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Vaginal Shame 

Researching for another post, I came across "Shame," one of my favorite old pieces, written June 30, 2007. Here, I offer the latter half of the post; it's the part I'm working with right now, so thought I'd share it with you, too. It starts a tad out-of-context, but jumps right into the heart of the matter.

In perhaps the most vile, sad and disgusting episode of manipulating shame I’ve ever heard, comes that of a woman’s “friends” who decided to try and talk her out of a VBAC.

This mom, who was creating the most amazing VBAC scenario of her life, was approached by friends and questioned about her sanity. Why would she want a VBAC at all? Why wouldn’t she want to just schedule her surgery? Wouldn’t it be so much easier? The woman defended her choice eloquently by explaining the sadness in her last birth, a cesarean… her desires for empowerment for this birth and how hard she was working to make the stars align for her idea of a perfect birth. Instead of supporting her and applauding her amazing bravery for facing the VBAC naysayers in the medical field, they stepped up the derogatory reasons for why she shouldn’t have a baby come through her vagina.

Beef Curtains.

A horrid term that can actually be Googled. Also known as Roast Beef Curtains. Beef Curtains is a term used to describe a woman’s vulva in repulsive terms, well, let’s make that a REAL woman’s vulva – one that has folds and creases – not a pre-pubescent vulva that has yet to unfold from inside itself. Those “perfect” ones that are copied in operating rooms across the country when women have plastic surgery to “pretty-up” their pussy parts.

This woman’s friends tsk’d tsk’d her insistence on her VBAC by telling her that men just don’t want their women to have beef curtains or, another delightful vulvular term, Romaine Lettuce.

How can women be so cruel to another woman? How can women be so cruel to another woman working so, so hard to empower herself as a woman? How can women feel that the natural folds of a vulva can be so ugly and how can they participate in their denigration so thoroughly? How can women, in less than one generation, buy into the Hustler airbrushing un-reality of a woman’s body? What power do men have over women that they (women) acquiesce everything, even their most beautiful body part – the (proverbial) flower that opens to allow a lover’s touch, a partner’s semen, her own fingers and toys… and then, to allow the babies – the BABIES! – the babies to come through.

The babies come through from uterus through vagina and wear the vulva like a petal’d hat just before reaching the earth and inhaling our air and letting go of mom’s side of the umbilical cord.

Why would someone want to remove the petals from a woman’s body? How could a man not want to fluff with a woman’s labial folds? (Could there be a lesbian somewhere that would also insist on labiaplasty?) How can a woman find her own body disgusting unless someone told her it was? How come it’s always a woman’s body that’s defective? (Not that I think men’s bodies are, but for god’s sake, couldn’t there be some balanced see-saw somewhere?)

When, postpartum, this successful VBAC woman cried because she was worried she would need reconstructive surgery, her friends’ words reverberating in her head.

(And I know now this is one of the reasons women must be choosing primary cesareans, yes? Isn't this horrible?)

I say we all come up with prepared lines for friends like this. Ready?

1. Well, my days as a Hustler pussy model were just about over anyway, so I think a VBAC is worth the risk.

2. Well, you know all those times we sat on the dining room table and showed our coochies to each other at cocktail parties? Those days just might be over.

3. Since when are you so concerned about the issues between my snatch and my lover? Isn’t that between me and s/he?

4. Isn’t that a tad private?

5. My, you sure are bold talking about things you don’t know about in my relationship.

6. How do you know what my vulva’s gonna look like afterwards anyway?

7. How do you know what my man likes?

8. Not everyone's vulva is affected by birth... how do you know mine will be?

9. Well, actually, if the curtains aren’t big enough, I’m having surgery to make them into full-on draperies.

10. Are we going to show each other our stuff now?

11. My wo/man likes my cunt to look like a grown-up’s, not a child’s. A woman’s vulva has “curtains.” So will mine. A child’s has no folds. Is your man into pedophilia?

I think it’s time we stop shaming each other. It’s revolting.

I think we need to turn the tables and laugh the hell out of the women (and men) who try to shame us into thinking our bodies are wrong/fat/less than/ugly. We should all come up with a billion lines to use, put them on tee shirts, business cards, hats, bracelets, necklaces, tote bags, on the big butts of our jeans, across the flat chests - or saggy boobs - of our blouses and memorize them so they spew forth at any given moment that someone tries to make us feel less than we are.

