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I had my vagina photographed for the front cover of a student newspaper

By Lily Patchett on August 21 2013 - News

Last week, along with eighteen other young women from Sydney Uni, I had my vagina photographed to make a political statement on the front cover of Honi Soit, Australia’s oldest running weekly student newspaper.

We believe that the way the media represents women’s vaginas is neither realistic or fair, and causes women to feel uncomfortable about how they look. It also gives men a distorted idea of what a vagina actually looks like. Not enough people know what a real vagina looks like. Not a digitally-altered vagina, not a porn star’s vagina, a real one.

Soon after we had the photos taken, we were told that if our vaginas were published and released without censorship (the very thing we were supposed to be fighting), the SRC could be facing a legal battle it could not afford.

Honi Soit had no choice but to agree to censor the vaginas, in the process proving the importance of this project. Here were our vaginas in a completely non-sexual context, showing all of their beautiful diversity, and once again, no one was to see them.

honi soit

The censored version of Honi Soit cover.

Until I saw the uncensored versions of the vaginas, I didn’t even realise myself how different they could be. The fact that as a woman with a vagina I didn’t know they could be so wonderfully varied from each other just goes to show the extent to which personal ignorance is forced upon us. It also demonstrates how accustomed we are to seeing only one type of vagina: neat, tidy and boring-looking.

But Australian law states that published vaginas must be healed down to a single crease, which means that almost every vagina you see in the media has been censored and/or airbrushed – you’ll never see any ‘bits’ hanging out. You can imagine that this leaves many women feeling like they are abnormal. As the uncensored cover of Honi Soit showed, no two vaginas are the same. But to avoid legal prosecution, Honi Soit censored every one of the 18 vaginas with a black rectangle.

However, when the magazine was released, a blunder was discovered. The black rectangles which had been added to cover the vaginas were far more transparent than was intended. The copies were quickly taken off the stands.

Honi Soit published a post on its Facebook page explaining the motivations that led to them pursuing the project:

We are tired of society giving us a myriad of things to feel about our own bodies. We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualised (see: porn) or stigmatised (see: censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual.

The vaginas on the cover are not sexual. We are not always sexual. The vagina should and can be depicted in a non-sexual way – it’s just another body part. “Look at your hand, then look at your vagina,” said one participant in the project. “Can we really be so naïve to believe our vaginas the dirtiest, sexiest parts of our body?”

We want to feel normal; we don’t want to feel fearful when we have a first sexual counter with a partner who may judge us because of our vaginas.

Here they are, flaps and all. Don’t you dare tell me my body offends you. 

It makes no sense to me that in this day and age, vaginas are still held to mythical standards of beauty – soft, hairless, and white. The reality of vaginas is that some of them are hairy, sometimes prickly, sometimes dark, sometimes pinkish. Some women’s labia poke out, some don’t. But mostly, vaginas are always treated as some great, big, shameful secret.

As young women, we already have enough to worry about when it comes to body image.

Young women are growing up in a society which is so concerned about the way we look. We are expected to be thin, well-dressed, and perfectly made-up. Add to this the pressure to have a picture-perfect (ha!) vagina that we already feel too ashamed to talk about, and it’s no wonder so many young women feel insecure.

Honi Soit has admitted it did not foresee how big a legal issue the cover would become. The images have been deemed in breach of s 578C of the NSW Crimes Act because they are “indecent”.

But I don’t think a natural, normal-looking vagina is indecent. Not in the slightest.


Birdee believes that this image should be published, and seen by everyone. Here is a link to the uncensored cover which was tweeted by Honi Soit Editor, Lucy Watson.


lily-patchett-headshotLily studies philosophy and sociology at Sydney Uni. She identifies as a vegan and feminist, and will probably be very quiet if you ever meet her because she tends to observe rather than engage. However, if you’re ever alone together, you will probably be bombarded with an intense array of questions, which may make you feel uncomfortable. But never fear – she swears it’s only for curiosity’s sake. People are fascinating. You can read more of Lily’s writing on her blog.


  1. I wonder what the reaction would have been if they had done this with penises.
    Particularly from the feminists 😛
    Same message, same intentions.
    The article says that penises are more accepted than vulvas, are they? Penises are exposed and mocked. While vulvas are revered and hidden.
    Pretty clear which is the most insulting of the two. But which is the most damaging? Not that it’s a competition.

    Both camps have their people profiting off the surgical amputation of parts. Unlike Labiaplasty, circumcision destroys MOST of an entire body part, removing entire functions of the male genitals. Not to mention that ADULT WOMEN choose this option for themselves whereas infants and boys have their mutilation forced upon them.

    The real issue is keeping the body taboo so that it is a source of profit. Keeping people ignorant and fearful of the normal human body brings in a lot of money. From porn to clothing to surgical modification. It affects all genders.

