I wanted to create something that reflects upon my own sexual activity and personal choices. Such a personal subject can often become tangled in society’s expectations and change what I felt. I wanted to create something which does not say ‘”this is wrong and that is right” but to explore my thoughts at a point in my life where growth and reflection is important.
At the age of 12, my friends were wearing bras from Ann Summers, using tampons and shaving off all their body hair. I, however, was a late developer. I had no breasts to support, no period to block and little body hair to remove, but of course I joined in. Being a teenage girl was much more difficult than anything I have met in my adult life. I was bullied for the pace at which my body developed, both physically and sexually. Taunted for not yet starting my period, and mocked when tampons were found in my bag. Labelled ‘frigid’ for not kissing boys, but branded a slut for having a male friend. Being bullied is horrible, especially when you’re hormonal, confused and lonely.
Even as an adult, I am self-conscious about my appearance and how others perceive me. Since becoming an adult, I have taken naked photos— for myself, for others, for art, for whatever. It’s not something I’m ashamed of, it makes me feel good and encourages me to accept my body for the imperfections, slowly but surely.
Using this piece introspectively, I looked over intimate pictures of myself and analysed them. Body hair removed, makeup applied, nice underwear and questionable positions. Who was I really doing that for? I certainly do not spend my evenings lounging around in a full face of makeup, with baby smooth legs and French knickers. We’ve been conditioned since childhood to believe that is what counts as attractive and anything less is unacceptable. Instead of perpetuating the dishonesty, I chose to highlight the leak of a period as it is something many women experience but go to great lengths to hide.
Using embroidery I recreated those images but added more; more ‘natural’ elements which I had gone to such effort to prevent or remove before. I chose the medium of embroidery for its ‘imperfections’. There are a range of embroidery artists whose work I find intricate and vibrant such as Inge Jacobsen. However for this piece I took much more inspiration from the artist Sarah Walton. Walton’s work appears more like a threaded drawing than an embroidery, the images are simple and minimal. I looked at her embroidery “On The Bench,” the purposely uneven lines outline figures and represent clearly the intended image, yet smaller details such as shading has not been done in excess – often leaving negative space. This style communicates exactly how I wanted my body portrayed in these ‘threaded drawings’ – vague, imperfect and impersonal. I wanted to remove any sense of individuality, not to mask my identity but for the imagery to resonate with as many people as possible.
Another artist, Rupi Kaur experienced first hand how sensitive society is to the taboo’s surrounding menstruation when her photo was reported and removed from Instagram for containing blood. Kaur released on her Facebook page this statement—
“Thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique. you deleted my photo twice stating that it goes against community guidelines. I will not apologize for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be okay with a small leak. When your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified and treated less than human. Thank you.
As a part of my final project for my visual rhetoric course I created this image along with a full set which you can view at http://www.rupikaur.com to demystify the period and make something that is “normal” again, because rape categories in porn are okay and objectification and sexualization are okay. People getting off on naked underage women, bondage, torture, humiliation and abuse are okay but menstruation makes them uncomfortable? That’s what this work is supposed to do – make you as uncomfortable as you should feel when you watch others get abused and objectified.
This just goes to show who is sitting behind the desk and who is controlling the show, controlling the media and censoring us.
Their patriarchy is leaking.
Their misogyny is leaking.
We will not be censored.
I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. a source of life for our species. Whether I choose to create or not. In older civilizations this blood was holy and in some it still is. But most people, societies, and communities shun this natural process. Some are more comfortable with objectifying women, we menstruate and they see it as dirty, attention seeking, sick, or a burden. This process is a bridge between this universe and the last. This process is about love, labour, life, selflessness and striking beauty.”
Kaur hits the nail on the head. Periods are not disgusting, they’re natural and beautiful. I’ve often thought “I wish men were as repulsed by rape as they are by periods.” I hope this piece provokes more thoughts about our bodies and how they are represented. I will continue to take naked photos and I’ll likely groom my body as I do now. There is no wrong or right way to have a body or a sex life, but reflection and understanding of yourself is important. The natural should be normalized. Why should we perceive our bodies in any other way than how we want to? Hair, no hair, sexual liberation or a more private approach— we are all beautiful, we are all in control.