taboo

Real, raw and capturing the truth.

“Hi Philip,

I came to your exhibition yesterday at Think Tank and just wanted to say that I found your exhibition so beautiful, empowering, enlightening and f-king awesome!! Its such a celebration of diversity and a huge dose of positivity towards the ultimate power of femininity – which of course is so suppressed and covered in disgust in all societies.

The diversity and ownership seen in the photographs and stories is a fresh and powerful experience. No more sweeping vaginas under the rug and breeding insecurities and shame.

One image that stood out the most for me was the one with a woman on her period with a tampon string. I have never seen this – periods are associated with blue liquid anywhere else (!!!). To see this normal cycle in action was so good to see. Its natural, we go through this one week out of four. Real, raw and capturing the truth.

Thank you, I am so glad to have experienced this and do plan to buy the book when more settled here in LA.
Have a fantastic rest of your tour!!
Christina Xx”

Media Release: Parents invited to bring children to vagina exhibition

Media release: 29/9/2013
Parents invited to bring children to vagina exhibition

There is so much in the media these days about children learning about sex and sexuality through pornography, and about the startling rise in women and girls seeking out labiaplasty, yet very little is put forward by the way of alternative information and education sources.

The 101 Vagina book is not about sex per se, nor is it an educational manual. However, it is about women’s sexual organs and their relationship to them, and presents a perspective which is honest, candid and often very moving.

The black and white photos are a frontal view in standing pose. They are not intended to shock, nor as a detailed lesson in genital anatomy, they simply show that “normal” is a broad range, rather than the narrow view presented by mainstream media.

In this way 101 Vagina aims to break down the taboo around genitalia and body image shame generally. It celebrates diversity and the sharing of story and wisdom, and intends to generate debate and greater acceptance of our bodies and our sexuality.

As if to highlight the taboo, police visited the exhibition in Sydney in June due to complaints and requested that the gallery windows be covered. They also suggested that minors should be kept out of the exhibition. The project creator and photographer, Philip Werner, responded by writing an article called “Children come out of vaginas but are not allowed to see them?” published in Ciao magazine.

Such real, unedited photos, and candid messages about women’s relationship to their bodies are uncommon for children to come across, yet it’s important that the distorted view presented by the mainstream is countered somehow.

One women had this to share about bringing her three year old daughter to the exhibition in June: “… I was thrilled to bring my 3 yr old daughter along, and set her on the path for having pride of her vagina, her self, her future pleasure, her body and it’s life giving abilities & to make sure she’s empowered! …”

Children, growing into teenagers, don’t naturally develop shame about their bodies, it is taught to them by us adults. They are naturally curious, trying to understand the world around them, which means they’ll find information one way or another. Therefore it is up to us adults to guide them through the misinformation in the culture we’ve created.

Attending the gallery Werner said: “Several teachers have come through the exhibition and said how great it would be to get school groups through here, or get the book in to school libraries. I’d love for that to happen. More than one woman in the book wrote about considering labiaplasty as a teenager. This is such a great antidote to that.”

The 101 Vagina Book Exhibition is part of the 2013 Melbourne Fringe arts festival as is up for another week until Sunday 6 October.The exhibition is free and open to the public (rated PG), though donations are appreciated to help pay for costs.

101 Vagina Book Exhibition

Dates: 25 Sept to 6 Oct
Times: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm; Sat-Sun 12-5pm
Venue: Colour Factory 409-429 Gore St Fitzroy

Melbourne Fringe event page:
http://www.melbournefringe.com.au/fringe-festival/show/101-vagina-book-exhibition/

101 Vagina project website:
http://101vagina.com

Contacts:
Philip Werner (project creator): philip@philipwernerfoto.com
Colour Factory Gallery: www.colourfactory.com.au

 

101 Vagina is for all ages

[This article was also published (slightly shorter version) in Ciao Magazine in print on online here:]

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The 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina, both on in Sydney this week, are all ages events. Both children and adults are welcome to attend and yet some people may feel that they are not suitable for children. Why? Why should children not see, talk about, hear different words for, draw and reflect on vaginas? Are vaginas bad? Are penises bad? Mine isn’t, is yours?

The younger the children are, the more recently they have themselves just emerged from a vagina, after having been conceived through one. But in spite of this there seems to be a cultural fear around children and anything sex related coming within proximity of each other.

This is peculiar considering that children are the result of sex. We all are. We are all walking, talking, breathing sexual beings from birth to death.

Of course, children should be protected from sexual predators, but somehow, the valid and important concerns about sexual abuse have resulted in sex being given a blanket label, bad. We are inadvertently teaching our children that sex is bad. The act that led to their, all of our, existence is bad. Consider, what are the two most forbidden words in the English language? Fuck and cunt. Followed by dick, wanker, fuckwit, etc.

How unfortunate.

They should all be words of celebration, exuberance, joy, pleasure, freedom, love, etc.IMG_20130627_162739 640px

I personally believe that our entire culture, at a personal and societal level, is severely hobbled by sexual repression and suppression. Sexual and bodily guilt and shame arise out of judgement and fear. Importantly, I believe that this is causally related to sexual abuse. Not the only cause, but one of them. What motive would someone who is truly satisfied and comfortable in their sexuality have for imposing themselves sexually on anyone else? Rape is not an expression of sexual freedom, but of sexual repression.

The kind of guilt and shame so many of us walk around with about our bodies and sexuality does not arise naturally in us as children, it is taught to us by adults, whether directly or indirectly. It is adults who teach children that their bodies are to be hidden, not to touch themselves and not to say certain words. This means that it is up to us, the adults, to reverse this trend. We can’t expect the next generation to be free from sexual hangups and free from sexual aggression if we ourselves continue to act from this place.

Oh, and in case you think there isn’t a taboo around vaginas or penises, try talking openly about your own on a crowded train. If you can, without feeling even a tinge of discomfort, you’re in the vast minority.

One of the best ways to reverse guilt and shame is through open discussion and direct engagement. A child who has had open, honest, respectful and broad discussions about genitals and sexuality is far less likely to end up with feelings of shame and guilt about their own. It means they will be far less likely to fall victim to shame externally imposed from media, advertising or passing comments on the street. The knowledge they have about what’s normal acts like a shield which will keep the bullshit at bay.

But how are our children currently being initiated into sexuality? Through porn! Imagine if, instead, children were from infancy taught to respect their own and other people’s bodies, that they are the masters of their own, that no part of it is shameful, that pleasure is a birthright, and that sex can be a beautiful act of bonding, joy and pleasure? We’ve got a long way to go to get to that point.

There is a growing and international sex positive movement which is working to remove the negative stigma around genitalia and sexuality and the 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina are proudly part of that movement.

What messages will children and adults alike come away with from these events? That vaginas are nothing to feel ashamed of and it’s ok to use the word vagina; we all look different and we’re all just fine the way we look; there are as many different experiences of our bodies and sexuality as there are people on the planet; we all still have a lot left to learn about our very own bodies.

Breaking taboos can be creative fun and no one needs to get hurt in the process. In fact, years of hurt can begin to be undone in the process.

Here is an excerpt from one of the messages written and deposited in the “Write your own vagina message” box:

“… I was thrilled to bring my 3 yr old daughter along, and set her on the path for having pride of her vagina, her self, her future pleasure, her body and it’s life giving abilities & to make sure she’s empowered! …”

Interview: Philip Werner Talks Vaginas, Nakedness & Body Image

This interview first appeared at Get Lusty for Couples, followed by The Good Men Project.

 

* * *

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: onebillionrisingmelbourne@gmail.com.

Media Release: 101 Vagina Pozible crowdfunding campaign launched to tackle body image taboo.

Media Release: 5 October 2012
101 Vagina Pozible crowdfunding campaign launched to tackle body image taboo.

Melbourne photographer, Philip Werner, has launched a crowd-funding campaign (http://pozible.com/101vagina) to support the publication of a taboo smashing coffee table photo book.

