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Callaly Vulvas
Vic JouvertCourtesy of Callaly

Why we need to talk about vulvas, and debunk the ‘perfect vulva’ myth

Instagram is taking down educational images of vulvas, but period brand Callaly vows to continue its important mission to normalise the body part in a groundbreaking campaign – with 10 real vulvas cast in plaster

Instagram proved the importance of a new campaign by period care brand Callaly this week, when it banned educational illustrations of vulvas that were being used to dispel stigma and celebrate vulva diversity. 

“We Need to Talk About Vulvas” was launched this week with the aim of debunking the myth of a “perfect vulva” and amplify diverse, real life experiences of people with the body part. As part of the campaign, the brand posted realistic, informative imagery to address the current lack of healthy reference points on the internet and showcase the true diversity of vulvas. Unfortunately, when the images were shared by campaign partner Vagina Museum they were quickly taken down by Instagram. 

“We created this campaign content to tackle the lack of visibility of a range of vulvas, with the aim of reducing unnecessary feelings of shame and anxiety,” says Jody Elphick, head of brand and content at Callaly. “It is appalling that Instagram feels the need to remove educational images of vulvas – a body part owned by half the population. We would like Instagram to remove the ban immediately so that we can continue to reach the thousands of people who need to access these supportive resources.”

Before the post was removed, it had received over 6,000 likes and hundreds of comments from people celebrating the initiative and sharing their own stories of anxiety and confusion around their vulvas. By banning the images and taking down the post, Instagram ironically proved the point of the campaign and the importance of education and de-stigmatisation around vulvas.

These educational illustrations are only a small part of the campaign, however. To help spread the message that every vulva is uniquely different and equally great, the brand also enlisted 10 spokespeople to not only share their experiences with their vulvas – with stories touching on everything from gender transition to disability, and desire for labiaplasty – but to get their vulvas cast in plaster. They are now sharing the images of these casts with the world to shed light on how diverse the body part really is and to help other women and those with vulvas not feel embarrassed about the appearance of their own.

This is vital work because, as research conducted by the brand discovered, concern over the appearance of their vulvas is very high amongst young people. Almost a third (29 per cent) of people aged 16 to 35 said they have worried about whether their vulva was abnormal, while 40 per cent of 16-24 year olds and 37 per cent of 25-34 year olds wished they had a “neat, symmetrical shaped vulva”. In addition to this, 22 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds and 15 per cent of 25-34s have considered changing their vulva themselves, either by cutting or bleaching it, and 13 per cent of 16-34 year olds are planning to have surgery on their vulva. “For such a high proportion of people to be walking around thinking there is something wrong with their perfectly healthy vulva is nothing short of a crisis,” says Elphick.

As much as we here at DBHQ like to joke about how vulva-related products are taking over the beauty and wellness industry, the reality is that education around vulvas and authentic representation is still woefully inadequate. Callaly’s research found that almost half (46 per cent) of 16 to 24-year-olds were not even confident they knew exactly what a vulva is. Meanwhile a third of people said they would be reassured by a greater variety of images in the public realm. With this as the impetus, Callaly has launched the #VulvaTalk digital hub – an educational learning resource that parents and teachers can download to help inform young people and tackle the lack of visibility and availability of a range of vulvas. 

Alongside diverse vulva illustrations that can be used as a classroom activity, the hub includes advice from people with vulvas on how to have a relationship with your vulva, a quiz on the language around vulvas to teach young people how important language is in our relationship with our bodies, and FAQs for teacher and parents to use as a guide when young people ask questions, from Callaly’s in-house gynaecologist Dr Tania Adib.

“I've seen many people over the years struggling with self esteem issues caused by shame over how they perceive their vulva,” says Dr. Tania Adib, consultant gynaecologist at Callaly. “Whether it’s caused by inadequate sex education in school or the role played by pornography, it is time we address this disconnect between people and their bodies. Let's start by calling a vulva a vulva”.