That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know —
Although they do not talk of it at school —
That we must labour to be beautiful.’”
— William Butler Yeats, “Adam’s Curse”
If you’re a woman who can read Spanish, I can’t recommend Proyecto Kahlo highly enough. It’s a Spanish-language site dealing with all kinds of ladybusiness, particularly as pertains to self-esteem. It’s named, as you might have guessed, for Frida Kahlo, who had more than her share of self-esteem issues to deal with, and who dealt with them as elegantly and imperiously as no one but a great artist can. The site is in keeping with her spirit. And last night, I came across the following, which is so topical that I just had to share it with you, en inglés:
Sunday, 11 a.m. Peace. Coffee in hand, I discover an article which grabs all my attention. “Why does the vagina age?” I take a swig of caffeine that wakes me up. I am so moved to think of the person who published this content, who yanked the blanket from my head, and I can’t do anything but type out on my computer the following lines:
I am writing to you as a reader of your magazine, to offer all my knowledge about the topic that concerns you, which isn’t much, but I guess it’s sufficient for the case. I understand your concern about our vaginas; I don’t want to make you wait any longer for the answer.
In truth, vaginas age because the women who bear them age as well. It has to do with a complex process which has taken place over millions of years. It’s called life.
I’m sorry you didn’t know that important fact before publishing your work. It’s a real shame because you could have called me. By coincidence, I am the bearer of an adult vagina, and I could have prevented the question, even the entire article, yes, because I’m going to play a trick on you.
I suppose you didn’t call me because, apart from not knowing of my existence, you want to take the opportunity to consume those leading products, so fashionable that you gave them publicity throughout your article, even though it appears you put them there like someone who didn’t want the thing, like someone illustrating some letters with the first thing you had to hand, such as distracted examples with telephone numbers and directions on the side.
I’m talking about the interventions with local anesthesia which you recommended for us to solve what you describe as our problem of vaginal “aging”. I’m talking about that laser treatment which you invite us to try at the end of some paragraph so that we can all bleach our vulvas and make them pink as cotton clouds. I’m talking about those surgeries so that we’re tighter after childbirth, accompanied by the most expensive creams to lighten the scars, which have to be applied without fail, because it’s not enough to get slim one month after giving birth, we also have to rejuvenate quickly so no one notices it.
Let me tell you what I understand, and that is that we have to give our partners the pleasure they deserve. How can we let them think that those small, slim, bright pink labia exist only in porn? That would be disturbing for all. As well, I know that we have to be assured that they won’t find a single hair along the way, because that would kill the magic.
When pubic hair existed on our sex, everything was different. We couldn’t see our dark vulvas, we didn’t know they were unhygienic, and we didn’t have a complex that would make us consume knives, lasers, wax, skin bleaches, and feminine deodorants, and that was very bad.
I understand, I know that we have to sweat and cry while a stranger pulls out our body hairs without pity, you know why, in a systematic way. I understand, because we are women, because our priorities consist of that, because then they sell us our own aspirations. Duty is duty.
I understand, and can do no more than offer my support for the next time you want to answer such difficult questions. And now I bid you goodbye. I don’t want to take up your precious time, which you spend making us understand that the world of vaginal rejuvenation has to be a new priority in our life as women.
Please receive this warm greeting from a woman of standard sex, of those which have different colors, shapes and sizes. Perhaps you should try some intervention out of those which you publicized, but I greatly fear that I will have to explain to my partner that he is sleeping with a woman and not a shiny baby piglet. Thank you for your offering, but your arsenal of self-esteem-trampling publicity will have to stay with you. Have a good day.
Amanda, 28, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain).
I don’t know if the very articulate, polite Amanda has by any chance seen The Perfect Vagina. It seems germane to the subject.
And with all due respect to the great Mr. Yeats, no one is born a woman. All women are born girls, and only become women as we grow to maturity in body and mind. Some of us who are trans women may seek medical and surgical help to make it clear that they are women, and before that, they have to gain social acceptance as girls. Which is by no means an easy task for them. It has to be learned, from an early age, the same as spelling or math or geography. Knowing that one is a girl is one thing; expressing oneself as a girl (and later, as a woman) is quite another.
And yes, it is in fact taught to us at school, albeit informally, that we must labor to be beautiful. When I was 12 or 13, I can remember taking a middle-school elective called, I shit you not, “Making the Most of Yourself”. It was aimed strictly at the girls. And of course, because I was young and insecure and wanted to learn how to be pretty and popular, I took it and learned a thing or two. And learned it much more gently than this disabled young Australian, who apparently had to learn it by way of humiliation in front of her entire class. But it still made me feel so hopelessly awkward. There is something squicky about knowing that no boys have to learn things like that. They got to take much neater stuff like rocketry and gun safety, after all. (Yes, gun safety was taught at my rural middle school. We wuz hicks, heh heh heh.)
And oh yeah, how about all those products to beautify a body part that ought to be recognized as beautiful no matter what? Not for nothing did Georgia O’Keeffe paint those big, ruffly, downright labial orchids as metaphors for ladybits…but how soon we forget, amid this constant bombardment of ads for creams to bleach our skin and paint our labia pink if they’re not that color already. Or wax and laser treatments to eliminate all traces of that same pubic hair that marked the end of my little-girlhood and contributed to my raging inferiority complex in middle school, even though no one but me ever had to see it. Or, oh gawd, that dreadful medical procedure euphemistically known as the “honeymoon stitch” — or, even more ugh, the “daddy stitch”. Because bloody wedding sheets are how men prove their manhood. They do it on our bodies, don’tcha know? And because, as Amanda points out, no evidence must exist that a woman has had a baby, even though men are constantly telling us that to have “their” babies is our whole purpose in life. When we’re not laboring to be beautiful at their demand, of course.
And the supreme irony is that a lot of them can’t actually tell the difference, anyway. The vagina is made of nice, strong muscle, and its nature is to expand and contract as needed. It can open up to accommodate a whole baby, then close back down again, even if it isn’t exactly identical to its pre-pregnant configuration. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. A good partner isn’t going to suddenly lose interest in you just because you squeezed out a kid. And many women find out that sex is actually better after a vaginal delivery, because their sensitivity has increased. Which is also good news for their mates, because not only do good men not lose interest in a new mom, they still love to please her. Because she’s their partner, she’s not damaged goods, and they love her.
Ohmygawd, stop the presses: Men can love! Women need pleasure too! No silly products, sadistic cosmetic treatments, or dangerous operations required! I don’t suppose any of that has occurred to the unnamed author of the unlinked article Amanda criticizes, but maybe it should. It would save so many of us so much anxiety about growing up, giving birth, and yes, even getting old. And, really: An elderly vagina isn’t the end of the world. For many, it isn’t even the end of their sex life. Good news for all of us, because we’re none of us getting any younger.
And we have bigger things to worry about than whether our genitals are up to scratch.