One outgoing book project aims to show what real women look like
It’s not every day you get a chance to stare at 60 different women’s vulvas. And if that idea just made you blush, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a 2003 study by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, 47 per cent of women believe the vagina is the part of the body they know least about. But, thanks to the efforts of one Victoria woman, that’s all about to change.
I’ll Show You Mine is more than a book compiled by Wrenna Robertson with the help of 60 women willing to flash their most private parts at a camera — it’s an initiative to show people of all genders and ages around the globe that all our parts are beautiful.
“When you’re in a society that’s so scared of even just speaking about our bodies and our genitalia, where are we getting our information from, and our ideas of what is ‘normal’ and what is not?” says Robertson. “Unfortunately, for so many people, all that’s there for a reference is the porn industry.”
Robertson, 35, a former exotic dancer in Vancouver, began the project after she noticed the increasing phenomenon of women seeking labiaplasty to enhance the look of their genitals. Since 2005, Google has reported a 5,000 per cent increase in search terms related to female cosmetic surgery as well as phrases like “normal vulva.”
“As a stripper, it’s very common for women to discuss breast augmentation amongst themselves, and to walk around asking, ‘Do you think these should be bigger, or perkier’ and so on,” says Robertson. “But it was fascinating to see the number of women who would take me aside and say in hushed tones, ‘I’m not happy with my labia — do you think I should do something about this?’”
When Robertson realized that even women who work in a sexually-liberated body industry were shy about their privates, she decided it was time to do something. She put out the call for women willing to show their bits, au naturel, in an effort to prove that every shape and size is right — not just what the porn industry tells us is so.
The results were fantastic. Nearly 70 women — ages 19 to 65 — contacted Robertson, from exotic dancers to women’s studies students, to moms, school teachers, activists and transgendered women. Robertson hired professional photographer Katie Huisman and threw her life savings into starting her own publishing company, Show Off Books. The first printing of I’ll Show You Mine hit stands on International Women’s Day (March 8), and has already been requested around the world, from North America to Europe, Australia, Asia and more. A second printing could be in the works.
“I wanted the project to reveal the variety, complexity and real beauty of female genitalia, without trying to glorify it with black and white photography or special lighting,” Robertson says. “Katie [Huisman] worked miracles with that. She understood completely that the beauty was in the form itself, and I think that really lets a reader sit back and see the spectrum of how women’s vulvas really look.”
Jayla, 23, who tells her story on page 55 of the book, says that she first heard about Robertson’s project through a conversation with someone at an adult novelty shop. As someone who was born in the Philippines and now works with people who face social barriers, she was thrilled to get involved.
“People’s sexual identities are so often repressed, even in our own society,” she says. “It starts at a very young age, when we’re told as little girls we aren’t to look at or play with ourselves and, I think, the shame around something as simple as masturbation keeps women from being fully informed about their own bodies.”
Jayla’s sentiments are joined by 59 other women in the book, including a guest appearance by Robertson herself — though you’ll have to guess which alias name she’s photographed under. But while it’s easy to become a spectator through the pages, stopping only long enough to assess or maybe even compare how those parts you’ve seen yourself rate, the message throughout the book rings clear: every different shape, fold and hair pattern is fascinating and fine.
Above all, Robertson hopes that women — and men — will use the book as a conversation tool, both in a social and an educational sense. She’s offering free copies to family resource centres, sexual health clinics, counselling facilities and doctors offices. She also hopes to see the book wind up in the hands of parents who want to educate about bodies before media and the porn industry tells youth what’s “right.”
“My hope is that each women who sees this book takes the opportunity to think about her own story, and maybe even take a photo of herself,” Robertson says. “She is perfect and beautiful already.” M