Category Archives: the beauty myth

vulva. vulva. VULVA (not vagina!)!

In my late 30s (in the early 2000s), the Houston Press hired me to write a review of a play showing in Austin, The Vagina Monologues. By now, most people have heard of the play, I’d imagine.

Guess what I found out as I watched the play? I found out that my vagina isn’t my vagina. That is, the vagina is actually the soft tunnel that leads from the outside of a female’s body up to the cervix (which leads to the uterus).

A vagina is not, it turned out the whole squishy area on the outside. That, I learned, is called the vulva.

Did you know that?

A lot of people, full grown adults, don’t know that. In fact, I’d venture to guess a lot of people will find the word “vulva” very silly sounding.

I was in my 30s. I was an adult. I didn’t know the name of my own body parts. I was not alone.

Why does this matter? Why am I writing about it?

I’m writing about it because this kind of knowledge is power. I saw an article recently advocating for using proper names for body parts when teaching children. You know, instead of hoo-ha or pee-pee, use the correct language. It was a good piece. But, guess what? It referred to the female parts as “the vagina!” Even an article stressing the value of naming body parts correctly got it wrong!

It winds me up because we women (cisgender) are encouraged to live in ignorance. How can we accept ourselves unconditionally when we don’t even know ourselves?

I’ll end with this post I saw recently that I think illustrates my point well:

“Imagine if male genitals were treated like female genitals? Like testicles weren’t even referred to as testicles and some men didn’t even know what they were actually called and the general area was just called “penis”.

Imagine if boys were told that their prostate doesn’t exist. Imagine if hairy genitals on men were called “bearded snakes.” And they don’t know how many different holes they have until adulthood. Imagine.

imagine if men were flocking en mass to get “testicle tightening” surgeries.  imagine if men weren’t taught that they could have orgasms.  Imagine if it were considered rude to say “penis” even in debates regarding legislature involving medical care about men’s penises.  Imagine penis was a word that was considered too “dirty” to be said on television. Imagine if penis’s were depicted only as meat-sticks that fit in vaginas with no other value.  Imagine if teenage boys heard joke after joke about how all dicks smell terrible no matter what

Imagine if people thought the more a penis was used, the smaller and more useless it became.

Imagine if people didn’t understand how penises ‘work’ and therefore their orgasms didn’t matter.

Imagine if having a penis meant you were paid less money.”

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Filed under activism, genderism, the beauty myth, women's medical freedom

the beholder

Could be: wrinkled skin, quivery never-plucked too-dark eyebrows, funnel shaped sticking-straight-out ears, awkward closed-mouth smile with lips squinched creating shadows mimicking a moustache, ever-lengthening snarly nostriled hook nose, mismatched odd-shaped eyes, stringy thinning hair pulled back tight causing the appearance of a crew cut, deep dark pits of under-eye circles, shiny spots, desert-dry splotches, absent eyelashes, and moles like pebbles scattered across the pavement.

Or, it could be an attractive woman.

Depends who’s beholding.

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Filed under the beauty myth, tidbits

