In ways big and small, the world is constantly sending us messages intended to make us feel bad about our bodies. It's up to us to counter that negativity and learn to love and celebrate ourselves for the beautiful beings we are, and to support the next generation to do the same. Fortunately, there are many positive resources to help us achieve this, against all odds.
1. Vulvas change with puberty (and each one is unique)
Puberty class often omits some crucial details, including the fact that vulvas change shape as we go through adolescence. The lips enlarge, and there is no one way for them to look.
When we had our storefront, we carried the book Petals – a photographic series showcasing a diversity of vulvas. Over and over we heard customers say, “They’re all so different! This one looks like me.” This was usually followed by a visible shift in the person's energy as they let it sink in that there was nothing wrong with their body.
With labiaplasty being one of the fastest growing types of cosmetic surgery, it is imperative that we share with our young people that it is natural and normal for there to be a vast diversity when it comes to the way vulvas look.
The Vulva Gallery is a collection of illustrations by artist Hilde Atalantato featuring Instagram captions like, "This is a normal vulva. Half of all vulva-owning individuals on earth have inner labia that are longer than their outer labia. That's 1.75 billion individuals with beautiful vulvas similar to this one. Love your vulva, because all vulvas are beautiful just the way they are."
Unfortunately our society shows a very limited range of body types in the media, especially when it comes to depicting sports and fitness.
It's important that we share with our young people that there is a huge diversity of body types and that no body type is excluded from pursuing the experience of health, joy and vitality.
We adore Jessamyn Stanley (shown here) for many reasons, including her passion for making yoga accessible to everyone, her reclamation of the word "slut", and the way she normalizes nudity by posting images of herself in minimal or no clothing. Her honesty, confidence and general badassery is totally contagious.
We were fortunate to attend a dance school (Pegasus) that instilled the belief that dance is for everyone. There's no doubt that being in a body-positive environment that focused on the joy of movement had a profound effect on both of us. Thankfully there are others who are working to make dance accessible, like Akira Armstrong of Pretty Big Movement.
3. If you're going to watch porn, choose it wisely
Internet porn is ubiquitous. A study found that 70 per cent of boys and 50 per cent of girls have been exposed to online pornography by age 12. As a result, porn is often a child's first introduction to genitalia and sex . While most porn stars are totally shaved to make it easier to view what is happening during close-up penetration shots, this does not mean we all need to be waxed or get laser therapy (see above about vulva love). It's important to send the message that what you do or don't do with your hair is your choice.
Furthermore, lots of mainstream porn gives the wrong impression of sex. It tends to focus on cisgender, heterosexual couples (or if it does include non-binary people, it does so in demeaning ways). They also perpetuate myths such as the "dual orgasm during missionary position", or may omit female pleasure altogether.
Since teens are likely to watch porn regardless, have a conversation about how to be "porn literate" and about choosing directors and actors who are inclusive and ethical in their approach.
The video below is by one of our favourite directors, Erika Lust, and it addresses some of the ways that we can change the porn conversation. She and her husband have also created the website, The Porn Conversation, which includes tip sheets and scripts for how to talk to your kids about porn.
Feminist porn is a big topic unto itself and there are lots of fabulous feminist porn films, but if you're looking for a place to start, here are our top recommendations:
- Shine Louise Houston is the founder of Pink & White Productions, which is dedicated to producing "sexy and exciting images that reflect today’s blurred gender lines and fluid sexualities." The Crash Pad is one of our absolute favourite films.
- Erika Lust is an outspoken advocate for changing the porn industry. Her films challenge the standard male-focused narrative with an emphasis on authentic female pleasure (they're also beautifully shot).
- For more film recommendations you can check out the Feminist Porn Awards website, or pick up a copy of The Feminist Porn Book by Tristan Taormino (she's another producer we highly recommend exploring)
4. It's pointless to compare yourself to models (not even they look how they appear in ads!)
Amy recently had a conversation with her daughter about the degree of distortion that occurs in most advertising. This is a very important lesson to share with the teens in your life so that they don't find themselves making unrealistic comparisons of themselves to the images they see in magazines and advertisements, and even social media.
Encourage them to watch these two short clips and have a discussion about what this means with regards to the ideals of beauty.
And to make it clear this is not just a women's issue...
5. Your menstrual cycle doesn't have to feel like a mystery
It's frightening how most of us grow up not knowing what vaginal discharge is, or why we're more hungry pre-menstrually, or that the body creates egg-white mucus prior to ovulation. When we don't know what our body is doing or why, it can seem like a black box of mystery at best and at worst an evil monster designed to cause us pain and get us pregnant at every turn.
One of the greatest gifts we can give to teens is to help them understand what their bodies are doing and why.
Not only does this help reduce anxiety about everything from discharge to pregnancy to infections, but it helps to highlight the profound ways that our decisions about sleep, sex, food, and stress have on our overall well-being. In doing so we foster an internal desire to treat the body with respect.
Books like Cycle Savvy, Cycling, and Red Moon are instructional and empowering books suitable for teens as young as 10 or 11 years old. For the slightly older teen who may be menstruating and interested in learning more, our Cycle Sense program provides in-depth information about the hormonal changes that happen throughout the menstrual cycle and how they relate to nutrition, lifestyle and general health.
We still have a long way to go before we live in a culture that truly promotes body positivity and self-love, but it feels like the tides are shifting. The change-makers we've listed above are just the tip of the iceberg - there are countless people challenging the narrative so that everyone can feel confident in their skin. Together, we can change the story and raise a generation of empowered youth.
An easy way to increase body literacy is to use a charting app to record mood changes, energy levels, and PMS symptoms. Download our free guide below.
About the Sisters
Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for people seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.