This post uses accurate words to describe body parts. If you don’t wish to read about the private parts of a woman’s body, please look away, click on over to somewhere else. I fully understand. Not everyone feels like it is a topic for discussing in a public forum. I do, because I care about women, about the alarming increase in real-body-loathing. And I am a mum of a girl, so I care about what is happening to our perception of women in all facets of the media.
I’m writing about bodies. Girl bodies. Women bodies. They are strange things. There are wobbly bits and wrinkly bits and saggy baggy hairy bits. We all have little oddities about our bodies that make us uncomfortable. Aspects we wish we could improve, or align with our idea of ‘normal’. The idea of what is ‘normal’ starts when we are very small. Maybe our Mum’s are a bit paranoid about some aspect of their appearance. They survey themselves in the mirror.
Just as you exclaim, breathily “you’re so beautiful…!” she says
“I look AWFUL! Look at my big bum/ tummy/ long neck/ stumpy legs”. She is frowning at what she sees in the mirror. And you realise then that any, all of those things must be bad, not normal, sub-optimal.
You get to school and there are ‘right’ ways to do your hair, scrunch your socks and even ways to walk and stand. You know that these are the ways to look because that’s how the coolest girl looks. Everyone likes her so much, so you try to look like her. Then one day someone passes you that teen girl magazine. The faces are all so beautiful. Their skin is so dewy and pore free. There are no pimples. Their clothes look brand new, there is no dust on their shoes. Their teeth are white and their eyelashes inhumanly long. Like their legs and arms. They don’t grow any body hair. You sigh with a feeling of admiration and despair. Somehow, the bar has been raised even higher and you don’t know if you can reach that kind of perfection. But you know you want to.
Then you are at University. It’s a time of discovery. Relationships. You discover all the ways your body works to deliver an adult kind of fun. There is an awkwardness to your first naked encounter. Your partner is kind and lovely, but clueless. He surveys your nudity and notices the things that make you different. By now, being different is something that you know is bad. Like big bums, hormonal skin, body hair, and cellulite. But he’s talking about a part of you that can’t be changed by diet, or makeup, or waxing or careful clothing choice. Your most private parts are different. You sink far into yourself, deeply ashamed. You are different.
You visit some friends in their flat. They’re so cool. She’s so happy with herself, so confident, that she is even fine with her boyfriend having a stash of porn on the coffee table. You wish you felt that confident. You pick up one of the mags. The title is the plural of the ‘c’ word. It’s like a catalog of close-up vaginas. You are shocked, but incredibly curious, because you know you are different down there. You’ve been told that. And here are hundreds of vaginas to look at, you flick open the cover…
What is normal?
Most women don’t know. We don’t sit around and compare our privates. If you are part of my generation you probably never saw your Mum naked. The diagrams on tampon boxes aren’t even helpful, a few discreet lines to indicate the (ahem) possibility of labia. The only graphic images we see, if at all, will be courtesy of porn. Deliberately or inadvertently, the vaginas we, and our partners, will compare our private parts to have been aesthetically modified for the porn market. That horrifies me. Some vaginas do look like that, but they are not the only way a vagina is.
For a start. They are bald. I have had the privilege of seeing some vintage seventies porn. Those vaginas are not bald, or even trimmed. The males are not viagara’d, but that is another issue. It seems that we have come a long way in our media portrayal of sex itself. Modern day vagina images are also photoshopped, trimmed, ‘tidied’ and tucked away. The labia are absent, the clitoris has been allowed to remain. But how far away are we from the thinking that drives genital mutilation in other cultures? And women everywhere are driven to emulate these unrealistic vaginas. Labia removal; ‘designer vagina’ surgery is on the increase. Self mutilation. Is this because we ourselves want bald beavers; baby bits? Are we not alarmed at all, that soft-porn vagina images look like little girls vaginas? Aren’t we allowing the media to teach men that ‘little girl vaginas’ are sexy? Aren’t your internal sirens blaring? Are we not connecting it in any way to pedophilia, easier not to think about that, right? We must think that the child vagina aesthetic is reasonable. Because many of us do go under the knife. Surgery is incredibly painful. Depilation is also painful, let’s not diminish that! A torturous maintenance chore. Would men commit so many dollars, forbearance and hours to taming their tackle? Would they surgically change their scrotums? I doubt it. We might think we want to be ‘normal’, but what constitutes normal needs to be based on reality, surely. Who is going to stand up in defence of the real vagina if not us? Women.
For most of my adult life I have suffered under the burden of my imperfections. If I hadn’t got sick, I’d probably still be worrying and wondering about how I could change the way my body is. I’m not the only woman who has been obsessed with this issue. ‘If I could only fix this…’ sound familiar?
Getting sick has given me a different perspective. Given, literally, because it is a gift to see it differently. A relief to put the ‘expectation’ of society into an accurate context. Whatever ‘normal’ is for society, it is no longer ‘normal’ for the human body. We have to stop the stupidity. Cosmetic surgery for non medical reasons is dangerous and un-necessary. The ‘bits’ we need to fix are in our minds. If our bodies work we are fortunate beyond measure. If we are healthy we are gifted with opportunities to use our bodies with joy. We should celebrate every fabulous wobbly and weird bit of them. Bodies are beautiful. Just the way they are.
I want a future for my daughter where her beautiful body is a comfort and a joy to her, just as it is. In all it’s human reality. Where she can stand naked in front of a mirror and breathily say “you’re so beautiful” to her own reflection. Because she is.
The following documentary excerpt was sent to me by a friend. It is why I wrote this piece. It is GRAPHIC, so if you are squeamish or uncomfortable about surgery, genitalia or discussing vaginas, please don’t press play. If, like me, you are concerned about the state of thinking in women that leads to body loathing, please watch. I’d love to know your thoughts on the issue.