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Something that should just be normal.

Normal Is Diverse

Normal Is Diverse, NYC 08-Dec-2018

Something that should just be normal.

It’s so important that people see these + that women start to unlearn all the shame that we’ve been taught. It amazes me that in our culture the female body is so over exposed / sexualized + yet vaginas are so taboo + shocking. I think so many women feel disconnected from this part of our bodies + try to avoid or ignore or wish away something that should just be normal. I feel so lucky to see this exhibit. Thank you.” —IRL post from Saturday’s exhibition: Normal Is Diverse, NYC.

It’s not just that we don’t expect diversity among our bodies. It’s that it’s not normal to get to see womxn’s bodies as we are. Ourselves. Not as object. As being.

There is no right way to look.

A man at the exhibition told me that this exhibition was just for women because men seeing this wouldn’t want to have sex again, because it isn’t attractive. I couldn’t begin to reply. I waited to see if he could hear himself claiming vaginas for men like that. His wife was standing next to him. I waited. He pointed out that I did say that I wanted to hear people’s thoughts. (I do.) I was only able to point out that he can speak for himself, but probably not for all men. I was winding down by then. I kind of had cruise control on, enjoying that people were looking, and talking with each other. I didn’t have it in me to cross a gap that wide. My mind was racing reacting. I am standing right in front of you. There are mainly women standing in front of the vagina portraits you’re pointing at. And, still, when you look, you only see a body part, an object for some man’s use?

I know. I know. I need to be more prepared for the conversations I want to have. Most of my training (when not totally avoiding or hanging behind my camera) is in growling an incoherent rant and stomping off though. Often that all happens in my head. I have a lot of work to do.

Normal is diverse.

Image of the Normal Is Diverse exhibition of vagina vérité, Saturday, 08-Dec-2018, at Lower East Side, NYC.

Normal Is Diverse exhibition of vagina vérité, Saturday, 08-Dec-2018, at Lower East Side, NYC.

Normal is diverse.

I am only beginning to understand it. I can’t say I actually live that truth on a broad scale in my life, as if it was natural. Though it is. natural. I get that we’re all different, each unique. Even so, I keep expecting something familiar, or more like me, or like what I want, believe I need, or would just be easy, or at least easier. I’m thinking about more than vaginas now. And more than about appearance, but appearance is where we usually begin. And, often it’s where we stay.

When I say I’m only beginning. to understand it, it’s because it runs deep, deep inside us. These assumptions about ourselves and each other. They’re hard to get at: often so familiar that we don’t recognize that we are complicit in maintaining mean fictions. Even when they work against us.  

The hierarchies of power and entitlements that follow from these ideas go against what is plainly apparent. when you just look: that normal is diverse. There is no one right way to be.

But still we keep expecting sameness, judging and demeaning anything other than the stereotype in the media, in our minds, that our families, schools and neighbors told us was the way to be. This stuff runs deep, the right way/wrong way us-and-them view of the world is so old it’s almost invisible. It’s the basis of so much of what we each believe matters, think is true, is to be feared, hated and avoided. So you can’t always tell when you’re part of the problem. Even if you’ve been hurt.

Normal is diverse. We have to keep looking. To see what is. Stop thinking you know. Just look. In the mirror, and at each other. What do you see?

Day after releasing “normal is diverse”

Beastie Boys mural by Danielle Mastrion on Ludlow Street, at Rivington

Beastie Boys mural by Danielle Mastrion on Ludlow Street, at Rivington

I spent the day after the exhibition, yesterday, in zombie slow-motion mode, wandering around some, and I haven’t really begun to absorb the experience. All of this hindered by the mind-numbingly bad smell of the cleaning solution the studio used, that many places are using, is this a conspiracy? My apartment is filled with the smell because it got into the boards backing the images and the papers used by viewers to post their thoughts IRL. I’m told by a friend who’s banned the stuff from her business that it’s called Fabuloso. It’s really bad. Why do people think this smell = clean?

So, I’ll be unpacking my mind bit by bit. It was, otherwise, such a good night. For me, for the work, the release of “normal is diverse”. For us. Because this really is about us, and making space to look at ourselves, this important aspect of ourselves, and reflect, discuss, not be alone with how we see ourselves in relation to others. How we compare ourselves as if we are the sum of our parts. And why. Why do we compare?

Just wanted to share one thought today, from vagina vérité viewers:

“Thank you! I never knew I needed this until I came!”

Thank you back! I want to thank everyone who came and who wrote down their thoughts to share with everyone else, attending normal is diverse, and who will attend future exhibitions. I kicked off our posting space with thoughts from attendees of early exhibitions. Looking forward to the next one and including Saturday’s IRL posts there.

 

How does one install 110 vagina portraits?

