A viral advert, Viva La Vulva, has been doing the rounds over the last couple of months. The ad, concerning celebrating women's nether regions, is directed by Kim Gehrig and promotes Bodyform products. A three-minute journey through an array of gloriously yonic imagery, it's a fun, uplifting reminder to take a minute to appreciate the female form.
It's another instalment in the current marketing trend that subverts the thoroughly policed, hyper-manicured images of cisgender women that we are normally forcefed by the media. This movement, broadly termed “body positivity”, is undeniably A Good Thing. But there is something missing, too: if you look closely, so many of the images that allegedly empower women to celebrate their “different” or “natural” bodies remain suspiciously, well, attractive.
Embrace your vagina, but make sure to wash it with special products.
I’ve got nothing against keeping yourself clean, but the message for some “feminine hygiene” products is slightly troubling; yet another thing telling women that their natural form is somehow dirty. It's almost as though you are only allowed to have one thing “wrong” with you at a time. Curves are in, they say, but only if your make-up took hours. Body hair is great these days, too, but preferably on the body of a catwalk model. Even the more diverse and positive imagery of female bodies we’re finally seeing around us still seems to put women's bodies under the unfaltering, appraising (and typically male) gaze demanding that women should be desirable, even edible, at all times.
If we can admit that we are all pretty gross – though not all of us have pooed in the sink – maybe we can relax a little
This was one of the reasons thatI set out to document what women really did with their bodies when no one was watching by soliciting anonymous stories by women about their bodily secrets and illustrating them in a book. And you would be amazed at what came out.
It all started a few years ago, when I overheard two women talking about a female friend who had drunkenly, ahem, defecated in the sink. “Eww, gross,” said one, “she's not a girl if she did that. She may have a vagina, but she's not a girl.” I thought that was pretty funny, and I wondered how many things I had done that would make me “not a girl” in their eyes. And what about my friends? Heading home, on the train I doodled a girl pooing in the sink.
This sparked an idea: I’d set up a Facebook group to find out what “unladylike" things everyone had done, intending to make a small book out of the stories. It wasn’t just nosiness. The conversation I’d overheard had been a stark illustration of how rigid and arbitrary our definitions of femininity can be, even – or, especially – those from other women. The rules about what women should be, handed to us from this old patriarchy, are so deep-rooted that they are now upheld by all genders, often unconsciously. It oppresses all of us, and if we can admit that we are all pretty gross – though not all of us have pooed in the sink – maybe we can relax a little.
By the time I got off the train, I’d made the group and then I waited. I hoped I’d get at least 12 responses. At first the response to the group was tentative, but people began bravely admitting secrets – and soon the response turned into a huge outpouring.