When I first received the pitch to review and give away this book, I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Perhaps that’s because it’s such a simple concept that describing it takes away some of the.. “magic” of it. I’m normally more pragmatic than that, but the description causes it to lose something special.
You see, 101 vagina is a book featuring 101 photos of vulvas and 101 pieces by the owners of those vulvas. The book is printed completely in black and white, and it has a sleek white hard cover to boot. See? You can sum up what it is so easily. But I’m not sure that you can sum up the significance of this book quite so easily.
You see, the women in those photos have different body types, skin colors, scars, body modifications and pubic hair styles. And those women all have different feelings about the reproductive organs. And some of them even have different understandings about their organs, which brings me to my first and only complaint about this book.
The photos are really of vulvas, not vaginas. In fact, the photographer Philip Werner does address this in the back of the book. I’m glad because the terminology did bother me. However, while the pictures are of the external body parts, he wanted to create a medium for discussing the vulva, the vagina, the physical and the spiritual, and the English language doesn’t really provide this.
However, many of the women who agreed to be photographed for this collection do use the Sanskrit term “Yoni,” which I’ve heard but haven’t used before. Accordingto Wikipedia:
Yoni (Sanskrit: योनि yoni) is a Sanskrit word with different meanings, most basically “vagina” or “womb”. Its counterpart is the lingam. It is also the divine passage, or sacred temple (cf. lila). The word can cover a range of extended meanings, including: place of birth, source, origin, spring, fountain, place of rest, repository, receptacle, seat, abode, home, lair, nest, stable.
The women who tend to use this word as they write about their vulva, vagina, uterus and more do tend to use more flowery descriptions. The first few photos had captions like these, and they weren’t my favorite. However, women wrote about their vaginas in many ways.
Some were reverent. Some were saddened. Some expressed anger. Some were clinical. Others wrote poetry. Some wrote so much that the text had to be shrunk down to fit the book’s intended format. Other were quizzical or awed. The feels were sometimes intense and sometimes indifferent. It was simply interesting to read them. In fact, I sat down with the book as soon as it arrived in the mail and had read more than half of it before I knew it!
A few of the women chose to write about the experience of being photographed nude. I thought this gave interesting insight into the project itself. It seems like the photographer made everyone comfortable and his desire to create a body positive book really worked out well.
I think that some people would chuckle or roll their eyes at the intent and the result, but I also believe that most people could benefit from reading book like this. Cis-women could certainly feel a little more comfortable about their bodies and reproductive organs. Other people could appreciate the range of womanhood, both physically and mentally through the written word.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from 101 Vagina:
- Eat Me!
- Anything a man can do I can do wetter.
- Ceci ce n’est pas un vagin.
- Everyone thinks of themselves as existing on some part of their body — most people live behind their eyes, many imagine themselves between their lungs inside their chests, and still others have egos nestled into their solar plexus area, where their voice is born. I have always imagine that vital part of myself to be inextricably linked with my femininity, so I think that in a very real way, I am my vagina.
- Didelphys. Google it.
Of course, there are many more than I enjoyed. There is one in particular that I cannot currently find, and some of them are too long to write up in full. and I wouldn’t want you to miss out by not reading them in their intended format.
If you’re at all looking for an interesting coffee table book or simply want to understand how women feel about themselves, 101 Vagina is certainly going to provide plenty to talk and think about.