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What is the premise of the 101 Vagina coffee table book project and what inspired you to create it?
The main idea is to break the taboo around vaginas and ease all the body image shame in general. I was first inspired after reading the Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler as it really highlighted how big an issue this really is. Our entire society is hobbled by these taboos and by this shame around our bodies.
Why do you think portraying pictures of vaginas, or even mentioning them, is still so taboo?
Yes, there is a bizarre juxtaposition where on the one hand sex and bodies are sensationalized and on the other, people feel ashamed and almost afraid of the simple realities of our bodies. Bikini clad women are plastered all around us and yet some people feel uncomfortable with women breast feeding in public. Something has gone wrong somewhere and I honestly don’t know how we ended up in this situation where people are afraid of the simple realities of their bodies. Perhaps vaginas are the ultimate symbol of vulnerability, openness, the feminine; all the things that the ideas of power, protection and control feel threatened by. But honestly I don’t know.
How do you think nude photography and seeing other women nude can help individuals overcome shame and issues with their own bodies?
Well, I think in particular when naked bodies are depicted as they are without Photoshopping, it helps deconstruct these marketing-driven ideals that have been rammed down our throats. If you see someone who is also imperfect, just like you, you feel validated in a way. Somehow it reminds you that, yes, they are OK, and therefore I’m OK.
I was at a nude beach recently and there was a woman who had obviously had a mastectomy. One of her breasts was missing a nipple and both breasts obviously had implants. It took me aback initially, but it was also very reassuring somehow that humans are somehow perfect in their imperfections. She was comfortable, probably having come to terms with it long ago. How unfortunate that we hide our imperfections from each other all the time, no wonder so many people are depressed, trying to live up to some stupid ideals of everlasting happiness and “beauty”.
Like with overly skinny models and Photoshopped, airbrushed celebrities, do you think porn puts forth the wrong image of what vaginas should look like and make women self-conscious about their own nudity? What negative side-effects have you seen related to this issue?
Well, I think this is an interesting issue and there are many sides. “Porn,” comes in so many different variations, and anyone that’s had a bit of a look around will have seen many different looking vaginas. Yes, in mainstream porn most women are shaved, for example, but home made porn seems to be becoming more popular where ordinary people are just the way they are. Again the problem with porn has been that it’s been market driven, rather than community driven. Look at music these days. The big marketing machines are being circumvented by everyone being able to make and upload their own music. It means people are making what they love, rather then just what the big bosses say sells records. I think ultimately the same will happen with porn, people will just make their own and the big end of town will loose it’s grip.
But coming back to your question, yes, certainly anything which presents an unreal image to the world will lead people to believing that they themselves are not normal. In Australia we have the terrible situation that soft core porn mags have to airbrush vaginas into a thin slit. No labia are allowed to show. It’s ludicrous. Women end up believing that they themselves are not normal and seek out plastic surgery. It’s so, so sad that a teenage girl might think her vagina does not look the way it’s “supposed” to look.
Besides an inaccurate representation of “normal,” what other reasons have you seen for women being ashamed of their bodies and their vaginas?
Yes, besides all the women’s magazines, porn, etc? Well, there is also peer pressure isn’t there. So many of the older school feminists blame men for everything, but so often the pressure to conform comes from other girls in school or other women in social circles. Most people want to fit in and be accepted and conform. But this is also where things can change. Often it only takes one person to break out from a group and say, “I’m happy with how I am and I don’t think we need to all look the same” for the whole dynamic to change. And this requires courage.
How does portraying vaginas help pave the way for discussion of “taboo” topics like rape and genital mutilation?
Well, I think to a degree there is an indirect knock on effect. If someone feels more comfortable with their bodies as a result of surrounding themselves with positive messages then they will feel more empowered to talk about things. It may be easy to talk about rape or genital mutilation from an academic perspective, but it takes a lot of courage to talk about your own experience of having been violated.
So, for example, say someone has suffered some sort of abuse, or they have some difficulty with their sexuality but they have never spoken about it. Then at some point they come across a “vagina positive” book and they realize that they perhaps don’t need to be so ashamed. They may, perhaps, open up to someone about their experience and that could trigger a huge healing cycle for them. Or someone has an irregularity that they ought to get checked out at the doctor but they feel embarrassed, etc. Shame prevents us from talking about things. Seeing material which unashamedly addresses that issue will help ease people’s shame.
Remember also that with 101 Vagina, in particular, there is also a message that accompanies every photo. These messages are so diverse, and really it is these stories that give the book it’s depth.
Who are the models for the Vagina 101 project? Was it a big step for some of them to be photographed nude and what were their reactions to their pictures?
It started with friends. However, after a few months I had only taken a few photos and I realized I needed to ramp things up. That’s when I built the website and Facebook page. I invited every woman I knew in Melbourne, and then things spread from there. Before long the word got out and complete strangers came in to participate. I think the project has really struck a chord with a lot of people.
Still, for some women it was definitely a big step! One friend of mine was actually trembling with fear before hand. It was like these huge tectonic plates were shifting within her, shifting her feelings of shame, so for her it was massively courageous. Other women who participated were already very comfortable with their bodies, for example from having done life modelling in the past. So it varied a lot, but for most women there was at least a little discomfort, a little awkwardness, a little hurdle that they each overcame.
The two most common reactions to seeing the photos were, “Wow, that’s so beautiful!” and “Oh, is that what I look like!?”. So it was mainly appreciation and fascination. And the same has been true for seeing photos of the other women. Everyone is so fascinated to see all the different shapes and sizes! I love watching people as they por over a draft copy of the book, getting completely engrossed in the images and the messages.
We understand you are self-publishing the book as of now and raising funds for its first print run. After the book is printed, what kind of reception do you foresee?
