Painter Chantal Joffe designed a fan for Vogue. On it, she painted a woman with her legs spread and entitled it rather humorously, Fanny, and it is an image that has always stuck with me.
Where fans typically conceal, Joffe’s explicitly reveals. ‘It’s the antithesis of a normal fan,’ she explains. ‘A rather dangerous liaison.’
– Vogue, December 2008
Vaginas are always concealed, it is their nature, tucked away from view. But here is a vagina being flaunted, with humour and no sexual undertones. I saw this image when I was 16 and I found it hilarious. Joffe comments on her design:
Making something vaguely repulsive out of something elegant amused me.
– Chantal Joffe, Vogue, December 2008
Personally, I don’t find vaginas repulsive and this phrase made me question who would. It is an innocent image and only the viewer’s judgement would change that.
Chantal Joffe, from Flights of Fancy for Vogue UK
Dealing with such judgement is the photographer Nydia Blas, who has recently released a series of photos called The Girls Who Spun Gold. The series explores themes of race and sexuality, and there are two images that particularly attracted my eye. Both involve a young woman, one using a hand mirror to check out her vagina and another where gold runs down her inner thighs.
Nydia Blas, from The Girls Who Spun Gold
Blas, in an interview by Dazed, states that she was told the hand mirror photo could be seen as super-sexualised. Personally, the term “super-sexualised” is irksome, since it insinuates that the photo is excessive in how sexual it is, to the point of it being repulsive. Blas’ reaction to hearing this was shock.
I was just like ‘oh my gosh’, because as girls when we encounter that image we find it empowering, right?
– Nydia Blas, Dazed, December 2016
The photo leaves me with more than a feeling of empowerment. It leaves me with a feeling of connection. Looking at your fanny with a hand mirror is an act so simple and an act all women have done, that the thought of it being seen as repulsive is both hurtful and ignorant. It is an act done out of mere curiosity.
In the TV series Sex and the City, the character Charlotte only has the courage to look at her vagina for the first time in her 30s. The episode is called The Real Me and explores the theme of seeing yourself without others’ judgements distorting how you see yourself. The fact that Charlotte needs courage to look at a part of her own body is stunning. Being too scared to look at your vagina is like being too scared to look at your hand.
It isn’t just the image of vaginas that are encouraged to not be seen. In the UK, I find that the majority of people hate the word “cunt”. They think it is a vulgar and filthy word, used only in the severest of circumstances. My friend, on the other hand, believes we should embrace the word, since it merely means vagina. She refuses to consider that a word referring to the female genitalia be taboo, and viewed with shame and disgust.
In the end, there is always going to be outside judgement. I could end this post by saying that you should just ignore how other people view you, but that is so much harder done than said. So it is wonderful when projects like Joffe’s and Blas’ come to light, and make us feel connected on a most human level.