Immaculate Forms: Uncovering the History of Women's Bodies

King, Helen (2024). Immaculate Forms: Uncovering the History of Women's Bodies. Wellcome Collection. London, UK: Profile Books Ltd..



The turbulent history of women’s bodies, from classical Greece to the modern day

Breasts, clitoris, hymen, and womb. Across history, these body parts have told women who they are and what they should do. Although knowledge of each part has changed through time, none of them tells a simple story. The way they work and in some cases even their existence have been debated. They can be seen as powerful or as disgusting, as relevant only to reproduction or as sources of sexual pleasure.

In Immaculate Forms, classicist and historian Helen King explores the symbiotic relationship between religion and medicine and their twinned history of gatekeeping over these key organs that have been used to define “woman,” illustrating how conceptions of women’s bodies have owed more to imagination and myth than to observation and science. Throughout history, the way we understand the body has always been debated, and it is still shaped by human intervention and read according to cultural interpretations.

Astute and engaging, Immaculate Forms is for everyone who has wondered what history has to say about today’s raging debates over the human body and who is “really” female.

Plain Language Summary

This book looks at the surprising history of four body parts which have been used to define 'women': breasts, clitoris, hymen and womb.

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