- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2001

Barbie is the impossible ideal. Many women secretly have known this since childhood, but at the exhibit "The Changing Face of Women's Health" at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, it is spelled out in large display type: Barbie, if she were real, would measure 38-18-28.

The average American woman measures 37-29-40.

The message here: Women should stop trying to measure up and love their bodies, lumps and all.

Body image, eating disorders and media pressure to be slim, buxom and beautiful are part of the exhibit's look at the pressure today's women face. As part of the interactive display, women can write down their feelings on the subject on a note card for an impromptu display.

"Marilyn Monroe was a size 12," one visitor wrote. "I feel fat and ugly most of the time," wrote another.

"The Changing Face of Women's Health" opened Feb. 1 and will run through Aug. 31 at the museum, which is located at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest. The exhibit, on the sixth stop of a 10-city tour, was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Metropolitan Life Foundation and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

"The Changing Face of Women's Health" seeks to educate and inspire visitors to take an active role in staying healthy, whether that is by accepting body image, controlling cholesterol or providing monthly breast exams, says Dr. Adrienne Noe, the museum director.

"One of the appeals of this exhibit is it is so candid," Dr. Noe says. "It is an informal setting. Visitors can learn about these issues that are usually only discussed in a doctor's office or other academic setting. Here, they can go at their own pace."

Though the exhibit obviously is aimed at women, it should appeal to anyone who cares about women, says Steven Solomon, the museum's public affairs director.

"Men would be interested from the standpoint [that] any one of these conditions could affect their sister, mother, wife or daughter," he says.

The exhibit is divided into four main themes: detection, prevention, risk and control.

A highlight of the detection section is the breast cancer display, where, via video monitor, women tell their stories of breast cancer tests, treatment and survival. Women can use rubberized models to learn how different types of breast lumps feel. Another area explains the new field of genetic testing, its impact on diseases such as breast cancer, and the consequences of knowing you have a genetic risk.

The prevention section encourages women to take charge of their own health and weighs the trade-offs and benefits of preventive behaviors. Here, women can take an interactive calcium quiz to see how their daily intake measures up and look through a magnifying glass at an osteoporetic bone compared to a normal one.

The osteoporosis display is one of several that reflect the aging of the American population, Dr. Noe says. Others include a risk-vs.-benefit scale for taking hormone replacements and a model house that shows safety hazards for the elderly. Falls are a leading cause of fractures in older women, the display states.

"As our population shifts, these subjects are going to be more important to many individuals," she says.

The risk section is highlighted by a computer quiz that measures genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors in a woman's risk of heart disease. Visitors also can pump simulated blood through a model of a healthy artery and a clogged artery to see how hard the heart must work when a woman suffers from cardiovascular disease.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in America, killing more than 375,000 women annually, the exhibit points out.

The control section deals with the body-image issue, touching on subjects such as anorexia and bulimia. The exhibit also shows images of society's ideal woman over time and the tools she used to attain that ideal, from corsets to saline breast implants.

Other displays feature information on sexually transmitted diseases, puberty, depression and menstruation. There also is a tribute to female physicians and a display about the impact of the Framingham Heart Study (begun in 1948) and the Harvard Nurses Study (begun in 1976) two ongoing health studies that have followed more than 120,000 women.

"The Changing Face of Women's Health" and the National Museum of Health and Medicine are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The museum is located on the campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 6900 Georgia Ave. NW, Washington. For more information, call 202/782-2200 or visit the museum Web site (www.natmedmuse.afip.org.)

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