ONE Cork woman was horrified to realise, at the age of 27, that what she thought was her vagina, was in fact her vulva.
Now Sarah Hegarty wants to share her journey of re-education through her Instagram page ‘Vadge of Honour’.
She calls it a ‘safe space where we can start normalising taboo conversations’. Her main goal is to mix humour and acceptance, but plaster it with body positivity.
Like so many things, it all started over lockdown when the young woman from Togher found herself with more time on her hands, and decided to use it to educate herself.
She started to read some feminist books, including Invisible Women by Caroline Criado- Perez and Vagina: A Re-education by Lynn Enright which is when she had the vagina/vulva light bulb moment.
“We were never taught that in school. So I wanted to learn more, not just about bodies but about the social pressures that are put on us. Like, for example, razor companies in the 1900s wanted to double their sales so they started ad campaigns to embarrass women about body hair, and that trend stuck,” she said.
The CIT visual communications graduate feels there are so many ‘norms’ that are designed to make women feel that certain things about them are wrong.
“For example, there’s cream products so your vagina won’t smell. It doesn’t!
“Or there’s things like ‘before and after pictures’ of women – when in fact people are meant to be squidgy! These are all things that I’d love to have known when I was younger.”
She conducted a poll among 300 people on her page which had some telling results.
She asked: ‘Do you find body hair attractive on women?’ 39% voted yes and 61% voted no.
To the question: ‘Do you find body hair attractive on men?’ 74% voted yes and 26% voted no.
She also wants to move away from taboos surrounding periods: “We need to stop apologising for having periods, and feel like we can talk about it in front of boys. I was lucky I grew up in a home where my mother was a bit of a feminist in her own way and when I got my first period I remember her shouting ‘You’re a woman, we have to have a party!’”
Sarah feels she was always a feminist, even if it’s taken her a while to realise it and admit it.
“I think it’s because that term has such negative connotations attached to it. Someone might even be reading this and rolling their eyes at the term. Feminism isn’t about hating men, it’s about creating an even playing ground for everyone.
“I always remember when I was younger, I was quite the tomboy and was having a water fight with all the kids in my park. I was so annoyed the boys could take off their top and I couldn’t. The unfairness always stuck with me.”
As well as the Instagram page, Sarah also makes Vadge of Honour merchandise. She started with a felt vulva key ring for a friend. She now stocks bookmarks, badges, tote bags, mugs, illustrations, and shortly hopes to launch party boxes.
“They will have vulva painting kits. Growing up, you’d always see penises scratched out or drawn in places like on desks or benches. Granted, vulvas are harder to draw, but I want them on everything!”
There will also be a ‘pin the clit on the vulva game’ and a female quiz, asking true or false and educational questions.
“The reaction has been brilliant. My boyfriend, friends and family have been really supportive. It’s so lovely when you have people reach out to tell you how proud they are of you. Although my topics are a bit ‘taboo’, you’ll still see my dad in town with one of my Miggle Dee feminist tote bags. He loves it!”
Ultimately, she wants to celebrate females.
“I want to break the norm in representation of the female body. I grew up in an era where we were exposed to the heroin-chic look and thought that was the ‘only normal’. Now we have a different trend that the younger generation are exposed to. There will always be new trends. But I want to show that all bodies are beautiful in their different forms, with flat bums, with wobbly bits, with different sized breasts, with back rolls. Everything, everything is normal!”