Tag Archives: vulvas

The Infinite Variety of the Human Vulva

clothed upper body picture of trans man participant in vulva project

Laurie and Debbie say:

Lydia Reeves’  “teenage years were shadowed by a secret fear that there was something wrong with her vulva. But thanks to art, honest conversations and her trust in her mum, she’s been able to turn her deepest shame into her life’s work.” Reeves has made casts of over 200 vulvas, including the one of Vic Joubert, the trans man pictured above. Working with feminine products maker Callaly, she’s on a mission to help people with vulvas understand, first, the difference between a vulva and a vagina, and second, the vast variety and beauty of vulvas across a human spectrum.

cast vulva of person with vulvodynia

It’s important work. You can tell from the comments from people whose vulvas are part of the project that these casts really matter to people. One participant, Cat, says:

Just know that it will get easier. It’s OK if the first time – or the tenth time – you look at yourself, you feel a bit strange. It’s just about patience. It’s been a journey of ten years for me – that’s quite a long time.

We wish that Reeves had situated herself in a more historical context–and perhaps she has, but the web page doesn’t mention it. We can’t look at this work without thinking of artist Tee Corinne’s groundbreaking Cunt Coloring Book, available today, 46 years after its first publication. Corinne’s work took place in a context where women all over the world were holding consciousness raising groups, often including taking off our clothes and looking at our own and each others’ vulvas.

four cunt coloring book images

Reeves is working in a context simultaneously more public and more private: mainstream pornography has become completely ubiquitous and available, so images of shaved and sanitized vulvas are everywhere, but women getting together to look at each other’s bodies is a quaint and peculiar thing of the past. Selfies are completely standard, but the social media sites where selfies abound are also sites of censorship–neither Reeves’ work nor Corinne’s is likely to escape removal on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Where a person coming of age in the 1970s was likely never to have seen a vulva not their own and not one of their lovers, a person coming of age today is more likely to have seen many, all the same.

Also, today labiaplasty (plastic surgery to make a vulva more ordinary and less individual) is common, which means there’s a financial incentive to make people hate their vulvas enough to go through expensive, painful, and sometimes dangerous procedures in search of uniformity.

colored image from cunt coloring book, pearl colors on a blue-gray background

Penises, of course, have been core subjects of comparison for centuries, as have breasts. Vulvas and vaginas came late to this scrutiny, and yet the phenomenon is eerily similar. Everything is framed as a contest: either we have “perfect” sexual organs (to go with our “perfect” bodies) or we have to contend with self-criticism, which can easily trend into self-hatred. The crazy cult of sameness dominates. Here’s Steph, from Lydia Reeves’ project:

We should start talking about vulvas before we reach the age where we can access content online, to stop people feeling alone or like their vulva isn’t normal.

I’d look at my vulva and go through those uncomfortable emotions, touch myself and tell myself that there was nothing to be ashamed of. With time, I started to mean it.

plaster cast of vulva in deep blue

We only wish that Tee Corinne’s work had closed the book on this subject forever, but since it didn’t, Lydia Reeves is doing her own valuable work. The web page contains good medical information about conditions of the vulva, along with individual stories and the pictures of the castings–and ends with Callaly’s pledge to increase vulva awareness in three sensible steps.

Without much reason to expect it, we continue to hope for the day when none of this work is important because everyone loves and appreciates their own penis, their own breasts, their own vulva — hell, their own feet and ears.


Thanks to Mona Eltahawy’s newsletter, Feminist Giant, for the pointer.

Follow Debbie on Twitter.

Follow Laurie’s new Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.


Variety Is the Spice of Labia

Debbie says:

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in to Scarleteen, the fabulous “sex education for the real world” website, so it’s no surprise that the first article on their front page today is (as Laurie would say) inutterably fabulous. (The article is unsigned, so may or may not be written by Heather Corinna, the owner and operator of the site.)

If we had to make a list of the top five questions we’ve gotten at the site over the last few years, “What’s wrong with my labia?” would come right on the heels of “Am I pregnant?” “What’s sex like?” and “Is it okay for me to have sex/masturbate?” and sit just in front of “Is my penis too small?” Whether more women are just asking about it than before, or concerns are growing, we’ve been seeing more and more — often unfounded — worries about labia as the years have gone by.

As the folks at Scarleteen well know, these worries are clearly fueled by the plastic surgery industry, making as much money as it can by defining one coochie look that trumps all others.

We’ve done a couple blog-a-thons on it in years past. We’ve answered questions like this tirelessly for years. We’ve talked about it in other pieces, we’ve suggested visiting gynecologists to have an expert assure women they’re normal. We’ve directed women to some links or book with labial imagery. We’ve worn t-shirts which proclaim “I Love Labia!” while shaking peach, violet, brown and pink pom-poms on the White House lawn (okay, so we haven’t but if someone sent me the supplies, I would in a heartbeat), but for the love of Pete, the labia-freakouts keep sticking around. Whatever it is that keeps churning labia worries out these days is doing it like bunnies.

Maybe we’re just shouting into the void and some folks are just going to stay convinced their bodies are abnormal or unacceptable no matter what we say; no matter what logic and realistic information we put out there. I sure hope not: women deserve to feel good about and accept our bodies, including our genitals. Buoyed by that optimism — and figuring you can never have too much of a good thing — and just that freaking devoted to you accepting yourselves, goshdarnit, I’m giving it all another go.

The article is full of excellent facts for any female-type person in your life who might have these concerns. It also contains a link to Betty Dodson’s vulva illustrations on the Scarleteen site. Just to give you a little sense of variety, here’s one of the several sets at the link (not safe for work if your work is opposed to human anatomy on principle:

four Betty Dodson line drawings of vulvas

Of course, another excellent source of pictures is Tee Corinne‘s classic Cunt Coloring Book.

Think about it this way: we can see how short or tall someone is pretty easily, and many people still wish they were taller or shorter, but we all accept the height we are knowing there’s not jack we can do about it. If someone started saying we really COULD be too tall or too short, gave a lot of lip service to how much better we’d feel if we were only the “right” height, and advertised surgeries we could have (and or creams or pills), to change our height, can you see how easily we might move from a grass-is-always-greener mentality to a holy-crap-I-gotta-get-this-awful-height-fixed-NOW mentality? Since gender and sexual identity is all tied up in ideas about genitals in ways they’re not so linked with ideas about height, the issue is even more loaded.

As always, Body Impolitic stands for maintaining and appreciating human variety. I don’t have anything to add; I just loved this article, and thought you might as well.