Picturing Female Body Parts

25 Aug

One of the things that is unavoidable in London is the Evening Standard, a free newspaper hawked by dozens of men and women standing in tube stations.  Walk past King’s Cross, Tottenham Court Road, or Euston at any time during the day and someone is going to try to hand you a copy.  Today on the train to Cambridge I grabbed a copy so that I had something to read on the approximately hour long journey. One of the articles was a fun yet nuanced look at the popularity of art depicting vaginas.  Although I get squeamish even writing the word, I appreciated the artwork that was showcased.  A team of sisters upon discovering that the word embroidery can be used to refer to the act of genital mutilation decided to create vulvas, clitorises, etc. out of cloth and thread.  The result is beautiful and far from vulgar.  Another woman creates small necklaces that women can wear in celebration of their sexuality and their bodies.  Like a lot of young girls, I’m rather squeamish about my body.  I hate to think of anyone thinking about the fact that I have vagina, much less look at it.  Perhaps art like this will help girls get past their initial discomfort and begin to think that their bodies are beautiful.

In spite of the fact that I am so squeamish about my body, I’m slightly less so than I used to be.  As a sophomore and junior in college, I heard a lot of talk about what girl’s vaginas should like and how they should be groomed.  One of my friends, taking a sex ed class, took her book to her boyfriend one day and showed him the picture of four or five different vagina shapes.  She asked him which he thought was the most attractive and which he thought was the ugliest.  He, of course, unknowingly picked the one that she thought looked the most like hers as the ugliest.  At another event, the college sex ed counselors turned out the lights to create a safe space for us to ask whatever questions we wanted about sex.  One of the sorority girls, you could tell who people were even without the lights on, asked why men liked girls to shave their vaginas.  A boy responded that hair was gross.  Experiencing and hearing about these two encounters did nothing to increase my comfort with my own body, but that spring, the women’s studies department put on a production of the Vagina Monologues, as women’s studies departments are wont to do.  During the production, the actresses talked about discovering the beauty of their bodies, participating in self-exploration courses, and being abused during relationships.  The one that stood out me to the most was one in which a woman refused to shave her pubic hair for her husband.  Her reason was that the hair just belonged there.  Watching that particular scene made me realize that my body was the way that it was because that’s how God had created it and wanted it to be.  The hair, the parts I considered ugly, everything was by design.

Do I still have hang-ups about my body?  Yep – just ask my husband, my graduate school friends, or anyone who has talked to me for more than five minutes.  But art, especially art that is frank and beautiful, can help me, can help us, get over that.

For examples, see the original article http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/lifestyle/article-23981319-the-naming-of-parts-a-new-frankness-about-vaginas.do


4 Responses to “Picturing Female Body Parts”

  1. jks August 25, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    I blame widespread porn for the sudden male preference for pubic hair to be gone and the pressure for women to shave/wax. It didn’t use to be that way.
    I think women are more “squeamish” because it is actually difficult to see one’s own gentitalia since it is not within our view. We are definitely less familiar with what we look like.

  2. amanda5245 August 26, 2011 at 3:24 am #

    @ JKS – I think porn definitely has a lot to do disseminating images of women and influencing what individual men like, but I’m not sure it’s to blame altogether for the change in what vaginas are considered sexy. There’s a famous picture of Madonna from Playboy in which it’s quite obvious that she has shaved anything in a long while. Likewise, women aren’t shaved in early twentieth century or nineteenth century porn. Porn itself have changed to fit the new definition of sexy. That doesn’t absolve it from the fact that it has promoted and profited from selling hairless, juvenile bodies.

  3. Victor August 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    I think the hairless thing comes from whoever sets new fashion standards: the European fashion industry, fashion week, etc. I think they have managed to disfigure the human form so much that only unnatural shapes are considered attractive today. Women are supposed to be extremely slender, their bodies completely hairless, their skin orange-copper toned and their breasts stiff and completely spherical. The human form is not like that, several procedures and photoshop tricks need to be added to have such a shape.

    Eventually, this other industries (like Porn) try to mimmic that which is most appealing and marketable and which was established by a more household friendly industry like fashion.

    Women were targeted first of course, but recently, it is not rare to also see men completely shaving their bodies, and more and more people viewing body hair as unappealing or lacking of aesthetics and hygene.

    I personally don’t understand the obsession with shaving all body hair. I don’t like my wife completely shaven, I think it appears a bit strange, like a pre-pubecent body… not good.

  4. amanda5245 August 27, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    @ Victor — My husband has the same reaction to hairless female bodies. A bit too Lolita for him. I think there’s actually a range of what men are attracted to, but only certain types of bodies, as you note, are fetishized on TV.

    @ The Vulva Guy — I appreciate your sentiments. I have a few feminist friends who shave their pubic hair because they find it increases their pleasure. That said, the phrase “beautiful portal to Heaven” is personally a bit off-putting to me. It seems too much like a fetishization. Perhaps I’ve just had to deal with my period one too many times to have anything other than a practical approach to my vagina. Sure they can be fun, but they are also a source of pee, copious amounts of blood, and babies. To each their own, though. My mother has recently discovered New Age Christianity and I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear her say something similar.

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