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Hansen: The shame and joy of 101 vaginas

April 24, 2014|By David Hansen
  • Art director Christiana Lewis peeks from behind the curtain that will shield the "101 Vaginas" exhibit, held May 1 to 8 at the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art.
Art director Christiana Lewis peeks from behind the curtain… (David Hansen, Coastline…)

A back room in a Laguna Beach art gallery will be lined on May 1 with stark, black-and-white pictures of vaginas and their stories — some disturbing, some funny but most celebratory.

The new exhibit, "101 Vaginas," is based on the book by photographer Philip Werner of Australia, who spent about two years creating the project, which will run for only one week in the Laguna Gallery of Contemporary Art, 611 S. Coast Hwy.

"People feel so uncomfortable with their own bodies, and in this case, with their vaginas," said Werner, who will attend the opening. After Laguna Beach, the exhibit goes to Canada and New York, among other places.

"Obviously not everybody feels this way," he said. "There are some people who are very happy with their bodies and feel very comfortable with themselves."

But many women do not.

A common thread throughout the short narratives, written anonymously by the women, was shame about how they look. Many women said it took them years to reconcile what they saw in popular culture or were told with what was real about their bodies. An ideal about what is beautiful — or even "normal" — has persisted.

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"It's a big issue generally, the whole body image thing, of people not being happy with the bodies that they have," Werner said. "If you think about how we raise our children, it's 'cross your legs,' 'don't touch yourself,' 'cover up.' All this kind of stuff starts at a very young age, and they might seem like very innocuous comments, and they're well-intentioned, but the message is there's something not OK between the legs.

"It's like you're not supposed to touch it. You're not supposed to show it. It's got to be hidden away."

Despite feminist progress over the last 40 years, the stories in this book make it clear that women struggle with self-esteem.

Not only that, some women wanted to take scissors to their vaginas to make them look "normal," sitting for hours in front of a mirror trying to gain the courage to perform their own crude labiaplasty.

"My immediate gut reaction when I saw Philip's work was wow, we have to do this," said gallery director Christiana Lewis. "We have to do this because we have to save young women from hurting themselves. Look at the media, look at women's magazines, look at the sex industry. It's out of control."

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