The word ‘vagina’ has been bandied around our house a lot lately. In my journey towards liberation (in all aspects of my life) the examination of my sexuality, represented by that part of my anatomy has come to the forefront of our discussions. And because my poor vagina has been ignored for most of my life (up until 3 months ago), I decided to ‘swing the other way’ so to speak and dedicate a good portion of my time investigating, researching and examining the issues surrounding it. But I deliberately confront my squeamishness around my most uncomfortable topics in public and for this one I decided to build an entire website on it.
It’s bravely named ‘The Vagina Times' (my thoughts on the tagline… These are the times of our vagina? Your daily dose of vagina? In the end I plumped instead for a humorous angle and an all encompassing vision statement ’Eradicating Shame, Educating Women, Embracing Sexuality’). Specific purpose, specific target market (note, as of 2014 this site is now offline...too many sites, too little time ).
In setting this website up, I have learned a lot of important lessons about myself and about my friends.
One of my most trusted colleagues and advisors was so horrified by the thought that he couldn’t bring himself even to say the words. He named it the VT and titters nervously about the concept. He told me today that he never looks at it (the site that is; as he has a wife and two kids, hopefully he looks at Vagina in real life). He is part of a far larger society who would choose to ignore that part of the body, ban my site or relegate it to ‘porn’ – dirty, shameful and/or simply disgusting. He and I made the joint decision that I would buy my own web hosting so that his other websites would not be ‘tarred by the same brush’ so to speak.
I have and am still struggling to extract myself from this mindset – in my old world you do not talk about it (unless it is to mock), you do not think about it (unless it is to check it medically) and you certainly do not look at it (luckily it’s rather tucked away – inaccessible unless you are a yoga goddess or have a handheld mirror handy).
God forbid you should ‘like’ a page on Facebook called ‘The Vagina Times’…it would indicate you were a nympho, deranged or a complete pervert. And probably stop you getting a job. Even some of my most liberal friends have not ‘liked’ the page because ‘my inlaws are on facebook’ or ‘my mother would disown me.’ Yes. The reactions are that strong.
But if you’d have told me 3 months ago that I would be in tears because of the information I am uncovering about how much we hate our bodies and how enormously difficult girls and women find it to even acknowledge this part of their bodies, I would have laughed and made some inappropriate fish and/or fanny joke.
Nevertheless, this is what has happened. Partly, I must admit because whilst I can cope with my own hatred for my body, it would break my heart if my daughter was to feel the way I feel about myself. She is amazing. Beautiful. And the thought that she might – as I have uncovered in my investigations – choose to undergo excruciatingly painful surgery, to mutilate herself to try and achieve an impossible ideal, is something that breaks my heart.
I am finding and publicising information about sexist ignorance and cruel beliefs in areas of the world like the UK/US which are considered ‘enlightened’. And I haven’t even started on other cultures yet, but I feel that if possible it will be even more horrific; I must prepare myself to face it.
Women like me, or at least women like I was, believe that the vagina is the ugliest thing in the world. Or perhaps not in the world because honestly, we can’t even dwell on the subject long enough to consider comparisons (why would you want to think about something that makes you shudder?).
Our association with it is shameful. It’s bad enough that we have one and there is no way it can be ‘dressed up’ to be prim, ladylike or pretty (unless you have photoshop).
‘What is your ideal vagina?’ I asked my boyfriend
‘Well, I love them all. But I like to have something to play with I think.’ he said.
‘But if you love them all’ I said, ‘ how can I expect you to be objective when you come across an ugly one?’
This is the thing. We are schooled in comparison. In competition. For female bodies there is a standard of beauty. Certainly for the face. Perhaps less so for the body (preference and taste counts for a lot). But is there such a thing as an ideal vagina? If there is a beautiful vagina, there must be an ugly vagina right? And it is clear that this ‘judgement’ of beautiful and ugly is what a major part of what is responsible for our self hatred.
The vaginas we see in public are pornographic and photoshopped. They are not real. in creating The Vagina Times, I've finally found what is real.
If you have ever met a guy who deems some vaginas ugly and some beautiful, you can be sure that this man has not only been fed a diet of porn at some point in his upbringing, but has also absorbed those influences about an unrealistic norm and uses them as a basis for comparison. It’s not his fault that he has been subjected to these influences, but it is his fault if he continues to be guided by them.
Because if you meet a healthy red-blooded person who is sexually inclined towards women and ask him or her the question about what he or she thinks, they are most likely to say
‘I’ve never met one I don’t like.’
So it is that now, I am surfing Amazon to invest in a handheld mirror; something beautiful and special to reflect something which in time I hope I will come to regard as beautiful and special. And when my mirror arrives, I hope after 37 years I will finally be ready to meet it.
The Vagina Voyage
I've been on quite a journey to try and love my vagina. Many of the people I grew up with are appalled. Others I've got to know, love me for trying to love myself. And I think that's quite a beautiful thing.