Oh, if only I had a crystal ball. So far people have been incredibly positive and supportive and I hope that will continue. Obviously I’d love the book to go as far as it can to have as large an impact as possible. I’d love to get on talk shows, radio shows, etc. Oprah? Ellen? I don’t even know who’s doing what really, I don’t have a TV myself, but yes, I’d love it to go big. And the bigger the better since $5 from every book will go towards women’s charities. But I understand the reality that ultimately no one cares about your project as much as you do. Never mind, if I only sell 100 copies so be it. In a way the project has already been successful because it has already touched a lot of people’s lives.
Where can our readers go to learn more and how can they support the project?
Please visit the crowdfunding page to support the project here: http://pozible.com/101vagina.
In addition to the 101 Vagina project, you’re also selling a 2013 vagina calendar to raise funds for the One Billion Rising event protesting violence against women. Tell us more about it. How did you get involved, and how does this event’s message relate to 101 Vagina’s goal of erasing the taboo surrounding women’s bodies?
Yes, it’s an interesting union and one that some people may find a bit jarring, but I really believe that we need to take an unflinching look at the causes of sexual abuse rather than simply lament and be outraged at it’s occurrence. I strongly believe that sexual repression and sexual aggression/abuse are connected. I just don’t think that anyone who is truly comfortable in their sexuality would ever impose themselves on another person. Rape and abuse are NOT expressions of sexual freedom, but of sexual repression. And sexual repression is closely related to body image shame and taboos.
One Billion Rising is a V-Day event, and V-day was founded by Eve Ensler who wrote The Vagina Monologues, so it’s already a natural fit. I got involved because I already knew about V-day and One Billion Rising, and when some friends of mine started planing to organize an event in Melbourne I jumped on board. Regarding the calendar, well I figured that the media often like controversial calendars that are raising money for good causes, so this might be a way to raise the funds needed to stage the event in the most visible place in Melbourne. It’s not cheap, we’ve got to come up with $20,000 and are also looking for corporate sponsors. For this event we can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Media Release: 26 November 2012
Vagina calendar raising funds for protest against violence towards women and girls
Toni Childs and One Billion Rising (V-Day) event organisers in Melbourne, Australia, in cooperation with the 101 Vagina Project, have released a 2013 Vagina Calendar to raise funds for a unique kind of protest.
On February 14, 2013 people around the globe will rise up and dance their protest against violence towards women and girls. We are inviting you to join the global campaign. Spearheaded by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and founder of V-Day, One Billion Rising has created a platform for women and men around the world to be seen and heard as they protest the reality that 1 in 3 women will suffer violence and exploitation in their lifetime (http://onebillionrising.org).
Toni Childs, three-time Grammy nominated recording artist, Emmy Winner, and long time advocate of women’s empowerment: “I am excited about coming together as a Nation to honor the women of Australia! It is time to heal and evolve and affirm that we as a Nation can create a violence free society! I believe in us, and I believe in the power and the deep wisdom that lives inside each one of us. I believe in the power to heal what has been broken in us, and to stop the ancestral cycles of abuse that we live with. We’re at the point of change… The cycle stops with each and every one of us!”
Coming out and standing up is a declaration and a resonance that ripples through us, our personal relationships, our society and the world! Valentines Day 2013 is about making the plausible possible… !!”
The event is to be held at Federation Square for maximum visibility, thereby challenging the invisibility of this issue.
One Billion Rising Melbourne even page: http://onebillionrising.org/
One Billion Rising Melbourne Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/
Dr Lauren Woodman, who also organises the Seven Sisters Festival feels that: “One Billion Rising is such a beautiful, empowering concept, we felt inspired by it’s vision and wish to support this global celebratory protest. We would love to shake the ground with Melbourne’s support of this issue by shaking, stomping & dancing ‘No’ to violence against women.”
The calendar itself will consist of 12 black and white photos from the upcoming 101 Vagina coffee-table book. Each image is accompanied by a message, from each woman, about her vagina.
101 Vagina was inspired by The Vagina Monologues out of which the V-Day Foundation and One Billion Rising sprang. It’s about breaking down the taboos around vaginas in particular and body image shame in general. It’s also about celebrating diverse bodies and raising funds for charity (http://101vagina.com).
Philip Werner, creator of the 101 Vagina project and organiser of Melbourne’s recent peace march in honour or Jill Meagher, says: “Sexual repression and sexual abuse are directly related and the taboos around our bodies and genitalia contribute to this repression. We enter the world through the vagina at conception and at birth. Vaginas are sacred, this taboo must end.”
Jenna Price, one of the women behind the Destroy the Joint movement, which the organisers wholeheartedly support, interviewed Werner for this Fairfax Media article: http://goo.gl/zWyiT
Federation Square charge $20,000 to provide all the necessary infrastructure and services for the event.
$10 from the sale of every calendar will go towards the One Billion Rising event and corporate sponsors are also being sought to meet event costs.
One Billion Rising Melbourne organisers:
– Toni Childs (Emmy award winning singer/songwriter)
– Tamar Spatz (Teacher & women’s rights activist)
– Dr Lauren Woodman (Seven Sisters Festival event organiser)
– Dr Caroline Lambert (Women’s human rights advocate)
– Philip Werner (Photographer, 101 Vagina project)
Purchase the 2013 Vagina Calendar here:
Here is the audio of the spot and below is what that did to the website traffic!
I have no clear idea how things are over there in regards to genital taboos and body image shame, but I hope that it got people thinking and talking a bit.
Would love some comments below about the nature of the vagina taboo in Italy, how the project was received by the audience and what kind of discussion ensued.
Analytics are so good!
101 Vagina article in Stylescene from 22 August 2012.
Click the image below to see a larger image and be able to read it or follow the link below: