Yes, people find our blog with a variety of search terms.
And all I can say is that judging by the search terms the world is a worse place than I’d like it to be. Seeing how many people follow our blog and engage with it in various ways makes me smile (I love our blog.) But often looking at the search terms which lead people here makes me sigh.
Sometimes I post them on our Facebook page to find a little humour in the situation. They’re often sexually loaded search terms like “women having orgasms on bicycles,” “big muddy boobs,” or “sexy CrossFit crotch shot tumblr.” Or “naked yoga babes,” “nude pro women athletes shower room,” and “sexy plus sized sweaty mamas.” Whatever. (These are all from recent weeks.)
The sexy searches don’t bug me so much. Yes, women’s athletic participation shouldn’t be reduced to a list of sexy body parts but other than that I’m kind of blase about it all. And often the searches show more diversity in taste than you’d expect. (See this post with some discussion of that, focused on a search for women with big tits wearing neon green bras.)
But what does bother me are the searches that relate to women’s anxiety about our own imperfections.
“How can I get a thigh gap?” “My fat belly grosses me out.” “If I’m running so much, why am I still so fat?”
Or the above “fat vagina” comment.
Now sometimes they’re looking for critical discussions of the topic at hand rather than directly looking for information about that topic themselves. I hope that’s the case with the statement that’s the title of this post. I made the mistake of googling it and saw that in terms of fat-vagina-shame this person isn’t alone.
Presumably this is a sub category of body shame. What’s body shame?
See an excellent body shame article here. Here’s an excerpt about how serious the effects of body shame can be:
Body shame and appearance anxiety are affecting us at epidemic rates. Shame, by definition, results in feelings of wanting to either hide or change the thing that doesn’t meet external or internal standards. For us, self-objectification takes place when we feel shame and hide ourselves or parts of ourselves from the world because we don’t meet the ideals we think we should, or we work to change the parts of us that just don’t cut it. These days, beginning with puberty, females are TWICE as likely to experience depression as males. This is directly associated with our objectifying culture, which leads us to evaluate and control our bodies in terms of our sexual desirability above all else.
Body shame, which manifests itself in the form of self-objectification, has been linked to disordered eating, unhealthy sexual practices (not saying “no” when you want to and not using condoms), plans for cosmetic surgery, diminished mental performance at school, diminished athletic performance, anxiety and depression, and sedentary lifestyles — and these impairments occur among all ethnicities and ages. Some of our favorite scholars, Fredrickson & Roberts (1997), state that “the habitual body monitoring encouraged by a sexually objectifying culture may reduce women’s quality of life.” We know this to be true.
Yikes. People. It matters.
On the specific issue of vaginal norms, appearance, and size, I’ve got a few thoughts.
First, we’d all do better if we knew a bit more about female anatomy and the names for specific bits of it. Likely the person searching is concerned about having a fat vulva, not a fat vagina.
What’s the distinction? Here, from a grammar blog, is one explanation: “In female mammals, the vagina is the passage leading from the opening of the vulva to the cervix of the uterus. The word is commonly misused in place of vulva, which denotes the external genital organs of the female mammal. This mistake is so common that we probably can’t stop it, but grownup users of English should nevertheless know the difference between the words.”
Now not everyone cares about this distinction. See I Don’t Care About Your Stupid Vulva, It’s All Vagina to Me. The author writes:
Here is a thing you should know: I will never, EVER stop saying “vagina” when I mean “vulva.” Yes, I know the difference. No, I don’t care how mad you are about it. Yes, I think your outrage is misdirected and humorless and pedantic and boring. No, I’m not sorry. And if one more person e-mails to tell me the difference between a vagina and a vulva I’m going to start calling both of them “inside-out-dong-sock.” Vagina vagina vagina vagina vagina.
Looky here, ding-dongs. I am in the business of entertainment. And vagina, for whatever reason, just sounds funnier than vulva. It just DOES. “Vagina” also has a long history of making people incredibly uncomfortable—there’s a confrontational value to it. “Vulva” is clinical, anatomical, medical. Boooooriiiiiing. Vagina is like “junk.” At this point in our linguistic evolution it’s become a general term for the general lady-area.
But me, I like precision in language and I think probably the search wasn’t for information about fat vaginas.
Second, it might not have been about vulva chubbiness either. Indeed, the most recent area subject to scrutiny and shame is the pubic mound.
For a moment of light relief in all this, read “I Got The Swimsuit Issue Cover By Making It Look Like I’m About To Show You My Pussy,” An Interview with Hannah Davis. on Funny or Die.
For a.more critical discussion see Medical Daily’s take, Mons Pubis Becomes New Thigh Gap After SI Swimsuit Cover Spurs Surgeries:
“This year, the hot new body part is the formerly unnoticed span of flesh between the top of one’s panties and the labia majora,” wrote Jennifer Weiner in The New York Times in the appropriately titled article, “Great! Another Thing to Hate About Ourselves.” This seemingly private body part has left many women and girls with another set of insecurities that go beyond stretch marks, eye bags, and butts and boobs. It has even spurred plastic surgery.
