Across the course of a year, Laura took photos of the vulvas for her book Womanhood: The Bare Reality, and spoke to each person about what their vulva means to them. Some of the women involved have also been featured in a film for Channel 4 called Vaginas. Then she examined masculinity by photographing penises for Manhood. And after that, Laura considered the project complete. But reading about Female Genital Mutilation, the number of women speaking surgery on their vulvas and the language around how we refer to female body parts made Laura reconsider.
City Hub. I was holding on to the memory and not the physical reality. The Blond highlights pictures account is not a license. My early experiences of womanhood started with the women who raised me: my nan taught me about enjoying yourself, your body and who you are. Digital and print license bundle. The really big deal was finding out that if I waited too long, I would be unlikely to conceive naturally, if at all. She needed to be a warrior for women.
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It can help with body image anxiety. Now, her latest work puts vulvas and vaginas in the spotlight thanks to her new book Womanhood: The Bare Reality and forthcoming Channel 4 documentary: Vaginas.
And when women share intimate photos and deeply personal experiences relating to their vaginas, the result is a tender yet taboo-exploding message of women reclaiming their womanhood. I think a part of me was shying away from that intimacy because I would have to address my own related experiences.
The correct language and understanding of female genitalia is so important to me: the vulva is the whole external package, the vagina is a muscular tube which leads from the cervix the neck of the womb down to the vulva. Later, a BBC report about girls as young as nine seeking labiaplasty — surgery that involves the lips of the vagina being shortened or reshaped — because they were distressed by its appearance, had Laura reaching for her camera again.
The key is not concentrating on the size or shape but whether it affects your physical or emotional wellbeing. She believes a cultural change amongst adolescents and young women, who now choose to remove or style the pubic hair, coupled with a lack of understanding about vulval anatomy, is fuelling the rise.
But it can be hard to find accurate information about this. The idea that girls and young women think their vagina is ugly and want to change how it looks is just wrong, and sad. Although Laura admits to being nervous at the beginning.
That said, within a couple of weeks of putting a call out for volunteers, she had over willing participants from all over the UK. Photographing this intimate area led to some unique and deeply personal stories. The woman who endured FGM. The woman who had her vagina removed because of cancer.
But she also heard positive stories of sexual pleasure and pregnancy. I loved that, because interviewing women who have been through the menopause and still have incredible sex lives sends out a beautiful message about womanhood. However, sadly, many of the conversations she had with her participants were tied with a disturbing thread of abuse.
Even though she refers to it as the hardest part of the project, Laura believes including so many of these harrowing experiences adds to the impact of her message — because there is no singular female experience. Frankly, we just need to be as we are. Because if you find yourself feeling admiration, pride and inspiration for another person, it becomes easier to apply that to yourself, too.
Does she expect any backlash? When I masturbated when I was younger, I used to hate it when my clitoris got bigger — I thought it looked like a penis. I felt very self-conscious about it. I thought my labia were too big as well. I had to be drunk to have sex and I never let anybody pleasure me. Porn made me feel like shit in all sorts of ways — I think I wasted 12 years of my life suffering because of what I thought my vagina looked like.
I watched a documentary that talked about porn stars who were having operations to make their labia smaller. I realised it was something you could have done so I went to my GP and I had a bit of a breakdown. He referred me to a private doctor. I was awake throughout the procedure. He injected anesthetic into the labia and up into my bottom — and then just sliced away. In reality, my labia were probably quite small pieces of skin, but to me they felt like big elephant ears. I lay there thinking how much better my life would be afterwards.
My recovery was horrific. It was very painful. I feel more comfortable day-to-day; sitting down or crossing my legs in jeans. My labia [also] used to get caught in tampon applicators, so now I can use tampons. I wish I did. Not that I even want one. I was born into a Muslim Pakistani family. I can take part because this is anonymous. Honour killings still happen, even here in Britain.
I marched at Pride decorated with body paint and had my tits out [but] there were objections. There were men in Borat-style mankinis, men in fetish animal costumes, men with their nipples out. None of that was a problem, but the odd female nipple here and there I have seen, touched, indeed worshipped many vulvas.
And yet I have never had the courage to look at my own. I have identified as a lesbian most of my life. I desperately wanted to be a boy as a child. I hated my body, my gender, for many years. Since then I have come full circle to a place of love and reverence for who I am — and what I am made of. I was afraid of penises my whole life. First I wanted to have one.
Then I entered puberty and my breasts grew, and I knew there was no way I was going to be a boy. Then I was hurt by penises.
I was molested by my father and I had teenage interactions with boys who put pressure on me. One night he got into bed with me and started touching me. The next day I confronted him. His reasoning was that he wanted me to realise that I had a beautiful body and that sex was a wonderful thing.
A lot of healing has come about through having many pleasurable, gentle experiences at the hands of other women. In the last couple of years, I have discovered that there are so many more labels and identities and the world is really opening up.
I identify as non-binary or genderqueer. Sex may be the genitalia we are born with, but gender is a social construct. My sexual preference is polysexual, which means that I am attracted to different genders, though not necessarily all.
We wrap qualities up in this umbrella of masculine or feminine, like being nurturing is seen as feminine, but those are stereotypes: we all have the capacity for those things within us. My vulva reminds me of a pink cupcake.
The labia and clitoris look like layers of piped pink icing. She looks delicate, symmetrical and neat. Over a few weeks, I bled a lot between periods, and also after sex with my boyfriend at the time. I googled bleeding and it came up with lots of different things: an STI, hormonal imbalance, cervical cancer. I went to the doctor and, although I was too young  for a smear test, she did one anyway.
I was sent to the hospital for a colposcopy, which involves a camera going into the vagina. Two weeks later it was confirmed.
I felt hot, sweaty, shaky. I had a stage 1B grade 3, which is small, but nasty. Thankfully it was caught early. Over a quarter of women in the UK are not attending their cervical smear appointments. Sometimes there are serious reasons, but often women are embarrassed to show their genitals, or they feel embarrassed they might smell.
I married in the s and got a divorce on the basis of non-consummation: on our wedding night my husband said he had a headache. I was resigned to it, but I wanted children. I met somebody else and that changed everything. We had brilliant sex, and then we had children. I began to express my sexuality on my terms. Since I split up with the father of my children back in , I have not lived with a sexual partner. I see my current partner for extended weekends. I was ready for the menopause to happen.
You lose some of your lubrication, but a little bit of spit solves that problem. It happens with a great deal of effort from the woman. My vulva is happy and majestic. It gives you a different appreciation for your body. My early experiences of womanhood started with the women who raised me: my nan taught me about enjoying yourself, your body and who you are. I decided I wanted to wax my vulva, and I asked [her] to do it. And I trust her. I never wanted to have children until I developed reproductive health problems.
When I was 19, I had a Mirena coil fitted and that caused me to get pelvic inflammatory disease, which was excruciatingly painful. I grew a cyst on my right ovary very rapidly. In the end I had emergency surgery that resulted in the loss of my right ovary and fallopian tube and they drained five litres of fluid from the cyst.
I continued having pain, but I kept being told it was normal.
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