'It's taken over two decades to be proud of my vulva'

Period-care brand Callaly ais trying to debunk the myth around how the vulva ‘should’ look through their campaign, We Need To Talk About Vulvas.

Talking about our genitals is still seen as a taboo in many social contexts, which is part of why there’s so much shame around this body part.

Almost a third of people aged 16 to 35 year olds are worried that their vulva is abnormal, and over a third wish they had a ‘neat, symmetrical shaped vulva’, a new study reveals.

Shockingly, 22% of 16 to 24 year olds and 15% of 25-34 year olds have considered changing their vulva themselves, either through cutting or bleaching.

There was a general consensus on the pressure people feel to have the ‘perfect’ vulva and that attitude is filtering down – 13% plan on having surgery to achieve this.

We already know most people can’t name all parts of the vulva and that education here is amiss, but nearly half of those in this survey aged 16 to 24 don’t know exactly constitutes the vulva, either, despite having these parts.

Dr Tania Abid, a gynaecologist, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘In very broad terms there is no normal because everybody looks different and that is what is normal for them.

‘Comparing the way you look to other people is damaging. Vulvas come in all different shapes and colours and the whole spectrum is part of the “normal” range.’

She believes better education will ‘really improve young people and older people’s self confidence and help us do away with unnecessary anxiety and shame’.

Lydia Reeves, a body casting artist, tells us she nearly went ahead with surgery on her labia in order to get an ‘ideal’ look. Today, having missed the surgery, she’s found self-acceptance.

‘I didn’t have a big lightbulb moment where I decided that surgery wasn’t for me,’ she tells us. ‘At the time, I had to cancel my surgery appointment because I didn’t have the money.

‘I had come back from my second labiaplasty consultation (which I had booked there and then) and called a meeting with my parents. I asked to borrow £3k for the surgery, which was the first they’d ever even heard about me being unhappy with my vulva.

‘They declined lending me the money, and my mum asked me to promise that whilst I was saving up myself, I would try to learn to love my vulva just as it was.

‘At the time this seemed like an impossible task, but having so much respect and love for my mum, I said I would try.’

Over the next few years she worked on large art projects around vulva diversity, and this began the process of accepting her own.

‘I looked at my vulva a lot more in the mirror, I worked on saying positive affirmations, and eventually I plucked up the courage to ask exes what they truly thought of my vulva, and I began to talk to my friends about their vulvas too.

‘Then two years ago I started casting vulvas. I have now seen over 200 vulvas, and spoken to over 200 vulva owners about their relationships with their vulvas.

‘I have put in a lot of work into accepting my vulva over the last 11 years, and now I can truly say that my relationship with my vulva is the best it has ever been.’

Tips for starting to find vulva acceptance

Jody Elphick, Callaly’s vulva diversity campaigner, shares her tips for feeling better about your vulva.

  • Look at your vulva: Our survey showed 33% of people have never looked at their own vulva, and this is a helpful first step towards acceptance. If you’re nervous, you could look at diverse images of vulvas first: you’ll see that they come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Your vulva might be dark, light, wrinkly, hairy, ‘outie’ or asymmetrical – all those things are totally ok.
  • Balanced emotions: Remember that the goal is not to feel only positive emotions. Some anxiety, shame and even disgust might arise depending on your past experiences, but this doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you and it isn’t your fault. If self-love is a step too far right now, self-acceptance is a wonderful thing to aim for.

For Poppy Jay, a radio host and podcaster, years were spent feeling detached from her vulva and she internalised shame from the age of nine.

Due to her Asian background, open conversations about genitalia and sex were hard to find growing up.

Growing up in a deeply patriarchal world where I was often told that women couldn’t do things because they were women meant that I really saw my vulva as an obstacle,’ Poppy explains.

‘I spent most of my youth wanting to be a boy so I was quite detached from my fanny, it served a purpose and nothing more.

‘I had got to a stage where “down there” I was a girl but in my mind I thought and behaved like a boy.’

Much later in life, Poppy went through a divorce and started to reevaluate her relationship to her vulva and sense of womanhood.

By no longer doing what others expected of her and suppressing her desire to talk about vagina, she found she was able to ‘normalise it’.

‘It’s taken me nearly two and half decades to be proud of my vulva,’ she says.

Our relationship with this often hushed body part can change through openness and realising that ‘normal’ looks different for everyone.

Clearly, there is more awareness to raise.

To see free educational resources and information, see Callaly’s campaign.

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