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Our vaginas! Our voices!

They come in all shapes, colours and sizes!

What does a 'normal' vagina look like?

This might be a startling question for you, but when you really think about it, it is quite valid.

Unlike men who know about average inches and centimetres for their appendages, we women don't really know much about our sexual organs.

This question came to me over the weekend when I had the opportunity to attend a sexual and reproductive health rights conference fittingly entitled 'Sexpression', organised by medical students at the Liverpool University School of Tropical Medicine.

In one session, a speaker addressed the issue of female genital mutilation - an act that is still rife in Africa and which predisposes many young women to gender based violence and intrusion.

I therefore believed that the speaker would discuss the topic from this perspective and was completely taken by surprise when he instead began to speak about vaginoplasty and other forms of vaginal 'mutilation' that women in the UK are subjecting themselves to.

In short, vaginoplasty refers to any kind of plastic surgery carried out on the vagina - whether to improve its elasticity after childbirth, to change one's sex (for male to female transsexuals for example) or simply for the aesthetic benefits that such surgery may yield. This is commonly referred to as the 'designer vagina'.

It is this last type of vaginoplasty that we discussed in detail.

I learnt of cases of women - some as young as 17 - who go and visit plastic surgeons with pictures of the vaginas of porn stars and say that they want to have vaginas just like theirs because they feel that theirs are inadequate.

And so they have their labia (or vaginal lips) reduced or some or other surgery to 'improve' the organ's appearance.

The question that therefore came up from this discussion was SO WHAT EXACTLY DOES A GOOD VAGINA LOOK LIKE?!

We women rarely look at our own vaginas, let alone anyone else's - so how should we know?! Unlike men who have to interact with their penises each time they urinate or change their underwear, we women hardly ever pay attention to our vaginas. Besides, it's not like it's easy to get them in full view anyway. Mirrors and strange positions are required and this just adds to the awkwardness of trying to become knowledgebale about your own body.

And sadly, the only time many young women become aware about the appearance of the vagina is when they are forced to alter it from its own natural state. In many parts of Africa, the tradition is that young girls pull on their labia from an early age so that the lips become very long and prominent. The reasoning behind such practices is that the elongation of the lips will provide more pleasure for the man during sex.

And the other extreme situation that must be pointed out is female genital mutilation which entails the cutting off a woman's clitoris - her most valuable source of sexual pleasure - and the stitching up of her vaginal opening so that she can not be penetrated sexually.

These are both still common controversial acts but I must also add that society plays a great role in re-inforcing the idea that the vagina is an ugly dirty thing that we should not celebrate. Just think of how people refer, rather vulgarly, to someone they do not like or feel is a nuisance as a 'cunt' - a derogatory term that refers to the vagina.

The meaning within that is that a vagina can be equated to something that is a nuisance and shameful. It is after all where menstrual blood and all other types of fluids that society gets squeamish about flow from.

And it is very sad that we women accept these stereotypes about ourselves. The vagina is a source of life and pleasure but we too believe that is an ugly thing we can't discuss among ourselves.

Isn't that really why we feel so inadequate when we see an air-brushed porn star romping about with a perfectly symmetrical vagina?

We need to stop being squeamish and open up. Well, we might not be ready to open up our pants, but we can open up our mouths and discuss these things.

Most of the surgery that these women are having is unecessary and born from feelings of inadequacy that are founded on misleading beliefs.

And the saddest type of mutilation is the one which we willingly inflict upon ourselves.

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Comments

bellamkenya's picture

Thank you!

Thank you for sharing this information with us. I think it all narrows down to self esteem in the west where young women are led to believe that porn stars and other celebrities are much better beauty wise than them. We should all appreciate our God given beauty and qualities and make the most of them without altering.

Bellamkenya

Fungai Machirori's picture

You said it right there!

I think you have hit the problem right on its head. If young women are getting their information from porn, then it's going to be distorted no doubt.