Don't men and women know that beef curtains (let's de-sensitize the name, shall we?) happen in puberty or pregnancy, not just in birth? Just like saggy breasts happen with the hormones of pregnancy, not with breastfeeding? This is what we get for not living in a naked, non-tribal community... not seeing real live tits and ass.

A former topless dancer friend of mine told me she loved seeing the variations on a theme of women's bodies when she started out dancing. She saw women's labia that hung down several inches and was fascinated there was such a thing! She saw inner labia much longer than outer labia, inner and outer labia of all different sizes, shapes, colors and textures. She loved seeing it all and looked closely and often.

I remember seeing the vulva of a new woman who had a few weeks earlier been a man. It was incredible! I asked her to stand over me, showing me every nook and cranny, opening the folds, letting me see her clitoris, her hood, the labia, seeing how the hair grew... it was just so cool! But, now that I think about it, it looked so... un-used? Young? Small? Perhaps that's what women are wanting for their men, but that seems creepy to me. Anyone else?

It’s those that try to shame us that feel shitty about themselves. They are trying to feel better about their own cunts, so they are shaming women about theirs. They don’t want women to have VBACs and feel empowered because if they (the VBAC women) become strong, then that means they (the cesarean choice women) aren’t strong. (Of course, it doesn’t mean that, but in the psychological world, if someone is right, that means someone is wrong.) If the woman has a VBAC and still has great sex afterwards, then perhaps they will be left mute as for the reasons their own sexless, post-cesarean relationship is failing.

The circular thinking needs to stop. It’s useless, pointless and stupid. Let’s everyone leave everyone’s down-below alone, eh? There’s enough shame that comes from our parents, for goodness’ sake! We don’t need it from someone who calls themselves our friend.

Be a friend. Love my cunt the way it is. I promise to love yours the way yours is, too.


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Reader Comments (19)

Hear, hear! Love love love this post. I just shared it via FB, but I hesitated. What if it offended people? What if people get squeamish about my posting such a thing?

And then I realized, "Duh. That's part of the problem" and shared away :)

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJo

Love it. There is a little equality, in that many men are surgically altered at birth and never given a choice. Ya know, that foreskin is just hideous. Never heard the term beef curtains, that's just disgusting.

I told my mom and sisters a cute little story about how my 23 month old ran up to me so proud exclaiming "Mommy, look! My vulva is pink! It's PINK mommy!" and they looked at me like I had said I showed her porn. Made me sad that they felt so uncomfortable teaching their daughters the names of their genitals. Of course, their boys know what a penis is and we tell funny stories about that all day long, sigh.

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrie

Uh, how about steering away from using the word 'real' to describe body parts altogether? I'm one of those women who doesn't have 'beef curtains' and what you said seems to indicate that I'm somehow less real of a woman. Acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of genitalia! I do see what you are saying though, in terms of pushing back against a culturally sanctioned narrative that small, tight, neat looking vulvas are preferable, or the only acceptable vulva.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiny

Thank you for this. I have the longer inner labia that makes me different from the friends I saw as a little girl. Not knowing better I thought it was part of being raped and how a guy will "know" that you're not a virgin. I was raped very young and couldn't discuss it. Since then I've learned better but yes we need to be able to talk about these things and not be so hard on our looks anywhere on our bodies.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJo Ann

Tiny: I'm so sorry I offended you. I'm sure by "real" I mean not plasticized, but I am now having to work through my plastic surgery prejudices as I learn more about transsexuals and their drive to rectify their mental and physical dichotomy. Remember, I wrote this in 2007. Not sure I'd write it a whole lot different now, but check back with me in a year. I'm willing to bet I'd write a lot of it differently then.

July 24, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Thankyou NGM :). I have spent a lot of time in the fatosphere, where calling some bodies more 'real' than others has been explored extensively. I forget when traveling in other internet streams that this might not be the case. I appreciate you writing about these issues, and no doubt, your thoughts will evolve over time, like most of us.

July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTiny

I had never heard that one in particular. I have an "innie" and two vaginal births didn't change that. It never occurred to me that I should worry about my labia.

However, I have heard a lot of talk about "ruined" vaginas. I have a friend who recently had a pretty traumatic c-section, and a few people posted on FB that she should be happy about the section because "at least your junk didn't get all ripped up." Aaargh!

It drives me nuts.

