It’s not exactly breaking news that women’s expectations of attractiveness in our culture are exaggerated and unrealistic. We are constantly exposed to images of “ideal” female bodies. Our genitalia is held to the same absurd standards.
Many women today believe that their vulva must look flawless, in large part due to the ubiquity of online pornography. It is therefore not surprising that online discussion boards are flooded with queries like “Is my vagina normal?” or “My inner labia are large — what can I do?” In fact, a lot of women feel embarrassed about their vulva. In turn, this has caused a spike in the demand for genital procedures. “Designer and custom vaginas” are more popular than ever.
All this is far from the truth. Vulvas and vaginas are as distinctive as women themselves. Anything is possible: large or tiny, chubby or lean, curly or smooth, dark or light. And they’re all gorgeous.
Team Manzuri is out to debunk some of the common myths about vaginas and vulvas and everything in the middle!
A game changer: Representation of vulva in Sex Education
So, when we recently watched Season 3 of Netflix’s blockbuster adolescent comedy Sex Education and the characters started talking about and displaying what vulvas genuinely look like, we were completely stunned.
In sex therapist Jean Milburn’s (Gillian Anderson’s) clinic, high school student Aimee Gibbs (Aimee Lou Wood) is examining a replica of a vulva and remarks, “Um, my vagina doesn’t look like this – one of my lip bits is longer than the other”. As she continues to describe the elements of the female genitalia, Jean emphasizes that they “come in all different shapes, sizes, and colours.” She then directed Aimee and viewers everywhere to a website called The Vulva Gallery that showcases the enormous range of many vulvas.
What is The Vulva Gallery?
Hilde Atalanta’s The Vulva Gallery demonstrates the true beauty and diversity of our vulvas. The artist from Amsterdam depicts vulvas in a range of sizes and forms using watercolors. Some vulvas are depicted as having pubic hair, while others do not; others are depicted as having a little amount of menstrual blood; others as carrying a trail of the tampon strings; and in some pictures, the clitoris or piercings are seen.
The concept for the illustrations came to the creator while listening to a lecture about the sharp rise in labia corrections in recent years. Hilde observed that there aren’t many individuals who talk freely about genital diversity and that portrayals of vulvas in the popular media frequently lack diversity. They also realized they had never studied genital variability in their sexual health lectures as children or teenagers. No one should feel pressured to enhance her vulva for simply aesthetic reasons, according to Hilde. The Vulva Gallery was created with that purpose in mind.
Atalanta’s mission is to combat vulva shame by representation, presenting images of vulvas and quotes from individuals of different ages, gender identities, and ethnicities. The incredibly accurate pictures forced us to examine our preconceived notions of what a vulva “ought to” look like. It’s the kind of resource we want all young vagina owners to access as they grow.
The stigma of the perfect vulva and vagina
It’s disturbing to us on many levels that girls as young as nine-years-old are asking for labiaplasty surgery to shrink their labia lips. How could anybody, aside from having artificial genital mutilation, enjoy the pleasures of vulnerability, love, and pleasure if they feel inferior in some way?
When Aimee from Sex Education visits the All Vulvas Are Beautiful website, she gingerly examines her vulva in a hand-held mirror. She had the realization that her vulva is “definitely a geranium.” Later, she employs her icing piping skills to make vulva cupcakes, demonstrating the instructional intent of the website by making ones with longer labia, frilly ones, tucked-in ones, and menstruation ones, both having and not having pubic hair. She confidently says that the crooked one looks like hers.
As those who have struggled to find appropriate sex education themes in mainstream media, we are pleased that today’s youth have access to shows and resources like this!
Vulva stigma: not just for cis, straight women
And it’s not only cis women who are affected by these photos and discussions of vulva disparities. Atalanta self-identifies as non-binary, and they also work with transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals.
The dominant culture has a long history of simplifying and standardizing, which isn’t accurate everywhere but is especially false and hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community. Connection to our individuality enables us to explore and embrace who we are as individuals in identity-related contexts, such as for the LGBTQ+ community, rather than relying on normative scripts to attempt to discover ourselves.
It is crucial to be aware of how people are portrayed in the media; just as pornography, social media posts, and altered magazine images may distort our view, a famous TV program or creative website can make us feel remarkable and ordinary in the best manner imaginable.
What does a healthy vulva look like, then?
The outer labia are typically slightly darker or the same colour as the skin. While the outside labia may be reddish, brown, or purple, the inner labia may be pink. If someone gets vitiligo and it affects the vagina, their labia would be completely white and devoid of any colour.
The colour of the labia may change somewhat for a variety of causes. Due to the increased blood flow, some people may observe that their labia look somewhat bigger or redder when stimulated. That is completely typical and shouldn’t raise any red flags.
The labia may, however, also get red or darkened as a result of discomfort from scents. If that happens, discontinue using fragranced items, such as perfumed body wash, fragrant tampons, and even aromatic laundry detergent, and see a gynecologist.
Typically, the vagina has a medium to dark pinkish-red colour. Inflammation is generally indicated by a strong, bright red colour.
All variants of pubic hair exist!
The pubic hair does not necessarily match the hair on your head and varies from person to person, just like everything else down there, in terms of thickness, growth patterns, and colour. The variances, in this case, are a result of grooming, heredity, developmental phases, and responses to diseases.
Due to hormonal changes, pubic hair will start to develop around adolescence. Pubic hair can start thinning and becoming grey as people age.
Some people only develop hair on their lips and mons pubis, ending at their natural bikini line. Others may see development beyond the bikini line, onto the thighs, over the mons pubis closer to the belly button, and around the anus. All of this is extremely normal and healthy, but sudden and rapid pubic hair changes may indicate that you should see a doctor. For instance, unexpected hair loss may be caused by a hormonal imbalance or nutritional deficit; in this case, it is essential to speak with an obstetrician-gynecologist.
The downside to calling a vulva or vagina ‘pretty’ or ‘normal’
Did you know that there was a World’s Most Beautiful Vagina Contest? Consider taking a quick look at the leaderboard for the contest, which lists the order of all the winners. While there is some variation in the physical look of the vaginas on display—some have clitoral hoods that are different from others, and some have visible pubic hair—they are all shaven smooth, and devoid of any obvious epidermal flaws. To put it clearly, these are cute pink bits that are generally attractive.
It continues a long legacy of promoting erroneous ideals of female beauty. Do we need to start evaluating vaginas as well in a society where women are already made to feel self-conscious about their thighs, butts, tummies, and stretch marks? Making judgments on what the “perfect” vagina is, particularly based on beauty, reinforces men’s ubiquitous evaluation of women’s bodies.
A growing number of women are becoming self-conscious about their vulva as a result of the accessibility of online porn, and some are turning to drastic steps to “repair” them. The vagina beauty pageant data is consistent with the notion that a sleek, compact, Barbie-like look has become the norm for attractive vulvas in our society.
There isn’t a single example of a “beautiful” vagina, and we believe that promoting a narrative that suggests otherwise is, to put it mildly, very disgusting.
We need more self-love and appreciation!
All of our wonderful genital parts are ultimately as varied as there are humans. They come in a plethora of kinds, which is natural. Some are narrower, some thicker, some longer, and some shorter.
We advise you to grab a hand mirror and have a look if you’ve never taken the opportunity to get to know yours!