I cry quite easily. OK, I cry really easily. But really, you try reading the comments section on the Great Wall of Vagina site without welling up…
“It’s too late for me and my health because it got ruined by labiaplasty. But it isn’t too late for others and I honour and thank you for this.”
“I’m 17 and was really self-conscious about my ‘lady parts’. I was already thinking about having surgery to ‘fix’ it. Seeing your sculpture totally changed my mind and now I feel 100 times better about myself!”
“I was referred to this site by my gynaecologist when I asked about vaginal rejuvenation. I’m happy to discover that I am perfect already.”
“This important piece of art has allowed my daughter and me to discuss and explore how everyone is different and beautiful.”
Much has been written about Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina and I am sure most of you will know of it. For those of you who don’t, it’s a nine-metre-long plaster cast sculpture of 400 vulvas, featuring women aged from 18 to 76 and including mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women, a woman pre- and post-natal and another pre- and post-labiaplasty.
Speaking at Sh! on Saturday, McCartney revealed that he had hoped to feature more post-labiaplasty women, but only one of the eight who had been cast pre-op returned. Why? Because, rather brilliantly, they had all changed their mind about going ahead with the operation after seeing their plaster cast. “I had always thought it looked like a parrot’s beak,” exclaimed one, apparently astonished to find that she looked ‘normal’. Or, more to the point, when she realised that normal is actually that everyone is different.
And the one who did come back to be recast post-op? Well she bought her friend to do the cast because she was so unhappy with the results of her operation she didn’t want Jamie to see her again. How overwhelmingly sad that a woman should feel so ashamed of how she looks she puts herself under the knife, then feels more shame as a result.
The strapline of the Great Wall of Vagina is ‘Changing Female Body Image through Art’ and it is clear how committed McCartney is to using his work to help women think differently about themselves. He believes the power of plaster casting as a tool for reflecting on self-image lies in the fact it’s three dimensional, tactile and offers a scale that doesn’t always exist in the flatness of a photograph or a reflection in the mirror. He revealed how plaster casting his own body helped him deal with his own eating disorder and told of mothers bringing their anorexic daughters to be cast by him so they can truly see how they look.
McCartney had been dabbling in genital plaster casting with partners for some time but decided to develop the project after being shocked to learn that that labiaplasty was one of the fastest growing cosmetic surgery procedures in the UK. He wanted to use his art to educate, inform and change attitudes. He probably didn’t imagine that a decade on his art would be featured in educational text books and that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the body that sets clinical standards and provides doctors with training and lifelong learning, would exhibit his work. Amazing!
One of the most poignant stories he told was not of a woman who used the opportunity to be cast to reflect on how she looks but instead used it to take ownership of her own body. In the book of the project she writes about the experiences rape and abortion and feeling that “my cunt has always been violated.” Through being cast she felt she had changed the narrative of her body.
It really is the most brilliant life-changing piece of sculpture!
A section of the Great Wall of Vagina is currently on show at Sh! and I would definitely recommend you have a wander round the website too. And did you know that almost five years ago it was this sculpture also inspired Molly’s amazing Pussy Pride project? Check that out too!