When we talk about this shirt, we’re talking about vulvas. We’re talking about our culture’s values around vulvas, masturbation, and pubic hair. And the things we say not only reveal our internalized issues with those natural things; our words are impacting everyone who listens.
I will begin by getting the distracting things out of the way. I am not a fan of American Apparel’s advertising, and often times not a fan of the company itself. I’m especially pissed about their approach to fat potential customers. I hate that their t-shirt sizes run really small compared to other companies, and that the fabric is cheap and disposable. There, now that we have that out of the way lets refuse to be distracted by our thoughts on this this company so we can focus on this t-shirt, ok?
Recently American Apparel started selling this t-shirt, and the internet and news media went into their predictable meltdown as though this were bigger than global warming, international conflict, and the US government shutdown all rolled into one. What was the outcry? I won’t include links because these folks are getting enough press already. The summary: the shirt is disgusting because (1) it’s a big naked vulva (2) it’s not naked/young enough; it has pubes (3) it’s menstruating. For much of the mainstream media it was just too taboo to include (4) the vulva is being pleasured by a hand on the clit.
Whether you or I would wear a shirt like this doesn’t matter to me one bit (spoiler: I would), nor does it matter to this discussion. What I care about is what we’re saying to each other and the world when we comment on this shirt. When we talk about this shirt, we’re talking about vulvas. We’re talking about our culture’s values around vulvas, masturbation, and pubic hair. And the things we say not only reveal our internalized issues with those natural things; they are impacting everyone who listens.
This is a line drawing of a real vulva, drawn from a vulva selfie taken by one of the artists who created this image. (The blood was added later, if you’re curious.) If you’re interested in learning more about the artists and their thoughts on the brewhaha about the shirt, this is a great interview. Although every vulva is different, there are plenty of vulvas out there that look like this one. The simplicity of the line drawing means it can represent a particularly wide variety of vulvas, to boot. When we say nasty things about this vulva, we’re disparaging a real person’s vulva and we’re saying awful things about the vulvas of many people. By labeling certain things that nearly every vulva was born to have (pubic hair, menstrual blood, labia, masturbatory pleasure) as disgusting in this image, we are enforcing the idea that vulvas and sexual pleasure are something to get all “ew, gross” about.
A happy vulva is a fucking gorgeous vulva, with or without hair, with or without blood. That includes mine, yours, hers, theirs, his (genitals do not equal gender), and that one over there. If we’re gonna get our collective undies in a twist over the need for more positive body images, then lets start with our own language right here and now. I surely hope none of us would turn to our child, sibling, parent, best friend, our partners, or ourself and say “your vulva is nasty.” When we put down the image on this shirt, that is one of the messages we’re sending, whether intentional or not.
The pubic hair is natural and attractive.
The fact that the person in the image is pleasuring themself suggests that they and their vulva are happy together, and that’s fantastic.
I love this vulva.
I love that it is proudly displayed on a shirt.
And I adore your vulva even more. I hope you do, too.