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What we look like

April 23, 2009

Today I was looking through a flipbook of vulvas made by last years’ female sexuality class at Carleton. I was struck by the immense varieties of vulvas: colors, shapes, hair. I think one of the reasons shame can surround womens’ feelings about our bodies and sexualities, is what we don’t see.

We don’t see normal, non-sexualized breasts (except at 007’s breast gallery).
We don’t see bodies of all shapes and sizes in the media (except as “before” images)
And we certainly don’t see vulvas.

I think the actual aesthetics of the vulva is somewhat mysterious to girls when they are growing up. I never really knew what it was supposed to look like, but I knew that I thought mine looked kind of weird. There are so many things that we feel like can go wrong: are the labia too big? how much hair is it supposed to have? what about the amount of fluid? is it healthy? is it beautiful? While I don’t know personally, this sort of body-shaming from lack of positive or realistic portrayal of genitalia, is part of men’s experiences of their bodies as well.

Luckily, there is the Genital Art Gallery, created by Betty Dodson, with viewer-submitted pictures of their genitalia along with short essays about their relation to them. She says she created the gallery so that:

Never again would another woman think there was something wrong with her vulva for lack of positive imagery. By then, I knew guys had their own concerns about the size and appearance of their penises.

I encourage you to look through and see what real genitalia looks like – and stop worrying about how you look “down there”.

Also check out the Beautiful Cervix Project, which has pictures of the cervix from various stages of life, days in the cycles, and pre- and post-coitus.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    April 23, 2009 3:47 AM

    It had never really occurred to me to wonder what my cervix should look like, or even does look like. When I looked through those photos, though, I was kind of shocked at how different the reality was from my perception.

    I agree with you very much that the fact that we do not see bodies has produced a lot of shame and confusion about our own bodies. And furthermore, we are supposed to feel a lot of shame about wanting to see bodies, especially the parts that are usually covered up, so that our desire to compare, or at least situate these parts of our bodies, is quelled.

  2. chingona permalink
    April 24, 2009 1:10 AM


    I once was at my annual exam, and the nurse practitioner asked me if I wanted to take a look at my cervix while she had the speculum in. I was a little taken aback, actually. I did take the mirror and take a look. I wish now I’d been a little less embarrassed and looked a little longer, just out of curiosity. If you have a practitioner you feel comfortable with (always a tricky thing), you could probably ask.

    • Jill permalink
      April 24, 2009 2:05 PM

      That’s a great idea. Luckily, I do have a provider who I feel very comfortable with.

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