Making The Vagina Shameless: Michèle Degen Is Smashing Taboos - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Making The Vagina Shameless: Michèle Degen Is Smashing Taboos

Making The Vagina Shameless: Michèle Degen Is Smashing Taboos

Published March 21, 2017

Joanna Smith
Photos by
Juliette Chrétien

Would you believe it: the “V-word” is still a taboo subject. That’s right, I’m talking about the part of the human anatomy responsible for pleasure, pain, and even giving life. The part society can’t seem to talk about except in hushed tones. The dirty secret hidden between a woman’s legs: the vagina.

Swiss designer Michèle Degen hopes to change all that with Vulva Versa, a mirror designed for women to view their genitals. It’s a piece about exploration and acceptance of female sexuality, and Michèle will present it as part of this year’s DesignTalks.

Michèle Degen, the designer behind Vulva Versa, will be giving a talk at DesignMarch entitled “Shame / Less.”

Michèle was inspired by a project in which she worked with the gynaecological department of the Máxima Medisch Centrum in Eindhoven. She explains: “In the beginning, I had my share of troubles with the topic. I tried to figure out how the visit at the gynaecologist could be more comfortable. But whilst joining the doctor on this practice, and interviewing his patients, I started to realise that a more comfortable chair does not change the situation—there is a broader discomfort around the vagina. We simply do not talk about it.”

Intimate parts

The mirror itself is, first and foremost, a piece of art. Its beautiful, shell-like design is visually appealing and intriguing—certainly more so than a regular compact mirror. The shape mimics that of a woman’s genitals, and the concave design means you can see everything at once. Using it, a woman would have her vagina, her sexuality and her body in the palm of her hand.

Michèle hopes this shell-like mirror will open a dialogue for women to talk more openly about their bodies.

But is it purely symbolic, or is there a practical use to its design? Michèle certainly thinks there is. “It’s heavier than a normal mirror,” she explains, “and makes you automatically look down. and it fits perfectly in your hand.” But probably the most useful feature is that it’s chromed and won’t steam up, “so you can take it to the shower and you can finally see where you shave.”

Vulva Versa, the mirror that lets a woman hold her vagina in her hand.

Despite these user-friendly features, Vulva Versa is currently not for sale, but Michèle has big ambitions. “The main intention is obviously that there is a dialogue,” she says. “That we can have an open conversation about intimate parts… but sometimes I think, ‘What if a Vulva Versa would be something women carry around daily, and obvious like the iPhone?’ I would like to think that I created an indispensable, thoroughly designed object that modern women posses. That the statement has spread.”

Michèle hopes that Vulva Versa will one day be sold in shops for women to buy and use everyday.

Shattering stigma

Despite the overall positive responses Michèle has received, she does occasionally encounter those who don’t understand her message. She recalls how a woman at her Dutch Design Week show saw her work and exclaimed, “What is this? This is really unnecessary. Why would a woman want see her own vagina?” But Michèle says that such responses just prove that the stigma she’s trying to shatter really exists.

“Why would a woman want see her own vagina?”

This taboo-erasing objective has female empowerment at its core. As Michèle puts it: “I believe that if a woman has a good relationship with her own body—and her genitals in particular—she is more at ease, and therefore stronger. It is a sign of self-confidence, in place of shame.”

Her talk is sure to be an interesting one, to say the least. Michèle assures me it will be “a shameless, process-driven presentation, where norms and ideals are questioned.” Vulva Versa is sure to make you think differently about the female body. In a world where autonomy over the female body is somehow still a contentious issue, a design that quite literally puts women’s bodies in their own hands is immeasurably important.

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