So shouldn't we be talking about all of this more openly to begin with?! Someone told me that if there was ever need to, she could idnetify her vagina from a range of pictures provided. It made me think - BUT I COULDN'T

Looking down there tends to feel like an abomination. We have it ingrained within us that the vagina is for your man and so only he needs to know what it looks like down there.

And so we never do find out, unless we get an STI or thrush or something that makes us have to look.

It's a big pity...

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

onthatilem's picture

Interesting

In South Africa, most girl-teens worry about how the look outwardly, in order to attract the opposite sex. Only when they find out about some sexual sickness do some start reasearching about their bodies. I believe every woman should know and appreciate their body before allowing another to be the judge. Love yourself as you love your neighbour.
Thank you very much for writing this article.

Fungai Machirori's picture

Thank you

Yes, know and understand your own body. How it works, why it's beautiful and all those things.

It's the only way to contentment!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

dg.vegas's picture

Good article

I agrre we must take a look at our vagina and treat it nicely, it's the cave of life and wonders!
Rejoyce in that there are iniciatives world wide towards achieving this goal: http://loveyourvagina.com/ this is just an example

In lake'ch

Fungai Machirori's picture

I took a look

Mmm - now I had never heard of the moon cup... interesting. How come it's so undercover?! I would love to do some research into it. Thanks for the link and amen to your words!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Julie Tomlin's picture

Pressures on women

It seems in the UK that there is no end to the pressures to conform to an image of perfect womanhood that young women come under.
It was only when I read about young girls taking porn material to surgeons asking them to make them look the same as women in the photos that I realised that this was an issue of concern. Only then did I start thinking, so there's a 'normal'?
And if you start thinking that there is a normal or desirable standard you are expected to reach it's easy to see where the anxiety comes from. It seems that young women are under so much pressure now to conform when it comes to the way that they look that it must be very difficult for them to enjoy their bodies.
Susie Orbach has written a very interesting book called Bodies on women's relationship to their bodies.

Yours,
Julie

@julietomlin

Fungai Machirori's picture

Normal is ....

Breasts, waists, thighs, vaginas - there's a 'normal' for just about everything. It's a sad fact of life that leaves far too many of us trying to get ourselves to that summit. But if we were all 'normal' the world would be no fun!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

Sharese's picture

Beautiful article!

And wow what a picture! Thank you for writing this article Fungai! Very interesting that the speaker spoke to genital mutilation that people choose to inflict upon themselves. Many interesting discussion have been on how women alter their bodies surgically in order to be found more "beautiful" (by whom, you may ask? The male gaze).

Are you familiar with the Vagina Monologues? It is a wonderful book/play/resource. Check it out at Vday.org.

I have a very good friend who lives in Zimbabwe that help to create a South African version of the Vagina Monologues while studying in Cape Town. It was brilliant. Everyone learned a lot in that endeavor. I have been in the play and directed it in the United States, I have made some of my best friends and have had some of the best conversations with people just by being involved with the organization.

I do hope you will check it out :) Again, thank you for posting this- brilliant, much like yourself!!

In love,

Sharese

Fungai Machirori's picture

The vagina has spoken!

I posted this same article on my blog and one guy responded as follows:

"Imagine the Vaginas all seated at a pub sippin’ champagne,lagers and whiskey talking about their good & bad times- the abuse/pleasures they get,the name callings,in their younger days and the menstrual cycles,the (de)satisfactions,condoms and HIV/AIDS,sanitary pads vs tampons and all the dudes they have met and exchanging their numbers,networking like they aint no tomorrow. wow!!"

Yes, I have heard of the Vagina Monologues but know very little about what it's all about. Kindly enlighten me:) But I'd say that the guy who posted this amusing comment is on the right track!

from today i live out of my imagination
i am more than my yesterday
tomorrow i plant a new seed
nothing that lies behind easy
nothing that is ahead real
my within is all i have today
*Napo Masheane*

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