappear in a fog of pixels and bytes.

It has taken some time and distance for me to consider whether I did the right thing writing about a medical issue no one else would touch at the time. The “bare” trend has definitely waned over the last decade yet plenty of people still engage in the practice, although the recent sexual spread of the monkey pox virus is making some think twice about it.

If I managed to convince someone to put away the razor, stop the waxing, and respect their body as nature intended it to be, maybe I did the right thing after all.

After all – I shared whispered words of wisdom:
Let it be…

Cartoon by Clay Bennett
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A Paucity of Civility

Cartoon by Bennett

“Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­ as you surely will,  ­ adjust your lives, not the standards.”
― Ted Koppel

This week started out ordinary enough but took a quick turn when I got a message from the media director at my university that a 14 month old opinion article I’d written for the student newspaper and posted on www.kevinmd.com where I’m a regular contributor was suddenly being quoted on the Huffington Post and other websites.   Within hours, over a dozen media websites were quoting “A War on Pubic Hair”

The original article was written as one in a series of opinion pieces on medical issues pertinent to college students requested by the student newspaper.  I wrote it in spring 2011 after draining my umpteenth staph bacteria genital abscess due to the increasingly common practice of cosmetic removal of pubic hair.   I felt the students needed to understand the hazards of what they were doing and hoped I could spare the next patient from experiencing an infection so painful and potentially serious.

So this week it goes viral, over a year later, all in a matter of hours.  I was being quoted as if I had just been interviewed by these news agencies, which I had not, and they began feeding wrong information to each other:  I was identified as “a leading British physician” since the first media report originated in the U.K.   One British site actually asked permission to reprint the original article, which I appreciated so that my words could not be taken out of context, but they attached a photo of me to the article lifted from my family picture on my personal blog.

Soon my personal cell phone started to ring in the middle of the night and my email in-box filled up–messages from Europe, South America and all over the U.S. came in with requests for interviews, wanting me to elaborate in more detail on my very “provocative” point of view.  I said no to every one of them even though some are respectable agencies, like the BBC, because I’ve said all I have to say on this particular subject.  I do not want my long career to be reduced to my defense of pubic hair.   Indeed I can hold my head up and be proud to tell my grandchildren someday that I actually turned down the Playboy Channel.

The online comments on the articles rapidly reproduced themselves, numbering now in the thousands,  with many hostile to my perspective and saying so in the most inflammatory way possible, citing my age, my looks and obvious lack of sex appeal as showing I lacked credibility in this subject.  I dared to question the point of a multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry spawned by the multi-billion dollar porn industry, and no one was going to let me get away with it unscathed.

The internet has made it too easy for human beings to lack accountability for their words and actions by allowing anonymous comments on media websites and blogs.   It is easy to attack, lie, threaten, and bully when it is only words on a screen directed at someone you don’t know and will never meet.   Decency and civility are lost forever when the standards for moral and ethical behavior disappear in a fog of pixels and bytes.

Now after 48 hours it seems to have mostly blown over, though my name on Google will never look the same again.    It will take some time and distance for me to consider whether I did the right thing writing about a medical issue no one else would touch.   If it convinces someone to put away the razor, stop the waxing, and respect their body as nature intended it to be,  maybe I did.

Ask me in a year or so.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.
Albert Einstein