Hormonal Health: Period Tracking Apps, Wellness, and Self-Management in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism


Period tracking is an increasingly widespread practice, and its emphasis is changing from monitoring fertility to encompassing a more broad-based picture of users’ health. Delving into the data of one’s menstrual cycle, and the hormones that are presumed to be intimately linked with it, is a practice that is reshaping ideas about health and wellness, while also shaping subjects and subjectivities that succeed under conditions of surveillance capitalism. Through close examination of six extended interviews, this article elaborates a version of period tracking that sidesteps fertility and, in doing so, participates in the “queering” of menstrual technologies. Apps can facilitate the integration of institutional medical expertise and quotidian embodied experience within a broader approach to the self as a management project. We introduce the concept of “hormonal health” to describe a way of caring for, and knowing about, bodies, one that weaves together mental and physical health, correlates subjective and objective information, and calls into question the boundary between illness and wellness. For those we spoke with, menstrual cycles are understood to affect selfhood across any simplistic body-mind division or reproductive imperative, engendering complex techniques of self-management, including monitoring, hypothesizing, intervening in medical appointments, adjusting schedules, and interpreting social interactions. Such techniques empower their proponents, but not within conditions of their choosing. In addition to problems with data privacy and profit, these techniques perpetuate individualized solutions and the internalization of pressures in a gender-stratified, neoliberal context, facilitating success within flawed structures.

Author Biographies

Andrea Ford, University of Edinburgh

Andrea Ford is a cultural and medical anthropologist and research fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh.

Giulia de Togni, University of Edinburgh

Giulia De Togni is an anthropologist specializing in Japanese Studies and Science and Technology Studies (STS), and a research fellow at the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society at the University of Edinburgh.

Livia Miller, University of Chicago

Livia Miller studies Visual Art and Anthropology at the University of Chicago, focusing on technology and embodiment.

05 Oct 2021
Original Research Articles