A book by The Vulva Gallery
With illustrations by Hilde Atalanta
A combination of textbook, photographic essay, and art portfolio, Vulva Diversity by Amsterdam-based illustrator Hilde Atalanta features illustrations of vulvas from women all over the world. It is a celebration of the female form intended to illuminate the beauty in diversity and tackle the ‘beauty ideal’ that we so often find ourselves falling short of. One such ideal perpetuated by the media is that our fairy-gardens* need to be kept pink, plump and spotless. But it shouldn’t make me feel like less of a woman if I let my pubic plumage grow, or if I choose to remove it. So it is great to see vulvas of all kinds in Vulva Diversity, and at its core, that’s what this book is all about. It highlights our differences not to be divisive, but rather to show how our diversity brings wom*n together.
I particularly appreciated the book’s introduction, which included an explanation of basic female anatomy and an essay on sex and gender identity. It was fantastic that the book also delved into some more serious issues, debunking myths such as ‘an intact hymen is a sign of virginity’ (fact: it’s not) and deconstructing stereotypes like ‘pubic hair is dirty’ (fact: it actually helps keep us clean down there).
By far, the best parts of the book are the personal contributions from The Vulva Gallery community and the accompanying illustrations by Atalanta. I was looking for a celebration of the female form when I picked up this book, and boy, did I find it. My immediate thought was that this book should include a NSFW warning, but since the very purpose of the book is to open up conversations around a topic that is still taboo, plastering the cover with a NSFW label would discredit that whole ~vibe~.
Probably my only real criticism is that the order of the book is super strange. It seems weird to introduce some anatomy and the topic of sexual / gender identity, sandwich the illustrations which form the actual premise of the book in between, and then return to an educative section that answers any and all questions about the papaya* between our legs. From the disjointed flow of the book, it seemed like the layout of the book in its entirety was not really considered. Why not follow the anatomical introduction (which probably raises more questions than it answers) with… the answers? By the time I’ve read the next 140 pages and arrived at “Vulva Myths Debunked”, I want to look at more pretty pictures, and less slabs of text. On another note, the book is not particularly approachable for non-female identifying individuals who either possess a vulva or want to educate themselves about a fellow individual who does. I might be a cisgender female, but I am also a butch bitch through and through, and found the baby pink cover intimidating.
Minor design flaws aside, Vulva Diversity is a powerful collection of essays, personal stories, authorial anecdotes and illustrations. The aim of the book is right there in the title: A Celebration of Vulva Diversity. It is certainly successful in doing just that, somehow managing to tackle tough questions and issues head on, while treating the topic with the tenderness it deserves.
*see page 200, “Vulva Names Around the World”
Image credit: Hilde Atalanta, illustrator of A Celebration of Vulva Diversity and founder of The Vulva Gallery community