We all know that women are burdened with a litany of unrealistic beauty standards: thin waists, big lips, smooth skin, silky hair, and the most egregious, vaginas that look like big, sensual flowers.
It’s like how one celebrity decided that low-cut jeans were a thing, and then we had to deal with them for years. Once the standard is out there, it can feel impossible to escape it. You can’t walk into any venerable art museum without becoming insecure about your genitals (and boobs—those Greco-Roman statues are so damn perky).
Let’s not kid ourselves: beauty standards are created so that women will feel bad about themselves and buy products. They are so widespread that they’ve completely taken over our culture. I remember one time I disrobed in front of a lover and was met with a frown. He was clearly unimpressed with my lady parts, which had none of the carefully balanced elements of realism and abstraction of O’Keeffe’s Black Iris (1926) or modulated tones of Red Poppy (1927). “Sorry,” he said, “I’m just not used to a woman whose color palette and line work were in such strong contrast.” Well, boys, you can’t trust everything you see in dirty magazines or online. Some women have paid a lot of money to look like that. Most of it is airbrushed, anyway.
Once you’re deep enough into your insecurity, compliments start to ring hollow. I’ve been called “hot,” “sexy,” and even “gorgeous,” but no one has ever said my vagina looked like a major player in the contemporary American art movement. No one has even called it “modernist.” And I know that compliments are only skin deep, but sometimes a girl just wants to feel good about herself.
Beauty standards are being thrown at us from every angle: movies, TV shows, advertisements, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, which houses Georgia O’Keeffe’s Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow (1923). Looking at that painting is like looking at a photo of Kate Hudson; you’d give a year of your life to look like that. But alas, even if I could dye my vagina to emulate those colors (which my doctors have told me will be very expensive and painful), there is no way I’d be able to make it forty-eight by thirty inches. That’s just one of those things you’re either born with or not—like high cheekbones or a good hairline.
All bodies are beautiful. Big, small, wrinkly, smooth genitals that look like striking representations of the natural world, or ones that look more like scraggly pottery pieces that sat in the kiln too long. The point is, I refuse to feel bad because of societal pressures. Instead, I’ll be thankful for the body I do have: my strong legs, graceful hands, and eyes that strongly resemble melting clocks.