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Thanks to smear selfies, cervical screenings are finally being normalised

Dec 9, 2019 by William Lewis.

Rebekah Vardy is the latest celeb to show off her trip to the doctors on Instagram, prompting women to book their own smear tests.

I went for my first-ever smear test earlier this week and I can’t lie – I was nervous. All my life, I’d been told that the experience was painful, uncomfortable and downright embarrassing, and I was expecting the worst. I’m not alone; millions of women avoid their smear tests for the exact same reasons and the number of cervical screenings nurses carry out are at their lowest rate in two decades. It was this stat, in fact, that forced me into the doctor’s office and on to the papered table – I refused to be part of the problem. And guess what? It was totally fine. This is something everyone who has had a smear test will know, but the mystery that clouds the procedure doesn’t align with that truth. No one will laugh at you, there’s no painful scraping of your insides and the implement that goes up your vagina isn’t as scary or spiky as you think. But it seems that, soon, the secrecy of the smear test will be no more and it’s all down to the smear selfie. Rebekah Vardy, best known for her stint in I’m A Celeb and her marriage to footballer Jamie Vardy, posted a photo of her own smear test to Instagram earlier this week, showing her legs akimbo on a doctor’s examination table. “I dread smear tests and I don’t even know why,” she wrote alongside the picture, “so I wore my red jungle socks from @imacelebrity to remind me that if I can do a Bushtucker Trial and eat a sheep’s anus to win food, then I can certainly brave a smear test that could potentially be life saving and you can too!”
This picture shows just how normal a smear test is – it’s just a woman lying on a bed for two minutes, maximum, and you can’t even see what’s going on down there, thanks to the sheet of paper placed across your thighs. A physical representation of what happens during an appointment already wins half the battle of dismissing the multitude of myths surrounding smears. And Vardy isn’t the only celebrity getting candid with a smear selfie – Our Girl actor Michelle Keegan also posted a photo of herself having a cervical screening at the beginning of November. “So, my smear’s been done,” she explained in an accompanying video. “I was in the room five minutes and on the bed for two. It was really quick, really easy, it wasn’t painful at all, it was just a little bit uncomfortable.”
No one will laugh at you, there’s no painful scraping of your insides and the implement that goes up your vagina isn’t as scary or spiky as you think
It’s not the first time people have spoken up about smear tests. There have been varying campaigns over the years from charities, like Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, to break the taboo. But when it comes from the mouth of a celebrity like Keegan or Vardy – ie people who everyday women can relate to, and aren’t known for being uber feminist – the message feels all the more pertinent and worth celebrating. The sentiment that resonates in Vardy’s comment is the idea that she didn’t even know why she dreads going for a smear test. I can’t pinpoint why I was nervous either, as I have no recollection of anyone telling me it was painful, or that I should avoid it. In fact, I have no memory of anyone talking to me about a smear test at all – and that’s precisely the problem. Cervical screenings are such a mystery that they become mythical, shrouded in tales of scrapings and Victorian-era speculums. In fact, before my own smear, I would have thought these celebrities were just saying this to ease my anxiety and to oversimplify the experience, trying to counteract everything I’d been taught as a teenager. But now, having been through it myself, this is exactly how I would describe a smear test, too. It’s just not that big a deal. The best bit is that these celeb smear selfies are actually having a really positive effect. Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust has said that Vardy’s post reminded women to book their own cervical screening. Chief executive of the charity, Robert Music, said: “We want women to know they're not alone if they feel worried about going for their smear test, and that there's also lots of support available to help them feel more comfortable when they go for their appointment.” Our whole lives, women are told that we should be embarrassed of our bodies and that our vaginas are the wrong size, the wrong shape, even the wrong colour – it’s no wonder we often ignore the letter calling us to drop our knickers in front of a nurse or doctor. And, of course, not everyone with a cervix can have smear tests – some sufferers of vaginismus or endometriosis, for example. But for those of us lucky enough to be able to ring up, book an appointment and have our cervical health checked, these affirmations that it’s a totally normal, painless, quick procedure are something we should definitely listen to. And, next time you go for a cervical screening, maybe take your own smear selfie and help break the taboo.