appearances

A few days ago I was singing a song while my older daughter read her book nearby. She was also, of course, listening. In fact she was watching, too, and it was lovely. It added to the intimacy of the moment.
After I finished she asked me what the first words of the song were. On hearing them she burst out with, “Mommy, that’s just like you!” The song was “Nobody’s Girl” by Bonnie Raitt and the first words are, “She don’t need anybody, to tell her she’s pretty, she’s heard it every single day of her life.” I asked her what she meant and she said people are always telling me I’m pretty.
What I think she’s picking up on is a stream of compliments I’ve received lately because of this whole weight loss thing. It’s relatively dramatic (about fifty pounds) so people who haven’t seen me in a while find it notable. As in, they note it.
My freshman year of college I dabbled in anorexia and bulimia and dropped down to around 108 pounds (I’m around about 5’6″ and weigh about 160 now). When I went home over Thanksgiving and Christmas that year people were insane. They were gushing and ooooooohing and aaaaahing over “how great” I looked. I was starving myself, making myself sick, and got nothing but praise for it. Our society and the obsession with female thinness is seriously fucked up.
Since I’m not starving myself and I’m not unhealthy now I don’t mind the “you look great!” comments. I’m a little annoyed for the sake of humanity that a woman getting thinner draws more compliments than a plumper woman, but remove the socio-political issues from it and I appreciate people are just trying to be kind.
When I notice a friend looks particularly attractive it’s hard for me not to say, “What is different?” Frequently I say it (I tend to say what’s on my mind without much consideration for the consequences) and realize what I’m implying is that they usually don’t look so great. Oops. Commenting on appearances can be so laden in miscommunications it’s easy to avoid them entirely. Then those of us who strive to always value the person inside more than the external qualities end up feeling shallow for what seems such a surface level assessment. I even had a friend hug me the other day wanting to apologize for “making such a big deal” (about my weight) because she didn’t mean to draw attention to it like that. In that case I think she just caught me in one of my many, many foul moods so her compliment may have been met with a blank stare verging on a stink eye.
Of course with The Beauty Myth still alive and well, some lost pounds doesn’t equal contentment, necessarily. I’ve continued my moratorium on mainstream media which I began last year in an effort to stop letting unrealistic and unattainable visions of “beauty” affect my self-esteem. As the reality of divorce set in I began seeing myself differently. Marriage is a comfortable state and one as loving and good as ours provided unconditional acceptance of me just as I was. I didn’t give much thought to my appearance. I’m working hard on returning to a similar state of disregard. It was a pleasant kind of ignorance I felt with no concern about what I should look like or how I should “take care of myself.” I lived with that peacefulness for years so I know it exists. Cutting out mainstream media has helped immensely. I dread grocery store checkout lines these days because that’s where I’m hit with the images and insidious messages I’ve so successfully avoided.
In about fifteen minutes I’ll be having “spa night” with my seven year old, a ritual we started after I read this article in Mothering magazine years ago. We’ll soak our feet, massage lotion into our skin, take turns having bubble baths, and we’ll even put a “clay” mask on our faces as something “fancy.” I was struck, though, tonight by how tempted I was to pick up some lotions promising they would “get rid of wrinkles” or “firm sagging skin.” Some of the fat might be gone, but The Beauty Myth lives on. For my daughters sake (when my own sake isn’t enough motivation) I will continue my search for loving myself for what I am, for how I am, not for how I believe I ought to appear. Tonight we will celebrate our bodies and as always, I will follow her lead in self-love. Children are wiser than any of us “grown-ups” when it comes to this stuff. We’ll talk, we’ll laugh, and we’ll feel extra special giving ourselves these treatments. The intersection of feminism, parenting, mothers/daughters, and being female will all come together and it will have nothing at all to do with appearances. It will be beautiful.

edited to add:

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Filed under mindful living, parenting, the beauty myth

troll? no. interested? yes.

A Facebook friend recently said I was a “shameless troll” in response to this question I’d posted:

Let me put it this way: If men really like women just as they are, how do you explain the mass marketing success of the private area hair waxing and removal and the must-be-thin-no-jigglers and the must-look-“good”-as-defined-by-mass-marketing phenomena?

I disagree I’m being a troll with this question, or that I ever would be an Internet troll. Wikipedia defines a troll as someone posting inflammatory content with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. No way that’s me. I certainly welcome emotional responses if the topics deserve them. I ♥ heated debates, discussions, arguments, conversations.

When I post content that might seem inflammatory my intent is never to just stir up the muck. I want to make my own position clear and learn what other people’s positions are. Or, I’m seeking information from other people about their perceptions. If people get into name calling and hitting brick walls not listening to each other, that’s unfortunate. But it’s absolutely and totally a price worth paying for the meaty substance that can also come from “hot topics.”

So, no. No troll here. Just me, believing in the power and pleasure of direct and blunt conversations.

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Filed under mindful living, the beauty myth, tidbits