PSA: All vaginas are beautiful.
Last month, reports emerged that a sex toy manufacturer was launching a worldwide competition to find the world's most beautiful vagina. While the pageant prompted more than a few outraged responses, one question did crop up: Who would win, and just what, exactly, would her "flawless" lady bits look like?
We have an answer. Her name is Nell*, she lives in Scotland and for someone whose genitals (link NSFW) have been voted the most beautiful in the world, she's decidedly modest about her so-called pretty vagina’s victory.
"I still do not believe I have a special vagina," she tells Mic. "I happen to have the best picture of my vagina. That's it. It's nothing less, it's nothing more."
The Vagina Beauty Pageant was the brainchild of Brian Sloan, the inventor of the Autoblow2, an oral sex simulator for men. Sloan launched the search for the world's most aesthetically pleasing vulva as a way to find a model for a future iteration of the Autoblow 2, which would use a "vagina sleeve" to stimulate the user's penis rather than a rubber mouth.
"There are stock vaginas available at factories, but I thought it would be nice to deduce what kind of vaginal appearance my customers prefer and then design vagina sleeves based on their feedback," he told The Daily Beast. The winners would receive thousands of dollars and fly to Berlin to have their vaginas 3D-scanned, so Sloan could use them as models for his sex toys.
After the contest was announced, 182 women submitted photos of their vaginas, which were ranked and voted on by 134,707 of the website's 1.2 million unique visitors from 191 countries. The data from the contest was also used as the basis for a study, which "investigates the diversity of vulvas and the public opinion about different vulval morphologies," measuring according to such standards as "labia minora length, labia majora length, and clitoral hood length."
Nell's filmmaker boyfriend convinced her to enter the pageant after he read an article about it online. She agreed, citing the anonymity and prize money — $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and $1,250 for third place — as an added perk.
"[My boyfriend] has always told me, you have a cute, chubby vagina," Nell says. If you look at the (NSFW) photo of her submission, you can go ahead and judge for yourself.
That wasn't an issue for the pageant's voters, who gave Nell a rating of 7.7 out of 10, establishing her as the victor. But she attributes her victory not to the quality of her vulva, but to how her goods were packaged in the photo her boyfriend took, which depicts her vulva from behind.
"It's like everything in life. It's how you serve something. ...It's mostly about the position, the lighting, the photograph," she says. "It's the wrapping rather than the gift."
The tyranny of vagina beauty standards
While the Vagina Beauty Pageant is arguably little more than a publicity stunt for a sex toy manufacturer, critics of the contest have argued it's part of a long tradition of propagating unrealistic beauty standards for women. After all, in a world where women are already made to feel bad about themselves for their thighs and butts and bellies and stretch marks, do we really need to start judging vaginas, too? Honestly, there’s no one model of what a “pretty” vagina looks like — and pushing a narrative that says otherwise is, well, pretty gross.
Mic found fault in the premise: "Determining what the 'best' vagina is ... especially based on appearance, doubles down on the already pervasive judgment of women's bodies by men," argued Nicolas DiDomizio in a story about the concept. "Because the world wants us to remember to be self-conscious about everything forever there has now been a winner of the first ever (NSFW) 'World's Most Beautiful Vagina' contest."
Meanwhile, thanks to the widespread availability of online porn, an increasing number of women feel self-conscious about their vulvas — and they're resorting to extreme measures to "fix" them. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2013, more than 5,000 American women had labiaplasties, a costly surgery that removes the skin from the inner labia, resulting in a smooth, compact, Barbie-like appearance similar to that of Nell's vulva. The number of surgeons performing labiaplasties went from 21% to 29% in 2013 alone, and the procedures themselves increased by 44% over the same year, CNN reported.
The data from the Vagina Beauty Pageant supports the idea that the "Barbie" has become the standard for beautiful vulvas in our culture. According to the Vulva Paper survey, there was a slight preference for "Class 1" vulvas, or vulvas with "labia minora [that] don't protrude and are soft."
A passing visit to the most beautiful vagina contest's leaderboard, which displays a ranking of all the winners, confirms this idea. While the vaginas on display are somewhat varied in their physical appearance — some have different-shaped clitoral hoods than others, and a few have visible pubic hair — they are all clean-shaven and free of any visible epidermal imperfections. They are, to put it bluntly, conventionally attractive ladyparts.
When asked if she thinks the Vagina Beauty Pageant might have a negative impact on women who felt self-conscious about their vulvas to begin with, Nell dismissed the idea.
"If I thought it were damaging, or that negative for women, generally, I wouldn't have even participated. I believe that I am a person who tries to lead a life according to some basic ethics, so I wouldn't have done it if I honestly thought it was harming women generally," she says. "I honestly think it's harmless ... if there's something out there creating standards for vagina beauty, it's mostly porn, where you get a lot of women undergoing labiaplasty. That's absolutely more harming.
"Objectification itself is not the problem. It's something that happens naturally to all of us, I think, both men and women."
Even though her vagina has just been voted the most beautiful in the world, Nell, who describes herself as "a middle height, middle weight girl dressing in a sporty way," says her own body isn't perfect. (Reminder: No one’s is.) When it comes down to it, she doesn't want other women to look at her vagina and feel bad about their own.
"My breasts and my nose and my ears are not like yours, so each one of us is different," she says. "It's obvious. It would be extremely boring if it were all the same." Plus, she adds, there were only 182 entries in the contest, which isn't at all representative of the entire population.
She is excited, however, about the $5,000 grand prize, and she's eager to fly to Berlin to have her vagina 3D-scanned for Sloan's sex toy. "I think it's technically interesting," she says of the 3D-scanning process. "I've always been curious about new technologies and design, which is my field."
At the end of the day, Nell insists she still doesn't believe she has a particularly "special vagina." And should a person happen to click on her photo, look down at their own vagina and feel woefully self-conscious as a result, Nell says that person may need to lighten up. (Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially given our society’s deeply ingrained beauty standards.)
"I took [the contest] for what it was — a fun game. I never took it too seriously," she says. It's "a marketing technique for a sex toy."
For privacy reasons, Nell's real name has not been disclosed.
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