There must be something wrong with me. I don’t go squeamish when I hear the word ‘vagina’. Or any of the other anatomical references to female genitalia (vulva, labia, clitoris etc etc). Nor do I feel in any way shocked or offended when the words penis, testes or glans fall into a conversation (in context). But apparently I am an exception.
I’ve just spent a bit of time reading about a new coffee table book entitled Vagina 101, containing 216 pages of black and white photographs of vaginas with stories to accompany them. Yep, you heard me right. Coffee table book. (More thoughts on that later).
Perhaps it was the intensive psycho-self-examination I subjected myself to in my twenties, but I’m pretty comfortable with my body and, in particular, my lovely lady-bits. I have my frumpy days, same as everyone else, but for the most part I’m at peace with my lumps, bumps and pussy. Yet looking at why this book came about, and at its contents, comfort appears to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to how women (and men) feel about the good old vajayjay.
The book is all about breaking down taboos and stigma attached to that wellspring of pleasure, the female genitalia. It’s an ambitious and creative project, at its heart well intentioned, interesting and probably very challenging to many [see a sample here]. But I do wonder if it’s achieving what it has set out to do, because who, other than the women appearing in it, will buy it? I’ll tell you who - the converted.
I’m no prude and I’m a strong advocate of women claiming their bodies back from the cultures that still try to own and control them, but I’m not 100% sure that I want a shiny, hardcover, gorgeous looking book full of other women’s vaginas sitting on my coffee table to prove it. Aside from the fact that I’d be answering some serious questions from the parents of every child who visited, I’m not that keen on gazing over a bunch of labias while watching TV or listening to some smooth vinyl on my stereo.
To be honest, I’d love to own a copy of this book and may well buy it sometime in the future. It represents everything I believe in when it comes to women’s bodies: honesty, acceptance, openness. I might even consider its companion volume being put together as we speak, Penis101 (okay, maybe not). But if I owned a copy I wouldn’t have it on public display. I have enough emotional intelligence to know it will offend some of the people I know, and if I offend them at the outset I’ve already lost them in the conversation. They will be judging me instead of listening to me, and their ear is of more use in helping them see things differently than their shock.
I absolutely applaud the women who participated in Vagina 101 project. I can imagine the experience was validating and hopefully empowering for them. And, for their sake, and the sake of the very brave photographer who created it, I hope it goes some way to achieving its aims.
[As a point of interest on the ‘coffee-table-display-and-children’ issue, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with my daughter seeing the pictures. They’re only bodies and nothing she hasn’t already seen in the pool change rooms many times before. I’d draw the line at the text, however, because I don’t believe children need to be exposed to complex adult reflections on their own bodies. The poor little buggers have enough to deal with just growing up.]
Would you have Vagina 101 on your coffee table?
More articles on Vagina 101 project and vaginas at large: