News and Views

News and Views about the project.

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Interview: Philip Werner Talks Vaginas, Nakedness & Body Image

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

 

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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: https://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: Vagina calendar raising funds protest against violence towards women and girls

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 (https://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: https://onebillionrising.org/page/event/detail/startarising/wrr8
One Billion Rising Melbourne Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OneBillionRisingMelbourne

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 (https://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: https://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)

Contact: onebillionrisingmelbourne@gmail.com

Purchase the 2013 Vagina Calendar here:
https://101vagina.com/calendar

First draft of manuscript printed !

It was very exciting, after battling with printer settings for far too long etc, to finally print off a first draft manuscript of the book!

By now three years have passed since I first conceived the idea and two years (almost exactly) that I took the first photo, Vagina #001!

So it’s very satisfying and invigorating to see it in physical form after having spent so much time as an idea and as fragmented photos and stories. I am also pleased that this is essentially exactly as I had initially envisioned it, I have remained true to my stylistic concept as well as the book’s content, purpose etc.

Now I will be printing off a few to send out to see who might like to write a foreword.

Note that the final book will be much larger, hardcover, high quality, etc. The below is really just a first test run on an old laser printer.

Launch into the tweetosphere !

Omg omg omg, I’m allowed to be excited about this, right ?

Amanda Palmer tweeted this to her 700,000+ followers!

This might be normal or meh to some, but it’s the single biggest publicity hit so far!

I have also tweeted about the project to Johnny Depp (just started a publishing company), Oprah (saw her show YEARS ago where they were saying “vagina” out loud), Pink (bits), Lady Gaga (body image campaign) and Michale Moore (body politics). let’s see if they get behind the project… I think I’ll wet my pants if they do!

 

Other notable tweets so far:

Catherine Deveny (Comedian etc. Was in SBS ‘Go back to where you came from’)

Australian Federation of Medical Women (!!!)

Lisa Rogers (Made the labiaplasty documentary ‘The perfect vagina’)

101 Vagina posters up around town!

101 Vagina posters have spontaneously attached themselves to some power poles etc on Brunswick St in Fitzroy, a little on Smith St, High St Northcote, Punt Rd, Church St, and the list is growing.

If you post or see any posters or stickers around town, take a photo and email it to me :)

I’ve been playing with Poladroid, that’s why they all look like polaroids.

 

Newsletter #7 - 101 Vagina crowd-funding campaign !

101 Vagina crowd-funding campaign !

NEWSLETTER for https://101vagina.com
Dear {your name here},After over two years in the making the time has finally come!

The 101 Vagina crowdfunding campaign has been launched !!!

https://pozible.com/101vagina

I approached many publishers, but they are all afraid of vaginas!

So this campaign is to raise funds for self publishing. But it’s not a donation, if the campaign is successful, you will actually get a copy of the book as a reward!

(Pozible is the Australian equivalent of Kickstarter)

What do I need from you? Please share this project ! :)

1. Go to https://pozible.com/101vagina & watch the video!

2. Pledge your support

3. Share with your friends, far and wide!

Sharing is a simple gesture you can do which can really help get this project off the ground!

Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or other social media; whether it’s an email newsgroup, forum or chat room; whether it’s your blog, website or youtube, sharing will help get this baby off the ground!

Please like the Facebook page. Follow on Tumblr and Twitter.

You can also download and print a promo poster here which you can post around your favorite hangouts. Or give me your address and I’ll post some out to you.

I’ve been working on this project for two years, now she needs to fly!

Thanks so much to everyone involved so far, but it’s not over yet!

During this campaign I will be sending out a newsletter every week or two. Please bear with me, if this campaign is not successful the book may never be printed.

I will also have some campaign meetings for people who want to help get the word out in any way or just contribute ideas. Might have the first one next Sunday 14th Oct at my place (Melbourne, Australia). Please get in touch if you can come along.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

Kindest regards,
Philip

Vagina!

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 (https://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:
https://pozible.com/101vagina

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

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

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