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  5. annikavictoria

    This is so disappointing. Although I am not sure if having genitals (of any kind or gender) on the cover of a magazine is the *best* idea, having CENSORED vaginas on the cover really reinforces the whole idea that vaginas should be censored! But if this causes even a couple of people to question what they may have thought about female anatomy then I am really glad that you did it – I can’t help but think a large proportion of girls feel ashamed about their vaginas because they don’t realise they are normal (I know I did for my entire teenage years), and it makes me so mad.

    What I think is really needed is a *proper* anatomy class when you learn about body parts & sex in school. Not just stylised cartoon images of vaginas and penises – real ones. Early on. So girls don’t have to grow up thinking they’re abnormal and hating their bodies.

  6. I dont like to disappoint the writer Lily however the picture you show of your vagina is in fact a Vulva. I am a campaigner to teach women that there vulva is not a vagina – the outer lips are the vulva the internal part of a womans genitals is the vagina. Its as different as a penis to testicles. The two are different. I know this as 20 years ago I had my clitoris vulva and lymph glands removed due to cancer. I then discovered the word pudendum -Latin meaning female genitalia – one who should and ought to be ashamed the shameful part of a woman. Well I refused to be ashamed – like many women who dont know that their outside genitalia is the vulva. VIVA LA VULVA I have established an International GYN Day so that women can know the different and be proud to call their VULVA a VULVA not a vagina

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  10. Great you all did it – but why use the wrong name? They are vulvas, not vaginas. Maybe it comes from the prudish U.S., who increasingly misuse the word.

  11. Scotchguy1

    Hi Lily
    You have just done something which is so groundbreaking, it is superb.
    You & your fellow students have been very brave & enlightened.
    As an guy of middle years, I have been frequently astonished at the way society views female genitalia.
    The lack of even a decent English Language Word for the outer parts is woeful.
    How many times have you heard someone say down-there, down-below, or some other euphemism .
    Yet there are dozens, if not hundreds of slang words for the male parts.
    All readily banded about by the media.
    We used to have a word, but now it is considered offensive, why?
    Many straight women grow into adulthood without ever even seeing another girl.
    In life & love, I have been astonished at how different each girl is.
    It has been a beautiful experience discovering that beauty.
    God or Nature has designed the view to be attractive to the opposite sex, just as the most attractive flowers attract the bees.
    That’s just down to preservation of the species after all.
    If anyone is at all concerned about their appearance down there, I would say
    I have seen thousands in real life & all of them were attractive.
    Not some, all.
    Thank you for opening up this discussion which will soon reach the MSM.
    I just wish we had a fair decent English word which truly does justice.
    Vagina is technically incorrect, as it refers to the interior canal rather than the external genitalia.
    Porn does indeed depict a strange image of genitalia in both women and men.
    It’s so apt the name of the Student Mag appears to come from the French
    Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense….
    roughly translated as Evil comes from those who think of it.
    The motto is used extensively in the UK, especially by the Royals & in Heraldry.
    Hey it’s on all our Passports.
    I do hope you achieve your objective.
    Take Care

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  13. I have no problem with challenging what presents as a normal vulva or vagina. This is a worthwhile message and of great meaning to feamles and males everywhere.

    I guess my feeling on this is that I don’t want to see your vulva. I’m not unhappy that the cover was censored because it’s just of no interest to me and would be me being confronted with nudity that I did not ask to see. I would feel the exact same way if it were penises too. Sure make statements, but if you are going to publish nude photography expect to be confronted by the reality that those things are done in private and do need to be covered up so that I, and others including children, are not put in the position of seeing unwanted nudity, whether it is vulvas, penises or even breasts, while living my daily life without my consent.

  14. Just want to point out that in the line that says “Not a digitally-altered vagina, not a porn star’s vagina, a real one.” – is a little ridiculous.
    A “porn star” is just as much a “real” person or woman as anyone else, and therefore their vagina is too.

  15. I think this article has a great message! All females should be comfotable with their anatomy no matter what it looks like.
    Just one issue: I do agree that you should not have called it a vagina when all that is depicted here is a vulva. Girls need to know the proper names for their body parts, just like boys get to learn the difference between their testicles and their penis.

    1. Lily Patchett

      Author here. Just wanted to say that I completely agree that vulva and not vagina should’ve been the term used in the project. It would’ve been a really great opportunity to spread that word that what’s down there is not simply a vagina.

      I’m really glad that the absence of it has sparked so much discussion about the use of vulva/vagina, though. I know that I’m certainly much more aware of the sexism entailed in the use of vagina aka what’s used for penetration, and endeavour to be much accurate and careful with my language surrounding it in future.


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