The next phase of vagina vérité has begun, and I wanted to invite you in.
In a way, I’m going back to the beginning of the project, which began because I wanted to enable a friend to see herself for herself. It’s often hard to do, to find the right mirror. The right combination of what we want to see, and what we can see. Especially when it comes to our bodies, not just how they look, but how it feels to us living in them, living through them—living our bodylives—it’s not easy to make sense of what we were and weren’t told, what we see around us, whether it’s online or in real life, retouched or raw imagery, fact or fiction, seen and heard lately or going back to our childhoods and ancestors, or even what we experience inside our own bodies.
When it comes to women’s bodies, not just how they look, but our bodylife experiences, there’s a lot more noise than information, conversation or care.
So, for my friend, I began building a mirror, not out of glass (are they made of glass?) but out of vagina portraits. A lot of them. Documentary style, close up, no details about the vagina owner, just its face in plain view. When she told me that she thought there was something wrong with how her vagina looked, yet she hadn’t actually seen any others, I realized that she needed to see herself within the context of all women. Not that I would be able to photograph all women, but I figured that if we could see a lot of vagina portraits, patterns would emerge, maybe more questions too…we’d have something to talk and think about.
It turned out there was a lot to talk about. The part about what our vaginas looked like and whether there’s a right way to look, well that was just the beginning.
The range of experiences happening day by day when it comes to our periods, having sex, pregnancy, giving birth, post-natal life, post-menstrual life…is varied and personal and flat out awe-inspiring, yet most of us know very little about how our bodies work, or what to expect throughout the course of our lives.
Much of female bodylife experience is routinely hidden, smacked with stigma and shame, marginalized, outright disrespected, mis-informed, mis-represented, under-researched, sanity-undermining, dangerous and life-threatening. More so if you’re a woman of color, non-binary, or noticeably non-conforming.
Repeatedly, gaslit and silenced, we aren’t getting to talk about all the things we need to talk about.
This downplays how much the knowledge, wisdom and experience held in each of our bodies matters to the collective wellbeing and to the quality of our individual lives —because even with the ungraspable magnitude of who we are as unique beings, each pretty much a planet unto ourselves: we are nevertheless connected, and can learn from each other’s experiences and views.
Only, it’s hard to get access to each other’s experiences and views.
It’s hard to find a safe space for questions that come up in simple everyday scenarios.
It’s hard to know where to get health services, or how to figure out what’s wrong with you when something feels wrong in you.
Or to learn to live in ways that are about self-care and wellness for you and those you love.
While we are living the lives of more than half the world, finding information and support for the range of bodylife experiences that make up a woman’s life is not easy.
Which brings me to the Bodylife Library project.
I think we need a tool, designed to index all of our stories, info, data, services—everything about female bodylife. All the stuff that is currently held in private Facebook groups, blogs, websites, books, face-to-face conversations, or just inside us and we have told no one—a way to collect and organize it all, so that they are safely, easily, and universally accessible to individual women, organizations, websites, research and healthcare in the service of our wellbeing.
I believe sharing our personal experiences, in our own words, is critical to the quality of health and wellbeing care in general.
Building a Bodylife Library
This is a huge topic. It’s deeply personal and widely varied. It’s fueled by —often hindered by— local, national, historical, ideological, politically-motivated and religion-based conceptions of what comprises a normal bodylife, and/or a healthy bodylife, and together, all this informs what is an accessible quality of bodylife.
What you have access to is mainly a matter of privilege and luck, and what you don’t have access to is in part due to the flipside of that, discrimination, inherently biased systems and bad luck, and also that we’re relying on the wrong kind of technology to store and share our information.
While there are blogs and forums where we can share personal stories, and websites belonging to organizations, doctors, scientists doing research and/or community and social service providers, etc.—they are all doing their thing separately. We are not learning from each other the way we could be.
We should have a universal indexing system. Think of the Dewey Decimal Classification used by libraries worldwide to catalog and place books on a shelf, but this time it will be designed for the endlessly growing and varied records of women’s bodylife stories, information and services. Instead of planning for shelf space, we’ll plan for universal, safe and equitable access on an individual basis. Instead of deciding on a limited number of categories, we’ll build a system that is meant to be open-ended, inclusive, to grow with us.
But how can it be anything less than all-encompassing?
We all deserve to live our lives on our own terms, to talk freely about our experiences, and to take care of ourselves, based on our individual experiences and points of view, not on someone’s idea of how we should be.
When it comes to living a female bodylife, what is it that we need?
- More of? Less of?
- For yourself? For your family? For…?
- What are you curious about?
- Worried about? Excited about?
- When you have questions or difficulties, how do you seek help?
- What’s missing?
I’m collecting our stories, and together we’ll build another kind of mirror, so we can understand, support and improve our bodylife experiences within the context of all women.
Ultimately, I want us to reframe reality, so that female bodylife is no longer shamed, disrespected, or treated as other. So that the space for conversation, and for the truth held in our bodies, is everywhere…
I believe accessible information and open conversation are the foundation of a world where living a female bodylife is intrinsic to the design of our everyday lives, where public and private spaces are intentionally designed to expect, respect and support women. Not an add-on. Not an extra cost. Normal.