I tell this story about a lady I served when I worked in a swimsuit store. She came in and, on being asked what I could help her with, she looked me straight in the eye, without the slightest hint of embarrassment, and said “I need a pair of swimmers. I want the long, short-style bottoms because otherwise my flaps hang out”.
Whenever I tell that story I get a round of guffaws and usually some screams of shock-and-awe. I was shocked when it happened. I had to go out the back to prevent myself from rudely laughing in the woman’s face. I was completely bemused that this woman would be so open about the state of her nether-bits. But the more I tell the story – and it’s often when a friend is moaning about their bikini line or some such thing – I realise that I shouldn’t have been so shocked, I should have been proud of her.
I come from a very liberal household, so it’s not too hard to see why I’m incredibly open and shameless when it comes to talking about all things sex and naughty bits related. Wabi and I regularly have conversations that would cause a number of our other friends to squirm at the oversharing, and these are often conversations I’ve also had with my mother, cousin or aunt – often with male relatives sitting within earshot. And yet even Wabi, my female family members, and I are hung up on perceptions of body image. We can talk about them to the cows come home, but in the end we don’t like our bits.
Whether it’s boobs too big or small, or just too saggy , or our vaginas being too hairy, too bulky, or too ‘lippy’, most girls have some issue with their bits that causes crazy activities (think tissues-down bra, or panicked self-bikini wax) at the thought of public inspection. Turns out guys don’t have it much easier – they have size to worry about as well. Too short, too skinny, funny shaped, strange-looking – the Penis, like the vagina and breasts, is not a uniform item of perfection. But they all should be.
Remember the lady from the swimsuit store? She had the right idea – it ain’t perfect, but it’s what I’ve got and I’m going to live with it. The problem is, as with every other body part, the media and society have created these ideals of perfection which we take on board, measuring ourselves against them even when we know better. And so, increasingly, women and men are going to extremes to ‘renovate’ their genitals as if it were a house or car in need of tricking out. Girls as young as 16 are undergoing procedures on their breasts and vaginas in an effort to make themselves more ‘normal’. That scares me. That someone still so young would consider their own body so malformed they need it operated on is heartbreaking.
The below documentaries deal with these very issues. The female documentary, The Perfect Vagina, by Heather Leach and Lisa Rogers, I watched last year some time and was astounded by the desperateness of some of the women. Lawrence Barraclough’s, My Penis and Everyone Else’s, deals with similar issues of embarrassment for men, and is just as saddening, but with a somewhat more jubilant ending. I urge you all to watch these, both of them, if only to see the castings/photos of other’s bits. If you have teenagers, or even older kids, or a husband or wife, show them as well. And then talk about it. Why? Because the more we talk about it the less it stays in the shadows, and the more open we can be, the less young girls and boys (and women and men) are likely to feel that they are the only one with embarrassing bits.