Struggle with accepting my vagina

by On Becoming Anna

Up until I was about 15, I thought there was something horrendously wrong with my vagina.

Every picture I had ever seen was of a lipless, hairless, pink front bottom; my sex education involved pictures of dolls and figurines that represented that weirdly smooth pelvic area that Barbie held between her legs. As you can probably tell, and sparing you guys the grisly details, mine is not like that. Apart from those of you who attended the party in which I declared that mine resembled that of a Doctor Who character – whose identity will remain relatively secret in hope to retain some of my dignity, discussions of the appearance of that intimate area was pretty much non-existent within my young teenage conversation. It wasn’t until an embarrassing talk in the science labs with my best friend that I even knew growing hair on your bum was an okay thing, or that the occasional nipple hair was acceptable – well maybe not what society deems acceptable, but it was normal.

It wasn’t really until I got into sixth form and a close group of female friends that I learnt my vagina wasn’t broken, or unhealthy, or even disgusting. That other girls look like mine and that we vary in shape and size and colour. I had seen so many pictures of lipless and hairless vaginas that I’d convinced myself there was something detrimentally wrong with me. That my vagina was something to be embarrassed about, something I should be ashamed of. I had a boyfriend all throughout school, so he didn’t really know anything different. This gave me some kind of confidence when it came to the nitty gritty. I wasn’t so ashamed that I wouldn’t let him see it; I was content in the fact that he had never seen any different, so he would for the meantime assume it was normal. I begun to worry as I got older however, when he got to the age that him and all his friends were watching porn and looking at other girls on the internet, that one day he would turn around and be like EW????? what is wrong with you?

It is embarrassing for me to look back now and realise the problems I actually had accepting my vagina, and my body in general. Not because I feel like I wasn’t entitled to feel that way, or because I feel I was over-reacting, but because no one had ever told me otherwise, and I never went looking for that clarification. We are nowadays growing up in a culture where sex sells, and it sells everything. I am constantly surrounded by images and videos of these thin, perfectly curvy, six foot and absolutely flawless women, that society is telling me I need to compete with. My world is telling me that if I don’t match the images that bombard every young teenager, that I am not normal. And it’s pretty much only when I came to university that I stopped believing that.

At school, although we started sex education in year five and I knew I was going to grow pubic hair at some point, start my periods and that some of my friends were going to get deep voices and big muscles, we were never educated on a healthy body image. We weren’t really told that sexuality and gender is fluid, and that you don’t need to conform to what you think society wants you to look like. It was never explained to me that the images I saw in porn or in magazines were probably airbrushed, or that the appearance of a vagina varied basically as much as people do. For a long time I felt out of control of my own body, because things were changing and I couldn’t track them. I didn’t know if I was meant to look like this. I just wanted to be normal.

I know now that I am normal. I am healthy. I am an average weight/height/boob size, I eat and I exercise. But I’ll admit that there are still days when I measure myself with tape to see if my waist is still the size I want it to be. I still look at my boobs and wonder if my nipples should be a different colour, or if my vagina really does look like that Doctor Who character.

When the media only circulates one type of body, how is anyone meant to accept who they are? How am I meant to realise that my body is normal, when what I look like isn’t celebrated? Or talked about? I don’t mean to say that my body is what defines me, or that I define my worth by what other people think, and I know that I wasn’t put on this earth to be thought of as sexy by anyone. But if I can’t understand my body as even normal, how am I meant to understand myself beyond that?

I think it can be quite detrimental when it comes to understanding our own bodies, that we are constantly bombarded with images of what our society deems, the “perfect body”, when in reality they are not realistic goals for most people. I shouldn’t be aspiring to look like a size four, six foot model because I am just over 5ft and a little bit dumpy. I will never look like that. I shouldn’t be thinking my vagina is broken or that my boobs are disgusting because they don’t look like the ones I see in porn, and I shouldn’t be thinking about reconstructive surgery just so that I adhere to these stereotypes. I am not saying that surgery is wrong or not empowering, because I truly believe it can be if it helps you accept yourself. But this is my personal journey and I shouldn’t be made to feel unusual because I don’t mirror what society deems normal.