As a woman, I’ve spent a lot of time battling against negative body image ideals and trying to love and accept myself just the way I am. But my quest for body positivity has led, time and time again, back to my self-esteem’s biggest enemy: famed American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose art has inspired me with its beauty – but also given me unrealistic expectations about exactly how botanical my vagina should be.
That’s right: My vulva simply isn’t that botanical. Nothing about it looks like a blossoming flower lightly dusted with gentle morning dew. Instead, it looks like a chunky, pube-encased meat pouch that characteristically emits larger-than-expected quantities of urine and blood. I understand that this may sound horrifying to you, and indeed, it has been my cross to bear – no thanks to Georgia O’Keeffe, the widely celebrated patron saint of botanical representations of vagina.
It’s just that being a woman is hard enough already. But when I enter the Georgia O’Keeffe room in the Art Institute of Chicago, I don’t see a room full of lilies, irises, and peonies. I see a room full of vulvas and vaginas that are all far more botanical than mine could ever be. Did I mention the thing about the pubes and the blood? You don’t see those things on flowers, let alone in the hallowed halls of our nation’s finest art institutions!
Oh, I’m ashamed to admit the lengths I’ve gone to make my vagina more botanical. I’ve spent hours sunning my labia in the bright sun of my driveway so that they might look more like petals, and I’ve started referring to penis-in-vagina sex as being “fertilized” by a “stamen”. And yet when I look at my vagina, I still don’t see a magnificent wash of colors and textures. I just see human flesh, which is not sexy or beautiful. Also, my husband Brad has asked me to stop referring to his penis as a stamen, which has been a source of tension for us.
I know that the key to moving on is acceptance: accepting that my vagina will never be as botanical as one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s masterpieces, but learning that it’s still beautiful in its own way. I’ve had to learn to celebrate the little things, like accepting that my pubes might resemble the brambles in an enchanted forest, or deciding that the gloriously thick folds of my labia may just be as majestic as the roots of an age-old oak.
Look, although I certainly harbor some resentment toward her, the last thing I want to do is cancel Georgia O’Keeffe. Her art is truly beautiful, even if it has given me unrealistic expectations for how botanical my vagina should be. I’ve simply learned to adjust my expectations, and I’ve even begun to hope that although my vagina may not be as botanical as a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, perhaps one day it will be just as southwestern.
And at the very least, I can rest assured knowing that people with penises feel similarly inadequate whenever they see one of Dalí’s long, hard clocks.