“100 Vaginas” can improve health…
Updated: Apr 5, 2019
This documentary, based on the work of Laura Dodsworth, is a very powerful piece. Sadly, what makes it so powerful is the fact that rarely do we have open discussion of the vulva or see images of it. Even the word vulva is not used in the title! It is surprising how few women know the difference between the vulva and the vagina. The vulva is the exterior and the vagina is in the interior. Women’s bodies are often subject to social control and judgement. Some women are convinced of the need for surgery to “normalise” their vulvas which suggests their body in its natural state is not acceptable (Moran & Lee, 2018). The use of slang terms reinforces the taboo that permeates a silence on discussing vaginas and vulvas (Moran & Lee, 2018). This powerful project has really started a new discourse on the vulva. The programme covered from pleasure to pain and dealt with gender, menstruation, female orgasm, genital mutilation, miscarriage, traumatic child birth, infertility, menopause, vaginisimus, virginity, cervical cancer and rape. It is an empowering piece of work and relatable. In it you can listen to the participants’ intimate stories of how their vaginas have shaped their lives. It was educational, moving and at times funny.
So, why is this important? Well, it is important because it potentially affects health. By tackling the taboo surrounding all of these things it makes it easier for women to discuss issues that affect their health, seek help and to recognise changes or symptoms in their bodies. It has been argued that having gynaecological cancer and life beyond treatment of it appears to be silenced in the media and healthcare. It has been argued that, compared to coverage of breast cancer, the bodily site of gynaecological cancer is taboo (Solbraekke & Lorem, 2016). There is a particular lack of studies on the psychosocial problems associated with cancer of the vulva yet listening to women’s narratives on living with cancer is essential to help improve psychosocial care and is particularly important to radiotherapy as many women undergo lengthy treatment (Boden & Willis, 2019). The few studies that have explored the lived experiences of women with cancer of the vulva report that the participants’ characterised it as something that “no one can see”, has “heard of” or “talked about” (Jefferies & Clifford, 2012). That is why greater awareness is needed and why this documentary has the power to help change things. Hopefully the programme will go some way to help normalise how we discuss our bodies. Dodsworth’s photographs show the vulva is unique and universally a thing of beauty! The book “Womanhood: The Bare Reality” which accompanies the documentary can be found on Amazon.
Boden, J., & Willis, S. (2019). The psychosocial issues of women with cancer of the vulva. Journal of Radiotherapy in Practice, 18(01), 93–97. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1460396918000420
Jefferies, H., & Clifford, C. (2012). Invisibility. Cancer Nursing, 35(5), 382–389. https://doi.org/10.1097/NCC.0b013e31823335a1
Moran, Claire Lee, C. (2018). Everyone wants a vagina that looks less like a vagina: Australian women’s views on dissatisfaction with genital appearance. Journal of Health Psychology, 23(2), 229–239. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105316637588
Solbraekke, K. N., & Lorem, G. (2016). Breast-cancer-isation explored: Social experiences of gynaecological cancer in a Norwegian context. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9566.12459