You've heard this before: there are so few realistic images of women's bodies, and so many images of airbrushed, surgically-altered women, that most women have no idea what normal is, and often think that they are abnormal, unattractive, etc. Although the problem is pervasive when it comes to women's overall appearance, it's even more acute when we consider women's vulvas. Aside from images in pornography, many women have never seen another woman's external genitalia. And just as our breasts don't look like porn star breasts, our genitals don't look like porn star genitals.
A few women (and men) have taken matters into their own hands. I've written many times about Alexandra Jacoby's vulva portraitraiture project. Now there is a new book, out of Canada, which essentially tackles the same idea. By showing each other what we look like, we can come to understand that variety is normal, and beautiful. I'll Show You Mine consists of 120 portraits of 60 women, all in exactly the same 2 poses (frontal and with legs spread), along with text written by the women about their relationships with their vulvas. The women are fairly diverse, ranging in age from 19 to 60, with varied backgrounds and lifestyles. They comprise a range of ethnicities and sizes; there is even a trans woman. The book is beautifully produced, in an environmentally sound manner, and 10% of proceeds go to women's charities. And as with so many media products these days, there is a highly interactive website to accompany it. The book is mainly available in Canada. If you're in the US or elsewhere, you'll probably need to order it by mail from their website.
I've also been very impressed by a new book that deals in a straightforward, cogent way with a problem that many women have, but few women talk about. The book is called When Sex Hurts: A Woman's Guide to Banishing Sexual Pain. Although there are many causes of genital pain in women, we generally divide them into two broad categories. Vulvodynia means "pain in the vulva" and is considered a chronic pain condition, though the pain may be constant, intermittent, or primarily provoked by touch. Dyspareunia ("dis-pah-roo-nee-ah") refers to painful intercourse. Just as women tend not to discuss their feelings of shame or inadequacy around the appearance of their genitals, they rarely talk about their vulvar pain, even with their doctors, who can be dismissive and/or ignorant. The authors estimate that up to 40% of women with these pain conditions don't seek medical care, and those that do will often end up seeing many different practitioners before obtaining a diagnosis, if they receive one at all. The book is written by 2 doctors and a psychologist, and I found their approach to be smart, frank, understanding, and hopeful. Women with these pain conditions can become very depressed and disempowered. While this book will never hit the best-seller list, I hope that many women who need it will find it.