Type “is my vagina normal” into Google and on the other side of the screen are a whopping 91,600,000 results.
Growing up, the first vagina (vulva) I saw, that wasn’t my own, was in porn. I wasn’t really aware of what was considered to be normal and what wasn’t (spoiler alert: it’s mostly normal). How should it look? How should it smell? I was embarrassed by all of these questions I used to ask myself, shame and awkwardness.
Puberty hit me sometime around 2007, when we were unable to escape from under Rihanna’s umbrella and the iPhone was released (not that anyone at my school could dream of owning one). When I got my period for the first time, I was fully aware of what my body was going through and what that brownish-red stain meant. What I wasn’t prepped for though, was that whitish, sometimes transparent, sometimes thick, sometimes thin liquid that would appear in my pants every single day for the rest of my fertile life. It was never mentioned on Angus, Thongs and perfect snogging, let alone during sex ed (quelle suprise) so there was only one explanation for this gross and unexpected substance. There was something wrong with me and all I wanted to do was hide my embarrassment under Riri’s umbrella.
I stocked up on as many feminine hygiene products I could find which had the words “clean” and “fresh” in big fonts, words that suggested that my vagina should be odourless and unassuming. I never talked about it or heard anyone else speak about it and, since I wasn’t in pain and didn’t die, I got used to the stains, carrying the “secret” around with me like an old but embarrassing anecdote you’d rather forget. Still, I always made sure to wash with scented products immediately before getting with a guy, bolting to the bathroom right before he was set to remove my pants so that I could make sure I Iived up to the expectation of smelling like a pina colada. I also always made sure to hide my knickers, kicking them under my side of the bed, and the idea of men going down on me was an absolute no go (although, some men still think it’s a no go).
The awkwardness I felt about my own vagina wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d rarely seen an image of a vagina that didn’t look like it belonged to a doll. After seeing porn for the first time, I sat in my room trying to tuck in the little bit of my labia that was longer than my vulva, in the hope that it would stay there as I grew, spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Only recently did I realise, that it’s not just me. Type “is my vagina normal” into Google and on the other side of the screen are a whopping 91,600,000 results telling you so many mixed messages you’ll begin to think that Brad was a straight talker after all. The amount of results means there are a LOT of women who have hang-ups about their vagina. It’s probably got something to do with the constant messages we’re bombarded with telling us to groom, wax, spritz, tweeze, exfoliate or even vajazzle until you have the perfect Barbie pussy. It’s a problem made worse when you see that the paid results at the top of this search are for products like ‘vagina tightening serum’, ‘intimate wash’ and ‘vagina victory oil’. Anyone? No? Thought not.
13 years since Rihanna ruled and companies are STILL selling products that capitalise on our insecurities over our bodies. Walk down any toiletry aisle in a shop and you’ll see they’re all loaded with vaginal wipes, washes and deodorants, usually right next to the necessary and helpful menstrual products like pads and tampons. Problem is, all of this preying on our fears works. Their ‘clean and fresh’ narrative works, fuelling an industry worth £490 million in 2020 in the UK alone. They’re getting smarter too, cashing in by using feminism as a marketing technique rather than an actual value. They aim to seduce you by positioning themselves as “empowering for women”, who doesn’t want to buy into that?
Whilst it’s easy to wrap things up in a pink bow and call it feminism, say you’re promoting women’s rights etc etc. In my opinion, they’re doing far more harm than good, leading women into a warped perception of what a “normal”, healthy vagina should look and smell like and based on what exactly? A few ignorant people’s narrow-minded opinion on what a female body should look like, bullshit. It leads to more and more women and girls seeking unnecessary surgery (labiaplasty) to get a “Barbie pussy” just to avoid being shamed for their perfectly normal and beautiful vagina. There are girls as young as nine asking to have their labia shortened despite having no medical need for it, and doctors have reported a rise in girls being depressed by the appearance of their vagina and vulva in recent years. By profiting from these shallow ideals, companies (we won’t name names) are encouraging negative behaviours and masking the real problem, whichever way you look at it, that’s not female empowerment.
Real female empowerment is everyone accepting vaginas as they are, big, small, long, thin, smelly, hairy, shaven, whatever. Your vagina is yours and no one else’s, so let’s stop with the shame. I eventually became comfortable with my own vagina and the discharge (after all, it’s just proof that it’s actually working, woohoo!) and I’m sure many other teens who feel as I did will learn to love themselves too eventually. But instead of “eventually”, let’s just make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. Let’s do better, much better and teach everyone that vulva’s come in all different shapes and sizes and that we don’t need all of these products and operations for a self-cleaning organism with a natural odour. Although, if it smells like this you should probably get it checked out…
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