Alarmed by the huge increase in labiaplasty which he sees as a manifestation of the taboo around women’s sexuality, Philip has produced the coffee-table photo book, simply called 101 Vagina, which presents 101 black and white photos of vaginas in all their various forms, each with a story by the woman concerned. The stories are candid and span the emotional gamut from raw to funny, from joyful to sad.

The book aims to help break down body image taboos, raise money for women’s charities and celebrate women’s bodies in all their diversity.

Philip was initially inspired by Eve Ensler’s book The Vagina Monologues and wanted to contribute to the causes she highlighted , for example the V-Day foundation and OneBillionRising campaign which are working to end violence against women and girls and has contacted V-Day to request permission to host a V-Day or V-Men event.

He decided to utilise his photographic skills to help people talk about body image issues, heal old wounds and prevent new ones. Thus 101 Vagina was born.

Over a period of two years he took photos of 101 volunteer subjects and collected their stories. The project has already sparked debate and helped its subjects and now Philip wants to publish it in coffee-table book format so it can have a wider effect.

“As a society we have such an unhealthy relationship with our bodies. Our sexuality is repressed and so many people carry deep shame about their body.

“I believe that sexual repression contributes to acts of rape, abuse and harassment. It also makes us easily manipulated into buying things we don’t need, the alarming increase in labiaplasty being the most glaring example.

“By tackling these taboos, the project allows a more open dialogue and helps us feel better about ourselves. Let’s not forget that sex should be about pleasure and joy.”

Five dollars from the sale of every book will also go to various women’s charities.

“Because I was first inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues so I wanted to give back to the causes she has highlighted.”

This Pozible crowd-funding campaign runs for about three months and needs to raise $20,000 for the first large print run to keep the cost per book down. People can pledge any amount from $1 upwards, and those pledging $50 (plus postage) or more will receive a copy of the book once it’s printed. Effectively it becomes a pre-order or the book, rather than a donation.

“The great thing with this Pozible campaign is that everybody wins. The project wins because it will enable the book to be printed, the supporters win because they will get the book as a reward, and various charities will win from the funds raised. Besides, once it hit’s retail stores it will more likely sell for around $70, so Pozible supporters will be getting a bargain”.

The Pozible campaign page includes a video where Philip and several participants talk about the project.

Visit the websites to see what it is all about and make your pledge to support the project!

For the Pozible campaign please visit:
http://pozible.com/101vagina

And the main page is at:
http://101vagina.com

Philip is available for interview or questions through:
e: philip@philipwernerfoto.com

101 Vagina Flier

The 101 Vagina flier is here!

It has already courted controversy, being banned from distribution on car windscreens at the recent Renaissance festival in case children see the images! Which child is going to care about seeing a vagina? They only just came out of one! It is really only us adults, so far removed from our passage through it, who take offense, and therewith teach our children that they are taboo.

Full size pdf file: 101 Vagina Flier DL – Front
Full size pdf file: 101 Vagina Flier DL – Back

Feel free to print and distribute it. Or if you give me your address I’ll send some out to you :)

“Aware & Proud”

Hey Philip,

Great idea! :)

I would love to be involved, both by being photographed & by writing a short piece or paragraph.

It took me many years to feel comfortable with my vagina – to even look at it, properly, in a mirror. I used to think it was vulgar & something taboo, to be hidden & ashamed of. Much of that was to do with my early childhood sexual experiences – against my will.

I now think it is beautiful – a work of art :) MUCH healing has taken place for me over the years. I am 37 this year. It has only been approx 5yrs since I became more aware & proud of & in touch with my sexuality, and sexual organs.

What an amazing & empowering experience!

I highly commend you, for this magnificent idea! Women all over, even without any experience of sexual misconduct, are often shameful & afraid of their luscious womanly ‘parts’.

Such a book will bring awareness, self confidence – and probably a giggle :) to women – and men alike.

I am in!! :D

Shreya Xx

(Email published with sender’s permission)