No one “gets” us the way other women do. I learned this lesson while in college, when I first opened my new copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, its cover carrying a photograph of two smiling women, one about my age, the other with gray hair, holding a sign bearing the slogan WOMEN UNITE. I turned to the section on birth control—and realized that when it came to concerns about my body, I wasn’t alone.
Dig into the yellow-and-black-covered Nothing but the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection and you’ll likely experience a similar jolt of sisterly camaraderie. The essays, poems, and art within its pages cover the gamut of our experiences, from self-love to friendship; modern motherhood to Mother Earth; from “finding yourself” to challenges of race and culture; and from overcoming obstacles to making mischief. The book provides moments of recognition, a few Aha’s, and some eye-opening stories.
Like Our Bodies, Ourselves, a product of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Nothing but the Truth was also created by a group of women—in this case, A Band of Wives, which describes itself as “a private social network for all women: married, single and everything in between.”
Lots of essays by other women can cause us to nod our heads in understanding, but there were a few here that really touched my inner soul. Among those was “No One Should Ever Have to Write This,” by Mickey Nelson.
Nelson, who is also on the collection’s editing team, shares how she is currently coming to terms with losing her sister Lauren, who, she writes, “was a part of every memory, conversation, and inside joke for the first 26 years of my life.”
As someone who also experienced the death of the person closest to me at a young age, the stark truth of her words resonates with me even 40 years after my own loss. “A tragedy like this levels a person,” Nelson writes. “It flattens their mind, character, and soul right down to the ground.”
She views this leveling as an opportunity to rebuild herself, wisely asking, “How often will I get the chance to look at my base self with such honesty? How often will I get the chance to cultivate my character all over again from the ground up?”
Writer Joyce Maynard also tackles loss as she describes the bittersweet experience of hoarding and consuming the 31 jars of peach chutney her mother put up a few months before her death. When Maynard opens the final jar, saved for eight years, she finds mold. “There was nothing to do but to dump the whole thing down the sink,” she writes. “I would never again eat food that had been prepared by the hand of my mother.” The chutney is gone, yet, as she writes, her mother is still with her. “Still, I feel her presence in my kitchen every time I cook, no matter which coast I’m living on.”
“Friends, Strangers, Sisters, and Saviors,” by writer/essayist Medea Isphording Bern, describes the safety and warmth she found in the support of other women as she traveled to that weird and otherworldly planet that is breast cancer treatment. I nodded as I recalled my own journey down that road and relived the comfort I felt when I was surrounded by a team of women after being wheeled into the operating room for my lumpectomy.
But not all the essays are about death or illness. “Mother’s Voices,” by Dominique Browning, is an energetic and uplifting description of her reasons for founding Moms Clean Air Force, an organization that focuses on clean air and children’s health. She cites the work as “some of the most exhilarating I have ever done.” High praise from a woman who has written several books and is the former editor-in-chief of House & Garden.
The essays delve into contemporary family issues, too. Speaker, social entrepreneur, and photographer Hyla Molander writes the humorous and feisty “Ex Communication,” which gives us an inside look at today’s blended families. It is an unusual story about how Molander becomes best friends with her ex-husband’s new wife.
“Divorce is tough,” she concludes. “I’m certainly not claiming that it’s easy to get to a place where you’re doing tequila shots with your ex’s spouse, nor am I suggesting that it’s necessary to get as close as I have with Dana. What I do know, though, is that our children benefit when they see their parents playing well with others, and that each of us can experience more joy if we let go of resentments and treat each other with kindness.”
One of the most enlightening narratives in the book was “Women’s Day,” by medical anthropologist Diane Tober, who shares her experiences while conducting fieldwork at a health clinic in Iran. Tober’s assumptions about Muslim women in Iran wearing the hejâb matched my own: that it was oppressive and just one more way for men to dominate women.
But according to Tober’s friend Nargess, that just isn’t so. Compared with Saudi women, Iranian women are quite free, Nargess claims: “In Iran, women work, are politically active, drive, and go to the university,” Nargess tells Tober. “We just keep our bodies covered. . . . I like my hejâb; it makes me feel protected, more powerful, and respected.”
Nothing but the Truth brings together a diverse and representative array of female voices. By chronicling our common experiences, the book has the potential to become a resource covering our inner lives that’s on a par with the way Our Bodies, Ourselves became our go-to reference for answers about our physical health.
As ABOW founder Christine Bronstein writes in the book’s introduction, “We know that women change each other’s lives just by being there for one another, and sharing these stories allows us to be more courageous, more authentic, and more loving to ourselves and others.”