Vaginas, by any preferred term, frighten people when brought up in conversation. Their mention is usually faced with a few giggles, plenty of blushing and a lot of hard-core cringing.
The issue? Society is scared of them. They only seemed to be discussed when they’re emitting a strange smell on Embarrassing Bodies, or when a TV detective needs to swab ‘down there’ on crime dramas. Due to this, not many women actually refer to their vaginas as vaginas – instead choosing from a range of euphemisms, which can be hilarious, crude or cutesy depending on preference.
Aside from the fear of the word, there remains a general rule that men can mention their penis and people will laugh and joke – but women must keep comments about their genitals, under any nickname, hidden away at all times. The only exceptions are within the doctor’s office or with a midwife. Why? What’s the deal with that?
This stigma that has been created, this over-arching negative view of the vagina (despite its critical use in reproduction), has become increasingly harmful to women. The lack of comfort around their own genitals has led to a lack of open communication, and a lack of real-life imagery has resulted in a heightened epidemic of genital dysmorphia. This obsession with perceived flaws is leading to women purchasing cosmetic surgery to make their muffins “prettier,” in whatever way they think helps.
Kashika Ashley Cooper, a recent Textiles Craft Graduate from the University of Huddersfield, has begun an exciting and important venture that aims to explore and challenge the social stigma of vaginal imagery. She works with the aim of helping women everywhere feel more comfortable about their vaginas. Kashika conducts VJJ Textiles workshops, activities and creates mixed-medium art work to try and re-address the way that individuals everywhere understand and view vaginas.
Kashika founded VJJ Textiles as a project after realising the immediate need for more positive vaginal imagery. “Penises are drawn everywhere- why aren’t fannies?” she says. Initiall, y she began by researching the stigma that surrounds the vagina in history and in modern culture, ultimately discovering that the media and the internet still leaves little in the way of real-life images for women to view.
“When googled, there are two types of images that appear,” Kashika explains. “The scientific, illustrated, clinical version of the vagina – or the sexually-heightened, pornographic vagina. How, or where, does a woman fit herself between these images? I wanted to create a new visual language through textiles and re-address this imagery. I wanted to create something beautiful that would challenge people’s perceptions of the fanny. Each is different and beautiful in its own way; I wanted to create something positive.”
The vagina is surrounded with so much embarrassment that often it’s an area that is ignored. Women, as a rule, won’t examine their fannies. They generally don’t know what it’s supposed to look like down-there, and there’s nothing out-there to show them what is normal. The female anatomy is overly-hidden and, often, the sexual education that many adolescents receive is primarily from the porn industry, where women are presented with a waxed, perfect standard to live up to. This ‘standard’ is useless to the average, modern woman, and is creating an environment of crippling self-doubt which Kashika is trying to combat.
“As part of my research into the spoken and visual language of the fanny, I created tasks for people to complete; ‘Draw a Fanny/Minge/Foof/Vagina’ and ‘Label a Fanny’. This turned into the Talking Fanny Workshop which was to get people to label and draw a vagina. It was to get people to engage with the taboo subject in a fun and playful way.
“I also collated collected real and imaginative measurements of women’s vaginas which I turned into individual prints to show the beauty and diversity of the vagina. I also created a collection of printed textiles and aprons (pinny porn) which all were on display with my vagina measurement drawings at the textiles degree show.”
Society generally lives by double standards. Women who own their sexuality and explore it in the same fashion as men are called sluts or whores, whilst the men are cheered and idolised for it. Men who choose to wait before having sex are teased and called out as nerdy, whereas women who choose to wait are seen as angelic, innocent and pure. The stigma around the vagina is just another one of these double-standards – created, possibly, due to the fact that they are anatomically more complex.
A lack of knowledge has bred fear, but women everywhere should learn that their vaginas are not something to hide away from. Nor are they something to be afraid of. Women need to reclaim their vaginas, and stamp from the rooftops that they shouldn’t be avoided in conversation anymore and projects like VJJ Textiles can help.
Moving forward with VJJ Textiles, Kashika has a range of ideas for more ways that her work can help to bring women everywhere out of their hiding places: “I have so many ideas that I do not know where to start! I don’t have any new workshops coming up but I am looking into a few collaborations with other artists and designers and continuing ideas from my project. I was thinking of collating all my drawings into a book of fanny drawings, and I want to further explore home ware and lingerie. I also like the idea of creating personal fanny prints based on peoples’ submitted measurements.”