0107 laser level NID exhibition pic IMG_0052

How does one install 110 vagina portraits? With a laser level, good hair and nails c/o of @havenspanyc aka your best friend and partner in loao (laughing our asses off)!

I’m behind the lens with the upcoming hair date at Haven.

It’s the morning after my first exhibition of vagina vérité in ages and apparently there is no emoji for how full of :lovegratitude: I feel for everyone who had a hand, heart and mind in making it happen with me. Friends and contributors to the project, going back to the beginning (2000!) and at many stops on the way. Artists, performers, speakers and crew of both Vagina Festivals, my unofficial, always has my back staff for all things vagina vérité friends (Marla, Pfunk, Gab) and family (especially my parents!), vagina portrait models, supporters, word-spreaders and believers in diversity as a normal state (not to mention the female body and all it does, on its self-sovereign terms, as a normal state—and a human right). In attendance last night IRL or in spirit.

This is how it’s done, the beautiful meaningful things: always with the help of many. I wish I could name everyone! Each of us a one. to be counted one by one. Not sorted into types and categories and groups of what you think you know about anyone who is not you. Or not like you. No one is like you. Enjoy the beauty of that. Respect everyone else’s right to the same. Expect diversity. It’s normal.

We all have a lot of rethinking to do.

Insert the :lovegratitude: emoji that doesn’t exist yet, but really should. (I canNOT do giphs. We can’t even talk about it, ok?)

Instructions for viewing

Normal is diverse. There is no right way to look.

We are individuals after all. Not interchangeable in any respect. You don’t have my experiences behind you, nor do I have your family, or you my ideas, not my stories, triumphs, pains or dreams. You have yours and I have mine. And, most certainly, your body is not mine, and mine is not yours.

If I was to try to replace your anything with mine, you wouldn’t like it.

Yet we expect.

We compare against idealized versions, retouched photography, and a small set of examples that show up over and over in our super-sorted world of likes and targeted advertising. These have become the model for how we are to live and to look. Especially to look.

…Normal is diverse.

It’s inarguably the case that normal is diverse. There is no other way. And yet, we do not expect diversity. We duck it, think it difficult, find it wrong, or the cause of problems. It’s not worth our time, empathy or curiosity. When know it when we see it, even from a distance, and we go quickly back to the repeated familiar. We don’t expect diversity as the norm.

On Saturday, from 4-8pm, at Ludlow Studios, NYC, we’ll have the unusual opportunity to see 110 vagina portraits, and to see for ourselves that normal is diverse. Also, to share our individual thoughts, by writing them and dropping them in box, from which a volunteer will later pull them out and add them to our wall. The portraits will be on one side of the room and our words on the other, and we will be in the middle seeing what we see. No pressure to talk or reveal yourself, though talking is welcomed and encouraged.

Instructions for viewing

  • This is a space where our bodies are OUR BODIES, and it’s safe for womxn to reflect on themselves and each other.
  • Diversity is understood as normal, even if we’re not used to it.
  • Compassion, empathy and curiosity are expected.
  • We will each show up with our individual stories, experiences, expectations and comfort level with ourselves and with others, and this may change during the exhibition.
  • Respect for each other is required.

I am so looking forward to seeing you.

If you have not yet RSVP’d, please do so here. It’s free, but space is limited.

Love the step you’re in.

Love the step you’re in.

A new friend shared that one with me this week.

The step you’re in.  

To love it, you have to see it.  You have to be able to see the path, or the landscape, maybe it’s a neighborhood, stairs, or a doorway where your feet (and the rest of your body) are. 

Where your feet are is midstep.

Even if you’re not moving right this second. You’re alive. You only exist in motion. Bodies are like that.

You have to step away to see the step.

Because when you’re deep in it, you can’t tell. It’s like being in a plane, window shades down. You can’t feel speed or direction, and you could be anywhere. And maybe you’d like to be elsewhere, or to get more into where you are, or do it differently, or ask for help.

To love the step you’re in, you have to step away.

Among other things, today is an opportunity to take a look around, see the nearscape and the big picture. Check out the view from the inside out, too. And from the past and future yous. They also know things.

Where are you?

What matters here?

If I don’t give up anything that matters to me, how would it look to love the step I’m in?

How about you?

Anyway, remembering to love is always a good idea. I am grateful for the opportunity to do that this morning.

Love the step you’re in.

vagina vérité, ten years in the making (2:38 min on stage)

Last summer, I attended the eighth year of the World Domination Summit (WDS), in Portland, OR. It’s a weekend conference, that becomes a week-long experience as attendees organize additional talks, activities and experiences during the days leading up to it. Attendees often sign up for the next year on the last day to make sure they have a spot. The underlying themes of WDS are community, service and adventure. I know, the name doesn’t sound like it, but it’s like going to inspiration camp. If there’s something in you that you want to achieve, you’ll gain ground there.

