Look, I don’t think anyone is that excited about going to the doctor, spreading their legs, and getting a pelvic exam. Sharing that part of yourself with a virtual stranger is not supposed to be fun or even that comfortable. For folks who have a history of sexual abuse, assault, or other trauma, it can be downright triggering, even when working with a compassionate healthcare provider.
Yet one pelvic floor specialist is urging us all to stop doing one specific thing when we are spread eagle on the examining table: apologizing.
That’s right, we need to stop apologizing for the state of our vulvas and vaginas, according to Kristin Phillips, a pelvic floor physiotherapist from West Virginia.
All vulvas look different and are unique. There is not one perfect or normal type. And by God, there is no reason to apologize for the smell of your nether region, or whether or not you have recently shaved. All vaginas are gorgeous and it’s time we started celebrating them, Phillips proclaims.
Oh my goodness, I could not love this woman’s message more.
Phillips posted her thoughts on Facebook in May, along with a picture of the many varied and beautiful ways vaginas sometimes look – and her post went totally viral.
Phillips starts by talking about her own experience working with women in her physical therapy practice, where she treats everything from urinary incontinence to sexual dysfunction.
“As a pelvic floor and women’s health PT, I see a lot of external genitalia in a day,” writes Phillips. “I’m heartbroken by the number of times I hear people with vaginas say, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t shave’ or otherwise apologize for how their vulvovaginal region looks or smells. I want to scream.”
It’s not that Phillips doesn’t understand why so many women feel this way. “Everywhere you turn, there is advertising for body hair removal or a cream, supplement, or douche that will make your vagina smell like a midnight moon or fairy sprinkles,” she notes.
In addition, as she points out, there is a major double-standard here, because folks born with penises sure as heck don’t go around apologizing for their hairy balls and sweaty scrotums. “Ain’t that some shit,” Phillips remarks.
Yes, it sure as shit is.
Phillips truly pulls no punches here, and brings up the fact that all of this boils right down to patriarchal views of women, their bodies, their roles in society, and everything else.
“You will never convince me that this isn’t the patriarchy at play, keeping us down,” Phillips writes. “Because if we are trapped in the bathroom or salons making our vulvas hairless and smelling like raspberries, we can’t be out in the world and dismantling the institutions that make us believe our bodies aren’t already perfect.”
I seriously want to give this woman a medal – preferable one shaped like a lovely, juicy, flapping, unshaven vulva. I mean, how perfect would that be?
Speaking with Scary Mommy, Phillips says she was pretty taken aback by the huge response she got when she initially shared the post on Facebook. She didn’t expect it to touch so many people. But she soon realized how positive it was, because of the conversation it started and the awareness it raised.
Even the negative comments were meaningful to Phillips. “The negative responses started to fuel my fire,” she tells Scary Mommy. “I realized that if this message could reach even just one person struggling with their body image, it was worth it. My hope is that everyone with a vulva can learn to love themselves and all of their parts and to stop apologizing for it.”
Of course, even with all the assurance that your vulvovaginal region (which is a new, very helpful phrase I learned from Phillips) is totally normal despite the smell, shape, and everything else, it’s still not always easy to embrace the whole thing. The idea that our vulvas and vaginas are dirty, ugly, and unsightly is so deeply ingrained in our psyches and it can be difficult to feel any other way about it.
Regardless of how you feel, Phillips is just urging you to perform the simple exercise of refraining from apologizing for it – at the doctor’s office, on the delivery table, or anywhere your luscious hot box might be on sight and in full view.
“Vaginas are supposed to smell like vaginas, not rainbows and unicorns and hair grows on the vulva naturally,” Phillips reminds in her post. “And you should never EVER feel like you have to apologize for your body. EVER. I’m here to tell you that your vulva and vagina are perfect just the way they are.”
I swear, Phillips is like a motivational speaker for card-carrying vagina holders everywhere.
All of that being said, Phillips does not think any of this means we shouldn’t groom our vaginas as we see fit. The fact is that very few of us want to go au natural when it comes to our downstairs. And that’s totally fine, too, as long as the goal isn’t to demean yourself in the process.
“If you like a hairless vulva, you do you, boo,” says Phillips. “But do it for you and know that you’re a goddess either way.”
Phillips also notes that not all vaginal smells are positive, as sometimes foul odors indicate health problems like STDs or other infections. “If you notice a change in your vaginal odor, get it checked by a competent and understanding gynecologist or midwife,” says Phillips.
But the main point is that Phillips is encouraging us all to start thinking of our vulvas and vaginas as normal, healthy, special, and a testament to the goddesses we all are. “Your worth lies in your heart and soul, not in the appearance of your vulva,” she declares at the end of her post.
I understand that getting to the place of embracing your vagina in all its misshapen, fragrant glory is definitely a process for some of us, especially if those of us who’ve had a difficult sexual history. But I think it’s all about baby steps, and certainly seeking out gentle and compassionate healthcare providers like Phillips to help us get there.
But it is possible to fall in love with your vagina, to accept it for what it is. And learning to stop apologizing for your perfectly imperfect vagina is an awesome first step.