A series of illustrations of vulvas in the shape of a heart. Courtesy of @the.vulva.gallery on Instagram

Is my vagina ugly?

Ask Emma: “how to deal with being self conscious about your hoooha?”

Featured photo taken from @the.vulva.gallery on Instagram.

An insecurity about my vagina is one of the few persistent doubts that I still have about my body as an adult. Through the lens of a cis-gender female identity, I’ve encountered this same insecurity in countless young woman, dating back to shy conversations held by 12 year old friends navigating puberty to the humorous, though self deprecating comments of full fledged adult women.

It’s no secret that many people are self-conscious about their genitalia. But the prominence of this subject poses an interesting question: why do we hate our vaginas?

My first recommendation to anyone who shares this insecurity is to visit the @the.vulva.gallery Instagram page.

The Vulva Gallery is an Instagram page with 600+ thousand Instagram followers portraying vaginas of all kinds, in all of their beautiful diversity. This page of visual affirmation was one that I found in my first year of university (age 17/18) when I was still steeped in juvenile pressure to invent my person and present myself to the opposite sex as “hot”, “pretty” and “sexy”. I have a memory of being that age and having a sexual partner who wanted to examine my vagina up close. No one had ever asked to do that before. I immediately sat upright.

I was mortified that this person would get so close to what I perceived to be the least attractive piece of my body, so as to see the ‘uglier’ details up close. I was specifically convinced that my inner labia was too long, and wrinkly. Overall I was under the impression that my vulva was too big; ‘fat’ if you will. I also thought it smelled weird.

In reality I resonate quite a bit with the illustrations below, which suggests to me that my vagina isn’t as strange as I once thought it to be.

The sentiments shared on this page are that of body positivity, inclusivity and diversity, with extending subjects of sexual health, mutual consent, safe & pleasurable sex, and open & respectful communication. For me personally, it was eye opening to see imagery of female genitalia that looked like mine. It occurred to me even, that I hadn’t seen many images of vaginas in my youth. I simply assumed that mine was faulty, because I was not equipped to think otherwise.


The artist behind the Vulva Gallery account is Hilde, an illustrator living in Amsterdam who uses they/ them pronouns. Hilde’s work is commission based— the vulvas that are added to the gallery are submitted and/ or paid for. A “tiny” digital illustration (as advertised in an “about me” highlight reel on the Instagram account) is free (4x 4 cm) though there is a long waitlist due to the large amount of entries Hilde receives. They paint new portraits every six months. Alternatively you can pay for a portrait that will be sent to your home (selected from three sizes) and hand painted/ signed.

For either option you can contact Hilde for details about your piece, respectively before you send photos of the vulva in question! Contact: thevulvagallery@gmail.com.

You’ll notice that each illustrated vulva is accompanied by a brief excerpt written by the individual portrayed. These words offer a glimpse into the world of insecurity that womxn especially, of all ages, experience in regard to their genitalia.

The bottom line is that it’s not an uncommon experience to feel this insecurity, and I would like to argue that the first step in changing the perception of your ‘hoohaa’, is to recognize that what you’re feeling is not abnormal. Should you open yourself up to dialogue with trusted friends/ family/ your doctor, I imagine that you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find validation in these conversations.

“You think your vagina is weird?!”

“Me too!!”

It will take some courage to initiate this conversation, especially if it’s not a topic that came up comfortably in your youth. If that’s the case for you, I would like to remind you that as an adult you have the ability to change the discourse around your body. If this form of conversation is foreign, don’t be afraid to share your hesitancy.

I’ll use a conversation that I recently had with my partner as an example. He likes the appearance of my vagina, and is happy to reaffirm that perception to me. When I first told him that I struggle with feeling self conscious of it, and in fact feel sexier standing in front of him in my underwear than I do completely naked, he was baffled. He couldn’t understand what I didn’t like about it. What I want to highlight about this dialogue is that this insecurity is so close to me that I often perceive it as indisputable fact, especially when relating it to a sexual partner. But when I shared it with someone who respects and cares about me, who is not uncomfortable discussing these subjects, I encountered new vocabulary and a more accepting discourse.

In these interactions with my partner, I can safely practice affirming the beauty of my vagina. I struggle to use the word ‘beautiful’ personally so it helps that he is comfortable saying it. However, it’s still my responsibility to practice affirmation on my own time.

To this end, I suggest allocating time for yourself to get acquainted with your vagina. Like seriously, you gotta get up close and practice liking it/ complimenting it/ validating your experience as a person with a vagina. I’ll be doing it too, as I have a lot of work to do in this regard. If you’re not sure how to go about this, try sitting down with your legs open while sitting in front of a mirror, standing while holding a mirror below you, or taking photos.Try not to let any embarrassment or shame you might feel get the best of you— these are necessary boundaries to push if you are to change your perceptions.

I also suggest pushing yourself to try out new vocabulary surrounding your vagina in order to encourage the normalcy of subjects like body positivity and self acceptance in your everyday discourse.

Personally, I struggle to use the word “pussy” comfortably, whereas I know a lot of individuals who find that attribution empowering. The way that I plan to practice getting more comfortable with words like this (and with similar connotations) is by forcing myself to employ it in both sexual and non-sexual dialogue with my partner, as well as on my own time, and with trusted friends. Other words you might try include (according to the Oxford dictionary):

And of course, hoohaa, as used by the lovely reader who bravely offered me this question to explore.

I hope that conversations like this become more and more normal in educational streams, and of course with young people and their loved ones. Everyone deserves to feel that their genitalia, much like the rest of their body, is unique and worthy of celebration.

You can visit previous “Ask Emma” responses, here, and here!

Talk soon,

Emma

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