I didn’t know this when I signed up, but it’s true.

After not-working on vagina vérité for a few years, I was just ready to try something different. I’ve been a reader, and a fan of, Chris Guillebeau, author and originator of WDS, since 2007. I reserved my spot at WDS2018 to get clarity on how to reboot the project, and forgot about it.

A few weeks prior to the conference, attendees received an email from team WDS, inviting us to submit our remarkable stories for the chance to share them on stage. They characterized a remarkable story as:

  • A time in which you needed to trust.
  • A moment that altered the trajectory of your life.
  • A quick lesson or life principle you think would help others.
  • A way in which you were inspired or influenced by someone else, or something that happened.
  • A story that is vulnerable and reflective.
  • A request that you think the WDS community can help you with.
  • A person you’d like to publicly thank.

By the second bullet point, I could hear myself saying “One day, I was meeting a friend for drinks, and before my butt hit the bar stool, she said, “Do you like the way your vagina looks?” I most certainly had a remarkable story to tell.

For as long as I can remember, I have been extremely uncomfortable speaking in public. If I notice the sound of my voice in the company of even three people, I want to stop it. Public happens very quickly for me. Speaking on a stage was miles from my wheelhouse.

But—I had signed up to attend WDS, specifically to get past the obstacles between me and giving the project its due. It began as a response to my friend, and I couldn’t let it end there. We need to see ourselves for ourselves. It needs to be shared, and shared widely.

This was an opportunity to work on that: I had to apply to tell my remarkable story in front of an audience.

Ugh.

I closed my eyes when I hit submit, and hoped they wouldn’t be interested in vaginas this year. Maybe they already had a vagina project on the docket.

But they didn’t. They chose my story.

They also provided help in the form of a storytelling coach, Marsha Shandur, and the new friends I made, Linda Ugelow and, especially, Rebecca Villareal, who helped me find the words.

This video of me on stage was shot at WDS. In it, I compress the ten-year experience of vagina vérité into a 2:38 min talk, including intro and outro.

Now, I have not seen the video end to end. I just can’t. I’m pretty sure I recited the script that you can see in my front pocket when the camera pulls back verbatim, but I am just too nervous about speaking in public to watch myself on stage, heart pounding nearly through my ribs, in front of 1,000 people.

When I got backstage after, I literally laid myself flat on the ground.

Still, it’s progress.

In a few weeks, the vagina portraits will be on exhibition in NYC. I hope to see you there. I totally plan to say something. I’ll probably still need to memorize it, and keep glancing at the ceiling to remember what comes next. At least now I know I can do it.

normal is diverse

You’re invited to a photography exhibition of 110 vagina portraits, so we can see ourselves for ourselves.

 

vulva diagram, with masking tape

vulva diagram on tracing paper

vulva diagram on tracing paper, with masking tape

I guess the tape means I used have this up on a wall in my apartment.

Diagrams and illustrations are helpful, information. The vagina portraits are more than that. They’re a mirror, even if it’s not your portrait you’re looking at. Because gathered together, as they will be for the normal is diverse exhibition, they become more than a document, depicting more than an aspect of someone, one. They’re a collective mirror.

You’ll see if you attend the exhibition next month. More like, you’ll feel it. Your stories lived in your body, your stories about women’s bodies, will recognize themselves in the faces of these vagina portraits.

 

Who should see this?

normal is diverse

normal is diverse: a photography exhibition of 110 vagina portraits, so we can see ourselves for ourselves

I think about this a lot. What the project means to me, the conversations I’d like to have, or more like the conversations I’d like to start via these images, and frankly, I get sick of the sound of my voice pretty quickly into it.

So, I’d like to try something different.

If you can, I’d love to hear in your words, what you think vagina vérité is about and who this exhibition is for.

I’ll go first with what I’m thinking about today.

For me, this is about freedom, freedom from inherited ideas about who you’re supposed to be and what’s meaningful about your life—In short it’s about respect, because you have to have respect to live freely. Not sure how I get there from vagina portraits? I hear you, but I wanted to keep this short. I’m happy to get into it more if you like. Let me know.

Meanwhile, what do you think?

What is vagina vérité about? Who should see it?
What do you think, or hope, attendees will get out of it?

You can use this form to reply. It’s anonymous!

women’s clubs

Blue Light, oil on canvas, 1998.

Blue Light, oil on canvas, 1998.

I generally spend much of my time on my own, but lately, I am looking to connect in different ways, not just the 1:1 I usually go for. Something about facing more than one person at a time has always made me self-conscious, and that just adds one more viewer to the scene! Bogging me down further.

