The Embrace

 

Some years ago I came across a seminal video clip that was going gangbusters on social media. I think my cousin, Kylie in Australia posted it. It was made by Taryn Brumfitt. I remember most the way she looked at herself in the mirror. The things she said out loud that sounded like the script I’d had swirling around my own head about my body.  She was talking about the shocking way we look at ourselves as women, and why that has to change. As I watched her clip, the tears began to run down my cheeks. I felt that old familiar despair about my body. I felt shame. That tired dirge within my heart, a deep disappointment weighing down my soul. It had to change.  I added Taryn’s clip to the arsenal of information I had begun to gather around my fledgling body positivity. I’ve thought a lot about this body of mine since then, all the things it has endured. I thought about how truly wonderful it is to be here, in it. This vessel deserves thanks. Not deprecation.  I hugged myself in a long, forgiving, kind-hearted embrace. It was the beginning of this new phase in my life, the start of something brand new. Liking myself exactly as I am (how sad that liking ourselves is almost revolutionary). It’s been liberating!
Thanks Taryn for your part in this shift for me!

 

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A little drawing from my sketchbook of me, embracing myself.

 

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Taryn Brumfitt’s viral social media post.

 

Taryn has since made a full length documentary, EMBRACE, exploring the potent body-ideal saturation of our media and the various ways that affects self image. She discusses the powerful, soul destroying ways we fight the unattainable fight and why we do. Sharing perspectives from a cosmetic surgeon, an anorexic girl, a plus size model, photographers, campaigners, educators, an actor, a public figure, and the general public. The themes and message in her documentary are world-changing.  I urge you to find a screening near you. I hope it will be available soon on DVD. It’s incredible. Last night, I took my daughter and my Aunty to see that documentary. It was a special screening hosted by Meagan Kerr and Monique Doy.  At the end of it, my eleven year old girl hugged me and said “Mummy, everybody needs to see this”.  She’s smart, my girl. She’s right.

 

The documentary was hit by controversy when it was first screened here for the Film Festival. Due to the images of female genitals during one part of the film, it was considered to be sexually graphic and had to be reviewed by the censorship board. The purpose of showing those private parts, was to address a very real problem for young women; asking crucial questions about the rise of labiaplasty among young women. Labiaplasty is surgery to removed the inner labia and create a more ‘streamlined downstairs’ sometimes known as the ‘designer vagina’. Women, especially young women, are clamouring for this surgery because their vulvas don’t look like the ones in pornography. They may not know this is the standard to which they are altering their bodies, but pornography and soft-porn magazines are often the only place women see other women’s vaginas. The proliferation of porn across our internet means young people encounter multiple images of one particular type of vagina (to be technically correct, vulvas). The type fashionable in the porn industry. Waxed or shaven, minimal labial folds. A vagina more stylistically akin to that of a pre-pubescent girl. It’s a sick world, and we wonder why?  Taryn shows a  range of female genitalia to shine a light on the fact we are meant to be unique. In showing realistic, post-puberty vulvas she valiantly attempts damage control. Thankfully, our censorship board watched the film and approved it’s screening. I actually dearly wish that we could make it compulsory in all schools, for girls and boys. But there are some themes that are significant triggers for our youth and it needs to be approached with care.  NB. Suicide, self harm, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery.

 

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Photographer B Jeffrey Madoff

My favourite part of the doco was when Taryn was shooting a special diversity project with New York photographer Bernie Madoff. I’ve been involved with a few diversity shoots, bringing up the rear (pun intended) and representing women over 40 and over size 18. I adore shoots with other women where encouragement and acceptance are part of the scene. It’s a rare thing in this world, for women to accept and encourage other women, just as they are, for being who they are, not just what they look like. It’s intoxicating. It’s a force I want to see more of in this world. Not just for me, but for the generations coming through. Empowered women empower women and when they do, happiness… wholeness, happens.  I’ve been involved in education, the disability sector, and now the plus size fashion world. Advocacy seems to be part of my purpose. But I can’t help wondering if all of the disparate sectors of my life, of my society, are together the thing that lights my fire. Diversity.

 

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Shoot for Euphoria Design’s “Confidence is Beautiful” campaign. 2016.

I want to see more fully grown women fronting women’s fashion brands and having a stronger presence in the media. Women of various ages, various stages, body types, abilities, ethnicities, backgrounds and gender histories. I want the fashion world to give us all credit for wanting more than the one type of ‘woman’ (girl) we see everywhere. I want more representation, not just because I love modelling and I am not a typical model, but because it matters for our young ones coming up. It matters for them to see that women are diverse. It matters for them to see that they have a place.  Here, with us. The women of the village. If we don’t show them they have value, that their image is beautiful, how will they ever embrace the realities of growing upward, outward, and older?

