Making headlines is the story of one Canadian photographer Petra Collins, who at the age of 20 is already making storms in the world of images. But not necessarily the way she had envisioned.
Already having shot for gem outlets like Rookie and Vice, Collins recently found herself in an interesting tug of war after an image she shot got her taken down from Instagram.
The contentious photo is a shot of Collins in her underwear with a bit of pubic hair showing.
Mystified by Instagram’s decision, Collins decided to turn to her Tumblr to discuss the issue at hand. And there was a lot to discuss, as we discovered.
But before we get into it, it might also behoove you to know that Collins is the photographer behind American Apparel’s latest campaign, which depicts a menstruating vagina. Needless to say, that went on to cause a bit of a stir, not necessarily because it was offensive, but because not everyone is necessarily ready to accept that women have vaginas, that they bleed once a month after they reach puberty and that vaginas in general are an icky thing to talk about, unless it happens to be a porn film in your private boudoir.
But that, of course, is not the way Collins sees it. She wrote on her Tumblr page:
I wasnt shocked at the reaction I received from my t-shirt. Im used to being told by society that I must regulate my body to fit the norm. Im used to the fact that images of unaltered women are seen as unacceptable. Ive taught myself to ignore it (as much as I can) and through the Internet (via sites like ROOKIE Mag) and social media platforms (like Instagram and Facebook) Ive been able to freely share images and start discussions about these issues.
The image I posted was from the waist down wearing a bathing suit bottom in front of a sparkly backdrop. Unlike the 5,883,628 (this is how many images are tagged #bikini) bathing suit images on Instagram (see here and here) mine depicted my own unaltered state – an unshaven bikini line.
So no nudity, no violence, no pornography, nothing hateful or hurtful, but yet somehow the above photo you have been looking at for the last five minutes went on to offend a secret legion at Instagram.
Is there a certain way a woman’s body ought to be presented, consumed, corroborated, validated?
Is it heresy to acknowledge that women have vaginas and pubic hair? Men have penises and pubic hair, too. Do you think if Collins had taken a photo of a man’s briefs and hinted at his pubic hair we’d all be running down the street crying intimidation of the human species? Or would we at worst just wryly smile and let the “racy’ image soak in before nodding our heads?
So if it could work for a man, why can’t it work for a woman? Why is it that the depiction of women can only be within certain parameters, and why does it even really matter considering that women’s images have been hyper-sexualized ad infinitum?
The Daily Dot reflects: Collins then goes on to critique the media culture that measures women by their appearance and lists off all the things she and other women are used to, whether we like it or not. But the bigger issue here is the censorship of images, and what constitutes an offensive image.
So a woman being held in a choke hold for a fashion campaign is somehow okay, but a woman letting you in on the secret that around the top of her vagina she has pubic hair might be too derogatory and suggestive.
But suggestive of what? Of her femininity? Of her power, her existence, her virility? Are women not allowed to own these characteristics? Or is this only the domain of men?
Even if you didn’t try you could find more sexually suggestive photos on the site than what Collins put up.
So again, what is it about vaginas? Or the hint of a vagina? Or anything associated to a woman’s reproductive organs? Why is it that her organs are more promiscuous and sexually charged than a man’s nipples, his bulging front pants, and why is it that we are encouraged to see women from only a certain vantage point? Who gets to decide what we understand of women and how we embrace them and define them?
The 20-year-old troublemaker continues to reflect:
The deletion of my account felt like a physical act, like the public coming at me with a razor, sticking their finger down my throat, forcing me to cover up, forcing me to succumb to societies image of beauty.
That these very real pressures we face everyday can turn into literal censorship. If the Internet mimics real life then there is no doubt that real life can mimic it. That if we allow ourselves to be silenced or censored it can happen in real life too.
That if an online society of people can censor your body what stops them from doing so in real life. This is already happening, you experience this everyday.
When someone catcalls at you, yells SLUT, comments on all your Facebook photos calling you disgusting, tries to physically violate you, spreads private nude images of you to a mass amount of people via text, calls you ugly, tells you to change your body, tells you are not perfect, this cannot continue to be our reality.
So think about it: why are we ashamed of women’s bodies, and why must we in turn
slut shame her for being who she naturally is? And if that is the case, what parameters and expectations do we place on her? Something that I want all you women to think about as you gorge yourself on a solitary piece of watercress in your desperate need to approximate some arbitrary standard of what makes a woman beautiful and desirable. You just might be doing it all in vain.
If only women didn’t have leaky or hairy vaginas … the world would be a saner and safer place. Right?