Jamie McCartney is a British artist who created an art installation piece of plaster casts called “The Great Wall of Vagina”. On his website are images of the entire installation along with the motto, “Changing female body image through art”.
His website explains the art piece:
The 9 metre long polyptych consists of four hundred plaster casts of vulvas, all of them unique, arranged into ten large panels. McCartney set out to make this project as broad and inclusive as possible. The age range of the women is from 18 to 76. Included are mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women as well as a woman pre and post natal and another one pre and post labiaplasty.
One of the many reasons I love this piece is because when I directed/ produced a production of The Vagina Monologues in 2006, one of the comments repeatedly mentioned by women who auditioned was how much they hate what their vagina looks like. Of course, they were actually referring to the vulva — as does this art piece (hint: the vagina is the inside part). Only one female at the auditions, a 24 year old girl who had not yet had kids, said she loved how her vulva looked like a beautiful flower. One woman said her “vagina” was ugly because she’d had 4 kids. Frankly, I don’t think most women know what our genitals are supposed to look like because our perception is skewed by porn and skin mags.
The month that I turned 40, I took pictures of my vulva and saw my vulva for the very first time ever (not counting when I was in labor and saw my daughter’s head crowning in the mirror up on the wall of the delivery room — I’m nearsighted so I couldn’t really see it). Turning 40, I wanted to love my body visually the way I adore my body sensually. But seeing my vulva pics, I burst into tears because she looked so different than what I envisioned. My fair-skinned legs and rosy labia were not what I’m accustomed to seeing because most of the women I’ve seen in erotic photos are tan. Then there was my clitoral hood and the shape of my inner labia…. I thought, “WHY would a man like this?! I look so different….”
I deleted the pics immediately. But I took some more pictures the next day, and this time I didn’t cry. I guess I was getting accustomed to seeing what I look like. I sent the pics to 3 guy friends I could trust to tell me the truth, and each one said my vulva was beautiful. I was really annoyed with myself that I felt I needed that kind of validation, especially from men, but men know vulvas, and they know what men like in a juicy yoni. And frankly, if I’d sent my pics to other women, would the women have been grossed out because they likewise have little clue what “vaginas” are supposed to look like?
As I continued to look at my vulva pictures (and even took some more), it was amazingly empowering to know and love my genitals and not compare mine to women in porn or magazines. Aside from the genital grooming that is prolific in erotic photography, many people don’t realize that porn performers often have cosmetic surgery to alter their genitals, including labioplasty to make the labia smaller or conform to some ridiculous notion of what labia are “supposed” to look like.
This brings me to my point and yet another aspect of healing women’s body image. There is NO one way a vulva is supposed to look. Every vulva is different. Comparing vulvas is like comparing snowflakes — each one is unique and beautiful in her own way.
I think McCartney’s work is very important for a few reasons. One, he cast all sorts of women when making his plaster art, and you see all sorts of labia shapes and sizes (and piercings!) represented. Also, because the work is in plaster as opposed to photography or paint, race is not an issue, and all the vulvas can be appreciated without an ingrained idea that “white chick” vulvas are more pleasing to the eye.
Check out McCartney’s website to see the many other panels in this art installation.
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