I was inspired to create this series of images while writing YOU KNOW THIS GIRL, an examination of contemporary American culture (circa 2009) via character study. The main character, Courtney, is a young woman devoid of depth, engrossed in her appearance and cultivating her personality.
Throughout the piece my character demonstrates her confusion between sexual liberation and self-exploitation. Touching upon this motif, and addressing trends like plastic surgery consumerism as well as body dysmorphia, my character strips nude and discusses a consultation with a plastic surgeon with great exultation.
In order to research this scene and prepare for the performance, I went to a plastic surgeon while in character and received a real, pre-surgery consult. Interested in discussing the concept of vaginoplasty, also known as vaginal restoration surgery, I removed all of my pubic hair in order to allow the doctor to appraise my vagina. I don't typically go bald below the belly button and removing all of my pubic hair for this experiment revealed a deep resentment for the politics of pubic hair.
There are a wide variety of sources of pressure for women to remove pubic hair. The aesthetics of porn cannot be ignored but there are enemies within. In the March 2009 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, Ky Henderson – a male editor of the girly mag, put together a spoof of the magazine’s typical table of contents: “If Guys Edited Cosmo: What Would the March issue’s Table of Contents look like if men had their way? Here’s a preview. […] Cover Stories: […] ‘I stopped Trimming Down There’ One woman’s frightening tale will have you running to the waxer. 84.” I knew it was just supposed to be an innocent joke but upon reading this I couldn't help but exclaim (to no one) - "Keep your oppression to yourself, Cosmo!"
Magazines and Hollywood aren't typically harbingers of healthy or realistic ideals. Instead, I resent the pressure from other people the most. I have heard men make comments on this topic to other women, sometimes flat out refusing to have sex with a woman because she had pubic hair. I have also heard other women makes comments about the choices other women make in regards to this issue. My heart also breaks every time I hear a woman freak out about the fact that she didn’t have the foresight to shave before a romantic encounter.
I used to be seriously bitter about it but everyone is entitled to their preferences - I won't resent someone for wanting to see it better or access it more easily. But I hate that the discovery of a lover’s choice to keep their pubic hair has the same feel as the IRA guy’s reaction in The Crying Game. The anxiety and the shame are real when a lover looks at you with disgust.
A common refrain I hear from women who don’t shave is, “I don’t want to look like an eight year old.” Which reflects my biggest qualm about shaving – forget the pain or the ingrown hairs, I hate the way it looks. I know it’s supposed to be sexy but besides the titillation of the occasional breeze, it makes me feel ridiculous instead in charge of my sexuality.
Shaving for research purposed instead of sex enabled me to really look at myself and the norms about to laugh about it. I got an idea for a series of images of my vagina as a means of sparking some conversation. I contacted my friend, photographer Katharine T. Jacobs and asked her if she’d help. Instead of just assisting me with the photography, Katharine helped with the styling – doing the painting, plus the photography and editing. I just sat around - but I'd hate for you to think it was easy. Paintbrushes are quite tickle-y.
As opposed to presenting the vagina as a fetishized, sexual object, the cards are visually and literally everyday objects (desexualized, holiday images vs. sexualized vessels for pleasure and postcards vs. fine art prints), like vaginas actually are. These cards playfully challenge the manifestations of the current cultural norms that have relevance to both men and women. Plus, I think they're pretty funny.
To each his/her own, I want everyone to feel good. I made these cards to come out of the closet and I encourage others to learn to feel sexy with whatever choice they make. If you don’t like bush, then don’t fuck it but please be kind enough to restrain yourself and keep your contempt quiet. If you must say something please express it civilly, there’s no need to give anyone a complex.
The cards were printed in October 2009, a few weeks before I began my tour of YOU KNOW THIS GIRL. Since then the topic has come up in a variety of other places from blogs to The Atlantic.