Lately though, because I’m looking to invite as many women as I can to see the vagina portraits in December, I’m showing up for more group activities. Still towing along performance anxiety, or whatever it is, that separates me in these situations, but attending anyway.

Last night it was a dinner hosted by Techfest Club. It’s a community for women in tech in NYC. We were supposed to end at 9, but pretty much everyone just kept on talking. Interesting, accomplished, open, generous women. Meetup info is here.

How about you? Are you a member of any women’s clubs?

Being female isn’t normal?

As I prepare for the normal is diverse exhibition, I am struck more and more by how, in our world, it just is not seen as normal to be female.

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Our first vagina festival

Vagina Festival 2007 was visual and performance art experience, that took place over the weekend of Feb 16-18, 2007. It was a part of the VDay Worldwide Campaign to end violence against women and girls. We did have some important conversations there. We didn’t go far enough. I mean I didn’t.

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global feminism for my 13-year-old self

I didn't discuss this with anyone. I figured I was supposed to handle it on my own. As if the male non-menstruating, etc. bodylife was the norm, and we shouldn't bother anyone about all the other female stuff we experience. 

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NoChoice Travel

At the core of democracy and basic human rights, is sovereignty over your own body. No woman or child should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.

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Independence day

I don't know about you, but I have spent way too much time letting a culture of bullying women into silence undermine my ability to simply show up for myself, for what I believe in, and want for us.

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Save the date

Over the course of ten years, I photographed over 100 vagina portraits.

I wanted us to see for ourselves, that we are indeed unique and interesting. To deliver the message that how you are is how you’re supposed to be. Because it’s normal that we are all different.

I shot from the point of view reserved for gynecologists and lovers (sometimes). The images are square and a little larger than life to properly extend the invitation to look. Because I don’t think we really really look at each other. Slowly. Openly. With interest in the other. So, this is a chance to try that out. To take your time.

There were no stylists, no details about the model to set the mood for fantasy or to objectify us—just the everyday vagina in plain view. Each strikingly unique. I did my best to keep myself out of it. To make some initial decisions about the composition and then get out of the way, and let you see what you see for yourself.

The normal is diverse exhibition takes place on Saturday, 08-Dec-2018 from 4-8pm at Ludlow Studios, 40 Ludlow Street, NYC 10002. Ludlow Studios is both a photography studio and an exhibition space. I have to say, it’s an ideal venue for this exhibition. It’s roomy and kind of cozy at the same time. 

This will be the first time the v-portraits have been exhibited since 2010.

It’s free, but space is limited, so RSVP to save your space.

vagina vérité is a collective mirror of our individuality, expressed through an endlessly interesting aspect ourselves, the faces of our vaginas.

It raises a lot of questions.

It’s an opportunity to have conversations we don’t usually get to have. Out loud, or privately. While viewing, or later. Or not. It’s personal, yOur experience. Come by and see what you think, and feel.

It’s for my friend. I don’t believe I’ve properly answered her question yet.

It’s for, and about, women. Everyone who is interested is welcome.—Alexandra

 

Moving toward respect

I think to do that, to get there, we have to really see ourselves and each other. To look slowly. And repeatedly, and to tell stories. Reveal experiences, fears. A lot of it's about pain. I was reading something Sean Penn said about containing the #MeToo movement, reframing it into something less black and white: he said it was divisive. That it was coming between men and women.

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Women making v-portraits

The women who made v-portraits with me ranged in age from 19-60. They may, or may not, have been comfortable with their bodies, or familiar with their vaginas. There were no requirements in order to pose, other than to be over 18. I don’t know what their sexual orientation was, or whether they’d ever given birth, or had sexual intercourse—unless it came up in conversation, and if it did, I didn’t make a note of it.

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Sexual, not erotic. What do you think?

In my living room, I had a wall of close-up documentary-style photographs of vaginas, framed in 8"x10" document frames.

The everyday vagina in plain view.

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What it must have felt like to feel safe in a crowd like that

It's not that I expect violence in every crowd, it's a habit of vigilance and guarding against that you build up over time. A little extra weight that you carry with you everywhere. You get used to it.

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The unique story of each of us

When I look at the vagina portraits, I see landscape. Human landscape. We are each a world.

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Letting it pass

I figured early on that it was a matter of gender, or religion, that kept the conversation just this side of hostile all that time, but I averted my eyes. I've seen that expression of disdain before, and I just didn't want to deal. I told myself it was temporary and not worth confronting.

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For years, my apartment was vagina central

For years, my apartment was vagina central. At about 30 v-portraits, I began exhibiting. I previewed vagina vérité® on its own, and as part of group shows. The exhibitions and events explored a range of themes relating to women’s bodies and how we feel about them and what that means for our quality of life.

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