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I Had My Vulva Cast and You Should Too
One Brighton-based artist is on a mission to combat vulva-shaming
In this digital age, there’s no shortage of messages telling those with vaginas that there’s something wrong with theirs. Whether it’s the wrong shape, size or smell, you can bet a company has a product for it, and there’s a ton of outlets behind them pushing those products. From deodorants and sheet masks to even an illuminator, the vulva (the external part of the vagina) has become an easy target. Despite the fact this part of the body comes in a range of shapes and sizes, the message that a ‘perfect’ vulva is something that exists is still alive and kicking today. The lack of body diversity and representation in the media paired with a lack of education is what has allowed, and continues to allow, this ignorant misconception to thrive.
With this part of the body – and any positive discussions surrounding it – still considered quite taboo, and with one particular body type grossly over-represented, many of us grow up feeling quietly ashamed and insecure about our vulvas. For me, it was a part of my body that simultaneously fascinated and terrified me. I didn’t really think much about what my relationship was like with my vulva; I was too preoccupied by the sudden stretch marks on my thighs or my seemingly large areolas. It wasn’t until I became sexually active that I developed a negative relationship with this part of my body. All it took was an off-the-cuff-remark about how my labia looked post-sex to unearth a wealth of insecurity and embarrassment. The way parts hang, the colour of certain areas, hair in places I didn’t even know it could grow. There was suddenly so much to hate about my body all at once.
Navigating sex with this new found shame proved difficult, as although I enjoyed the act itself, I hated the thought of potential partners seeing me naked. As a result, a lot of my early sexual encounters were accompanied by shaving (and accidentally cutting) my labia, turning lights off and obsessively running to the bathroom to take one last look at my vulva to deem it presentable before undressing.
Every time I came remotely close to getting over this irrational fear, I’d find myself exposed to negative talk of the vulva. And each time, I was instantly pulled right back to that moment where somebody I was intimate with made a careless remark about my body. This insecurity stayed with me for years and I’m definitely not alone; doctors have reported a rise in young people seeking labiaplasty – a plastic surgery procedure to shorten the labia. Although there is typically no medical reason why somebody would need to alter the folds of skin surrounding the vulva, there’s actually not many voices out there telling us otherwise. At the age of 27, my relationship with my vulva has simply gone from ‘I hate it’ to ‘it just exists’, and I truly believe this is because I haven’t been encouraged to celebrate this part of my body.
Enter Brighton-based artist, Lydia Reeves, who is on a mission to combat vulva-shaming and encourage people to celebrate their bodies once and for all. Working across a range of media and stocking a variety of taboo-smashing products from nipple brooches to tampon keyrings in her Etsy store, her latest project focuses on body diversity and vulva awareness. She has been using body casting in her art practice on and off for a long time (and has cast several body parts on people of all genders), but recently decided to focus solely on casting vulvas. She says; “I grew up feeling hugely insecure and anxious about my vulva, and only through following sex positive Instagram pages I realised just how many others had grown up feeling the same. I wanted to create something that highlights the beauty in the diverse variety of vulvas there are”.
When I came across Lydia’s call for volunteers, something just ignited in me. An opportunity had presented itself for me to finally foster a positive relationship with my vulva. It’s taken me years to get to a place of reluctant acceptance and I’ve decided that’s simply not good enough! After a conversation over Instagram DMs, the next thing I knew, I was taking my specially trimmed bush (apparently hair of 1cm max works best for the casting process) along the coast on a Saturday morning.
Although I am mostly comfortable with my body, the prospect of showing my genitals to somebody who is not a sexual partner or a doctor was quite daunting. I felt quite nervous on the train, but fortunately my worry instantly melted away once I met Lydia at her gorgeous studio. With floral penises and multi-coloured boobs hanging on the wall, her studio is almost like a shrine to the body.
There was something really intimate about the whole process. Whilst Lydia worked her magic we spoke at length about the taboo that surrounds this part of the body as well as our personal experiences with body-shaming, I certainly opened up in more ways than one! By the end I felt really empowered and like I had taken an important step for my own self-esteem. When the finished product arrived, it’s safe to say this feeling only grew! I am absolutely obsessed with my rose gold vulva, which proudly sits on my bookcase now on show.
My vulva was the 25th one Lydia had cast and when she reaches 100, they will be displayed in a gallery along with each participants’ words in hopes it will encourage people to change the way we view and talk about vulvas: “I hope that displaying a brief summary of each individual’s relationship with their vulva alongside their cast will allow viewers to feel less alone in their feelings they may still have towards their vulva”.
Getting a part of my body cast that I was ambivalent at best has awakened something in me; now something I disliked about my body is a literal piece of art.