At the same time, I will admit to a twinge of emotion when I look in the mirror and see the weird, scraggly way the tear from my last birth healed. However, as the pain/sensation around the scar has subsided, so has a lot of the emotion. And my husband doesn't seem bothered in the least by it.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchingona

I'd like to say that sex has gotten better after each baby. Whether that's because of experience or physiology I don't know. I will say my husband was excited to learn I was pregnant again because of how I look. Not all men are pigs - probably fewer of them are than we think.

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

You know, birth can change things physically in a way that is very upsetting to the woman, and not just because of societal pressures and Hustler. Changes in the most intimate parts of your body, especially if they interfere with the way you function, can be devastating. Please don't downplay other women's experiences and feelings.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterflo

Not downplaying a woman's experiences and feelings. AM amplifying a point of view rarely heard. There is puh-LENTY of Your Vagina Is Defective information out there. Not *nearly* enough about the beauty of our female bits. Just trying to provide a bit of balance, flo.

July 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I don't know. A little balance might include a nod to the fact that things can change and that those changes are not always awesome and to be embraced. I can't think of any place I've seen such feelings honestly acknowledged, and articles like this one seem to downplay or dismiss legitimate emotions that a woman might have about it.

July 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterflo

Hmm, birth ruins vaginas? Seriously? I've had 4 vaginal births ranging from my tiny still born son to my 11lb 6 oz daughter born at home without so much as a skid mark (her brothers were 10lbs 8oz, 9 lbs 13oz ... tiny tear with the smaller who was born in hospital, other was born at home no issues). I also have had one c-section for a very malpositioned and determined to stay that way baby (11lbs 6oz, 30+hours or labor). I still have small hidden labia and not to be crude, but if I tighten down vaginal muscles I can push my hubby out or keep him from getting in. Yeah.... ruined for sure...

July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMomma2SIx

Well, lucky you, Momma2Six. When you're done patting yourself on the back you might consider that not everyone has the same good fortune.

July 29, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterflo

Why do you have to be so nasty, flo? Criminy. Chill, okay?

July 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I've had four children, three of them vaginally. I just read this post to my husband. His reply? "Now your vagina has character." Lol. My hubby rocks!

I am so thankful that my parents taught me to be proud of my female body. It wasn't until I was teaching childbirth classes and expectant mothers started asking me if their vagina would go back to "normal" after birth that I even knew this was an issue for some. To be honest, it wasn't until my students started bringing it up that I really perused my nethers and realized how much I had changed after having children. It had never occurred to me to even look. :)

August 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarissa

This bothers me to no end. I have often seen the anti natural childbirth women say how happy they are for their c-sections because they don't have a "ruined vag". What are we, 10? First of all, childbirth did not change my vagina one bit. It looks and feels exactly the same. I even felt what it was like in there while pregnant and after I was pregnant to see if there was any difference. It took maybe a month or two after birth for it to feel just as "tight" as it had before childbirth. Your vagina will not be ruined by giving birth! I truly hate that women use that excuse to scare other women into csections.

September 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNoname

I love reading your blog, even when I'm not sure I agree with you. You are always well researched and well thought out in your posts. I love what you've written here...I'm just not sure why you chose a hairless vagina for the photo. It's seems contrary to everything you've written above. I can't say I've seen a whole lot of vaginas up close and personal, but those I have seen - in childbirth and elsewhere - grow hair and are not as nice and neat as the one here. Funny choice.

October 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterM

Marissa: That is absolutely NOT a hairless vulva. You can see the hair right there! And, if I recall correctly, this vulva wasn't clipped or shaved at all.

I've seen many more uncropped women than shorn. (Just as an aside.)

October 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Thanks for the great post. I am a man and I am so infuriated by the girlification of woman (shave and possibly even surgery) I enjoy rich full lips and to see what there is to see whatever there is. (Thought my personal preference is indeed large protruding lips.)

Maybe some of the myth that men like the no lips looks has been created because the need of unenlightened society to force censorship on imagery in magazines in which nude pictures are shown. As far as I know It still is the censor which forces the airbrushing of body parts (in soft porn) and this might have infested the ideas of many viewers... bizarre is it not?

From a psychological p.o.v of course anything which looks real and more opulent might also bring up more feelings in the viewer. And our culture can't deal very well with feelings... censorship really tries to safe people from feeling anything... Strong wish for anaesthetic everywhere...

April 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlok

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