So in addition to worries about body hair down there, there’s now a concern about having a pubic mound that’s too fat.
Probably these trends aren’t unconnected. What was once covered in body hair and clothing is now bare of fabric and fur and is displayed prominently on magazine covers. All the better for scrutiny and shame.
Third, there’s the ongoing rise in labial cosmetic surgery as we seem to be honing in on one standard of beauty for all bodies. I’ve written lots about this. See my most recent post, In praise of vulva diversity!
Fourth, you see this in worries raised about aging and the appearance of vulva. Like skin elsewhere, skin there wrinkles and darkens with age. Prior to the prevalence of hair removal and the development of standards for vulva adequacy and beauty, women might not have ever worried about this.
It’s a fact of life: The appearance of your lady parts may change with age. “The labia may become less plump as estrogen levels wane, fatty pads in the labia shrink and less collagen can lead to more sagging,” says Dr. Rankin. “The skin of the vulva may darken or lighten and the clitoris may shrink. It’s normal either way.” Scary? Nah. “These changes, which are often related to decreasing levels of estrogen, do not affect how much pleasure your girl parts can bring you.”
There’s also the worry about the state of the hair you do have there, as it thins and greys too.
That’s part of why I think the “full bush” is coming back.
I’ve been waiting for the return of the full bush and it’s here. See this article and check out these mannequins. Why did I think it was bound to come back? A preference in the media at least for the bodies of young women. Yes, as feminists have pointed out, girls have no pubic hair and maybe the hairless bodies in pornography resemble them. But they also resemble older bodies. Indeed, the very first real adult women I saw–outside of porn–with no public hair were elderly women changing at the gym. With age women lose hair there and often it too greys. If we all remove it, we all look alike. No markers of visible youth and in a youth oriented culture we can’t have that! So the full bush is back. If you’ve had it all permanently removed and you care about looking dated maybe it’s time for a merkin! (Here’s a NSFW gallery of famous merkins.) I confess I hadn’t heard of the term until this song. Worth watching just for lego merkin.
And then there’s ways of fixing the colour of your skin. My pink button restores your labia to its youthful pink colour.
Anti-aging mania and marketing: Not just for your face anymore! Now there’s My New Pink Button, genital cosmetic colorant. Or, as our tipster calls it: Pussy dye. So, are you a Marilyn, a Bettie, a Ginger or an Audry? See, My New Pink Button comes (HEH) in four shades: Marilyn is the lightest and “good for beginners.” What’s Bettie like? “Think of that favorite lipstick you wear for those dressy black tie affairs.” Audry is a “bold burgundy pink color” for “the woman that loves to be daring.” Ginger was “developed for ‘Women of Color.'”
Fifth, there’s anxiety about vaginal strength too, which is at least health and function related not appearance related.
Here’s the champion vaginal weight lifter! See ‘World’s Strongest Vagina’: Tatyana Kozhevnikova Shows Off Vagina Weightlifting for the video. And read about her here, The world’s strongest vagina can lift a 30-pound weight.
If all you’ve been doing are squats and crunches to tone up your flabby physique before summer, you’ve been neglecting a very important area: your vagina.
Tatyana Kozhevnikova, a Russian gymnast and mom, can lift nearly 31 pounds with her crotch muscles, earning her the unofficial title of World’s Strongest Vagina. (She even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records).
If you happen to harbor secret fantasies about hoisting things off the ground with your vagina, Kozhevnikova wants you to know this: She was not born with a super-ripped box. It was a long road to where she is now. Hey, we’ve all got to have dreams. Her impetus for this new career path was motherhood. After giving birth, she was left with a lifeless and floppy vajayjay, so she decided to take matters into her own…um, hands. Clearly, Kegels weren’t cutting it for her.
And now anyone with a slackened and out-of-shape vagina can get just as fit as Kozhevnikova with her patented workout called Intimate Gymnastics. The name of the workout sounds so much more fun than the reality of it—lifting a kettlebell with your pelvic floor muscles. If my ovaries did cartwheels, or my vagina a backbend, maybe I’d give it a whirl.
At this point, you’re probably wondering just how one lifts weights with an organ that has no opposable thumbs. No, she doesn’t vacuum it up into the abyss, but good guess. Kozhevnikova inserts a wooden egg into her vagina (with a condom—safety first!) that she grips Kegel-style. The egg has a rope that attaches to the weight, and then she does a few reps. (If you’re having a hard time envisioning the proper lifting form, not to worry, we’ve got video footage of the whole thing! But we do not recommend that you try this at home).
All of it, except maybe the vaginal strengthening thing, make me want to throw up my arms and scream. What’s wrong with a little diversity in size and shape? Do all women have to look exactly the same?
Tracy blogged last week about runner’s face and wrote: “The whole thing is a pernicious and demoralizing bit of fear-mongering.” I agree.
Part of me just wants to ignore them. These made up names for fake problems don’t even deserve our negative attention. We run the risk of making these pretend afflictions more real by engaging with them at all. But then I think of the search terms and the people out there looking to fix their bodies and who stumble on our blog. I hope they find my posts on loving your body, Body positivity and queer community and Love a better motivator than hate.