In Western societies, sexual health has long been a taboo subject, typically introduced to curious children by parents who describe “the birds and the bees.” For children whose parents are not up to the task of explaining sex and reproduction, sexual health class is the first time they encounter the mysterious world of sex and what those parts “down there” do. Sexual health classes often teach only the essentials about male and female genitals, and many teachers avoid the topic like the plague.
Without a healthy, multi-faceted introduction to sexual health, a myriad of issues and confusion can arise about what is “normal.” A healthy body image (or the lack thereof) is an important factor in the growth and success of an individual. For females who are unacquainted with their vaginas, insecurities can cause a number of psychological issues. Many young women who feel their vaginas are not “normal” are now resorting to plastic surgery to reconstruct their lady parts.
Now Jamie McCartney, an artist based in Brighton, England, has created a unique exhibit that works towards “changing [the] female body image through art.”
At first glance, the ivory-colored wall, aptly named “The Great Wall of Vagina,” looks like an abstract piece of art. Upon further view,
however, it reveals itself to be a collection of molds of female genitals, depicting a wide range of shapes and sizes.
The Wall reflects a great diversity of women. Molds were taken from mothers and daughters, identical and fraternal twins, male-female or female-male transgendered people, and women before and after giving birth. It also includes molds from women who have undergone labiaplasty to surgically enhance the appearance of their genitals.
McCartney’s work on the exhibit is featured in a documentary on vaginal plastic surgery called The Perfect Vagina. The film shows McCartney making the molds, as well as the reactions of some of the women who were his models. For those with poor body image, seeing their vagina compared to those of others was a freeing act of self-discovery and clarification. Many women loved the look of their vagina mold.
In Britain there has been a fivefold increase in labiaplasties, which is the reduction of the inner labia, over the past five years. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons is working towards having mandatory psychological screening before any cosmetic surgery can be performed. Fewer than 35% of women are given a psychological exam prior to the surgery. However, many women who resort to surgery have a severe underlying psychological problem that is causing the insecurity that has led them to this option. Girls as young as 11 are even visiting these clinics.
Although critics of the exhibit have said that it is akin to pornography, McCartney and others hope that it can play a role in educating and raising awareness about the importance of a positive and healthy body image for all females. The artist says, “I realized that many women… suffer anxiety about their genitals and I was in a unique position to do something about that….If this sculpture helps just one woman decide not to proceed with unnecessary plastic surgery on their genitals, then it will have succeeded.”
The Great Wall of Vagina is still growing. McCartney is looking for a woman to represent each country in the world in order to create a global wall of vaginas. He is particularly interested in those who have undergone female genital mutilation, so that his exhibit can help raise awareness for women who have been horribly victimized and abused by this procedure. With these future additions, the piece will have a more global scope, and will be undeniably more powerful.
Currently the Great Wall of Vagina is waiting for a temporary or permanent home in an art gallery where it can receive greater attention. Check the Great Wall of Vagina Facebook page. The documentary The Perfect Vagina can be viewed free of charge here.