 

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Shoot for Autograph Curvy Model Search. 2015.

 

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Backyard shoot for Sera Lilly jeans. 2015.

Taryn Brumfitt makes room for us all with this documentary. With her wonderful fun loving sparky approach, she elbows the status quo out of the way and asks finally, and loudly, REALLY?  Is this what we want for our gender moving forward?  She calls us to wake up and begin the revolution in our own mirrors. She’s a rockstar, and I wholeheartedly embrace her movement.

#Ihaveembraced #TheBodyPositiveMovement

 

Pretty Little Pink Thing

Girly Post alert.  This one is all about female anatomy and my feminist sensitivities, so if you don’t want to read on, please don’t!

Ah, I don’t know quite why, but I’ve been a bit tearful lately.  Probably my hormones (the Bobby D calls them my ‘moans’… can’t think why).  And today I had an encounter that had the tears springing up fresh. Silly, because I’m a tough ol’ bird. I guess there are some things that make you feel a bit sensitive.  Criticism about any aspect of my girly bits makes me a little reactionary.

I remember when I was due to have my first baby, the Obstetrician had some concerns about my cervix.  It was covered in scar tissue.  She was worried it would be problematic when the cervix had to efface.  It took more than thirty hours from induction.  And I delivered a beautiful little Bee, followed three years later by a whopping fella, Zed.  Then, a few years ago, I had a significant gynaecological surgery.  See, a couple more years of bowel and bladder dysfunction had damaged the walls of my vagina, front and back. I still feel aggrieved that I managed to get my vagina through two pregnancies and a very large second baby, intact, only to have the muscle walls breached by a retentive bladder and overloaded secum.  Unfair, she cried!

Anyhoo, during the surgery, the rectocele and the cystocele were repaired.  My “telescoping uterus” (I imagine her as a fearless buccaneer scanning the horizon) got hitched up and stitched to my spine. A further surgery was necessary two months later, when my post-operative pain hadn’t gone away.  I had exposed nerves in the granular scar tissue caused by the initial surgery and nerve pain from the hitch-and-stitch.  It was climb-the-walls painful.  I had steroids injected directly into the site and settled in to what would be my new normal.  As time went on, the pain crept back.  Eventually, my pelvis just always ached.  I didn’t even consider that strange.  But more intense nerve pain would break through the ache and travel down my legs, burning and stabbing as it went, making walking increasingly difficult. Strangely, I didn’t even relate this pain to the earlier surgeries.  I worried that my gait issues and pain problems were signs of a neuromuscular development in my diagnosis.

Getting high dose steroids this year to suppress my immune system had an unexpected side effect.  The anti-inflammatory benefits of the steroids knocked out my pelvic pain.  I was walking normally within days.  I’ve only had to use the cane a few times since the steroid treatment began, it’s been amazing.  And finally, without all that pain down there, I’ve caught up on my overdue smear.

My GP is a really lovely woman,  and normally I love her straight talking manner.  She has this new smear taking device with a built in light.  Vastly different from the old metal cranking devices.  Ow.  But the new-fangled thingamajig was great.  And she clearly got a good view.

“Oh!  A few nabothian cysts up there!  Nothing to worry about… gosh, your cervix is not exactly a pretty little pink thing is it?”
“Probably not,” I said “…she’s been through a fair bit, I reckon.”

Why is there even such a thing as a

As I walked home, freely swinging my legs in their hip sockets, those words echoed over and over in my head.  The tears sprang up. So I laid my hand on my tummy and had a wee word of encouragement to that old girl stitched up to my spine.  You might not be a pretty little pink thing, dear Uterus, but you have done great work in your time. You cradled my two babies all the way to term, you get assaulted every month by the injustices of menstruation and still you rally.  You have been tied to my backbone and still you carry on. In my book, that makes you a thing of wonder, strength and resilience.  You are beautiful, just as you are.  Battle scarred, pock marked and cysty.  You’ve been doing the hard yards and I salute you.

I might be feeling just a tad defensive of my girly bits.

Hmmm.  Why is there even such a thing as a ‘pretty’ cervix, for crying out loud?
Enough, already.

Warning: This post may not be your cup of tea.

 

 

https://www.facebook.com/VintageHeavenAtNo7
SOURCE: https://www.facebook.com/VintageHeavenAtNo7 (used with permission)

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.

 

LABIAPLASTY: Hungry Beast, ABC1 from Ali Russell on Vimeo.