What do you do if you want to know about hormones? Facial hair? Heartbreak? Wrinkle creams? Menopause? Libido? Love? Body image? Or all of it? Kaz Cooke’s latest book Women’s Stuff goes there. Boy, does it go there. This ‘essential guide to life’ for women aged 18 to 108 is full of great, independent advice, lots of humour and more than 2000 insightful, hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking quotes from women who’ve shared their stories (and their deepest secrets). As Kaz says, this is a book that’s all about ‘cutting the crap and giving you the info you need to enjoy your life the best way you can – and to take back your beauty, your body and your brain’. Read on for our chat with Kaz about the biggest book she’s ever written.
Congrats on such a fab book. How long did it take you and how do you even start writing a book as comprehensive as this?
It took me three years. I put up an online survey because that’s what I’d done for my book Girl’s Stuff. In a way, this was the sequel. I was a bit dim, I didn’t really think through how much work it was going to be when 7060 women answered the survey. You guys would know that feeling, just the secrets that people tell you and how candid they are. I was really glad I read through all the answers because what I then had was a huge repository of what women were worried about, what they felt strongly about, what they wanted to know about, what they were confused about.
You’ve published over 2000 quotes from women on all kinds of topics – affairs, toxic relationships, aging, tattoos, to name a few. How hard was it choosing the quotes? What kind of secrets did women divulge?
We got the quotes down to about half of what’s in the book now but then it broke my heart because women were telling me about babies they lost, the grief they’d been through, or the verbal and physical abuse from partners and how they got the strength to leave. That’s why I wanted to say in the introduction that I actually read every word and everyone who’d contributed had helped make the book what it was now. I had women tell me things like they’d slept next to a man for 12 years without having sex – or that they’d been having an affair for 26 years. Everyone’s an individual and there are so many assumptions that are made. Like, the fact that men always want sex and women don’t. Hundreds of women told me it was the other way around for them.
Yes, we get a fair few letters along those lines…
There are a lot of quotes on it in the book and I address it as well. If neither of you want sex, that’s fine but it’s when there’s a mismatched libido that’s a problem regardless of whether it’s the man or the women. Looking at your site, I do think it’s common. I’m actually addicted to problem pages, love them.
We’re biased of course, but they are addictive, for sure!
I find that mostly people ask things like, ‘how can I get my partner to understand’ /’how can I get my sister to act this way…’ What they’re really asking is ‘how can I change someone else’. And you can’t. Look at that Q&A on your site where the woman says the guy she likes is calling her ‘dude’ – that’s hilarious and yes it would be very disconcerting but we kind of don’t know whether that guy’s just a bit clueless, he might be a bit nervous and adore her. But to almost every letter that I got and that you guys get you almost want to say, ‘Can’t you talk to the person about this?’ If I was answering her letter I would say, ‘Just say to him, ‘you know when you call me dude it makes me feel like one of the boys – is that how it is?’ But people find it really hard to communicate that.
Do you like the research part of writing a book like this?
I love the writing part more than anything – to me, that’s entertaining and fun. I loved going off on a riff about how ridiculous having a vajacial is, how awful genital cosmetic surgery is or making women feel like they have to have tidy bits. Or laughing over butthole bleaching. The physical health stuff was pretty straight forward to research – the symptoms of problem periods or a stroke, although symptoms for women are a bit different from men so it’s always worth looking a bit more deeply. But, there were areas in the book where there wasn’t much of template – like the heartbreak section or the checklist of deciding when to get pregnant. And for dating and escaping an abusive relationship – that took a lot of listening to what women were saying, thinking about it and then going to see what information there was and in some cases having to construct it myself.
It’s great to read a health book / guide for life that really does ‘cut the crap’.
One of the strongest philosophies in the book is to look at what information women are being given. Are we being given information because someone’s got a commercial interest? Because they’re advertising a device or a product or their website or their theory – where’s the independent information that we all need? I found as many independent experts as I could. The only one I had trouble with was for the chapter on cosmetic ingredients. I could not find a cosmetic chemist who knew about cosmetic ingredients but wasn’t employed by the industry, that would help me. Because in that field it’s pretty much ALL claims and it’s pretty much ALL connected to a money-making venture. And that was really interesting. So that was, in a way, the chapter I did the most double-checking on.
It’s not a read-from-cover-to-cover book, is it?
Oh if you read it from cover to cover your head would explode! Those things on mental health and physical health and getting more sleep or going back to study or changing your life – those are the dip-in chapters. Your sister in law has a gambling problem or you find a lump in your breast or you’ve been at home with a bub for a while and now you want to get back into the workforce; you go and look it up. But I think the confidence chapter which for me is the cornerstone of the book – it starts the book – that that underpins everything; if you can get more confident everything in your life is easier. So those chapters on confidence and body image and appearance and aging appearance are universal experiences for women and they’re up the front of the book.
Do your mates think you’re the go-to girl for health advice?
No. I’m more likely to be ringing them! I do have friends ringing me saying, ‘I’ve just found out my 14yo is having sex’ and I’ll say, ‘give her this chapter of Girl’s Stuff to read’. That’s what I love about Women’s Stuff. I’m going to be looking it up! I know, thank god, I’ve got a book that’s going to be useful for me going forward. When I did Up The Duff I’d already had a baby, when I wrote Kid Wrangling my kid was already a toddler – but Women’s Stuff is for me as well. I didn’t write the book because I know everything, I wrote it because I didn’t know anything, and I had to find it out!
Has it changed your own health routine?
More than any other book, this has changed me. Even just really mundane things – I found out I was vitamin D deficient and I went and got checked. My vitamin D level was ludicrously low. And I certainly do feel more realistic about what I look like.
Are you going to do a men’s health book next?
Oh god no. They’d never read it anyway!