"We’re a piece of a bigger picture – from the feminist art community to the feminist education and political community, I think we’re all telling very important stories."
My Hairy Vag and Me is an ongoing poetry project run by Emilie Epperlein who uses Instagram to share her collection of four-line stanzas. Be it a rhyme about period poos or a verse about the creaminess of discharge, Emilie presents quick, witty, and humorously unbashful stories about the world of vulvas, offering a joyful discussion of the everyday bodily experiences that so often get silenced and shamed.
This journey started after Emilie picked up a copy of The Vagina Monologues when studying psychology at University, sparking a newfound fascination of what our experiences of having a vagina are. “Having grown up in a very Catholic, strict, conservative family, it was never a conversation we’d ever had, despite the fact that I have four sisters which is insane”. And so Emilie went on to explore the topic further for her thesis, by asking men whether the perfect vagina existed and observing the negative stigma attached to vulvas. “We are compelled to believe that our vaginas should look a certain way based on pornography, on the trends for waxing, on bikini’s getting smaller. The number of Labiaplasties performed on the NHS in the past 10 years has risen fivefold. According to their figures, in 2015-16 more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty and more than 150 of the girls were under 15 which is a shocking and horrific figure.”
Emilie’s thesis was recognised for bringing another angle into the conversation about idealised female bodies and published by The British Psychological Society and invited to speak at conferences and events. Emilie notes with a laugh how “I was thinking to myself ‘This is amazing, I’m doing so much work for feminist kind, pat on the back!’ and then a few months down the line I realised no one was reading the paper!”. This was a turning point for Emilie, who recognised how she was wanting to reach more people in accessible ways. “My publications are written in this scientific language that I don’t even understand anymore... I wanted to do something which celebrated body positivity, that explored what the different experiences of having a vagina could be like and so I decided to do something within the arts. To create something which you can connect with, in a different way to a lecture or a scientific journal or even a sex ed video at school. And so I started writing poetry”.
A few years ago, people would shudder at the word period and masturbation for people with a vulva wasn’t talked about. Now we’re having proper conversations and political change is happening which makes a genuine difference.
Writing from her own very personal experience, Emilie notes how she used poetry as “as a way to express myself, and figure out how I felt about having a vagina, my pubes and labia, my period and my discharge”. To start with, creating her lyrically goofy rhymes felt “more like an undercover operation; I’d never tag pictures of me with my face, I didn’t want to reveal my identity” for a number of reasons including Emilie’s desire to allow people to connect with the universal narratives of bodily functions. “When I write I’m very aware of the pronouns I use because I want my poetry to provide an inclusive space, I want my poetry to be accepting of everybody, so you can see yourself in my poetry without knowing where it came from.”
As My Hairy Vag picked up speed, Emilie found herself “stumbling into the period sphere, dabbling in some sex positivity work” and affiliating herself with projects such as Scarlett Curtis’s campaign Girls Wank Too and Project Period. “For Project Period, I wrote a poem to raise awareness around period poverty which was then printed on the car seat of London cabs”, a brilliant campaign which reflects the change in the discourse surrounding menstruation. “A few years ago, people would shudder at the word period and masturbation for people with a vulva wasn’t talked about. Now we’re having proper conversations and political change is happening which makes a genuine difference.” The more Emilie has taken part in these refreshing conversations, the more self-assured she has become as a person and as a performer. “I’ve come into my body much more since writing my poetry and gained more confidence. It’s been a great way for me to meet other artists in the community and I think performing poetry in my body and using my body to perform has been a really positive thing for me.”
When I’m talking about periods, pubes, and labia, I forget that, for other people, they still find the body jarring and shocking.
Despite the unintimidated, confrontational manner of her poetry, Emilie is genuine when pointing out that this growth in her confidence “doesn’t erase those insecurities which are deeply embedded, that I’m wanting to challenge and haven’t disappeared yet. There's definitely an ingrained critical voice that I'll never really get rid of because that voice is forced down your throat since your born, it's hard to remove. I could see an ad on the street and suddenly feel really insecure about myself. Things can trigger you when you don’t expect it.” This leaves Emilie questioning “What's the patriarchy's choice and what's my choice – I still don’t know. I feel conflicted”.
With her slangy slurs and pop culture references, Emilie describes herself as “an everyday, accessible feminist” mixing poetry with an edge of comedy to offer a light-hearted release from some of those most anxiety inducing moments of everyday life. “I learnt in psychology, that you can create a feeling of closeness with somebody by using humour to broach difficult topics”, informing the way Emilie narrates experiences of overflowing sanitary towels and blood tangled pubic hair.
Asking Emilie what inspires her to write, she says “It’s usually in moments that I feel enraged, that give me the energy to create and do something different”. And My Hairy Vag and Me certainly doesn’t disappoint in delivering that differences. Encouraged by the conversations other feminists are having around her, Emilie points out “We’re a piece of a bigger picture – from the feminist art community to the feminist education and political community, I think we’re all telling very important stories".
Keep your eyes open and check out Emilie's project on IG @myhairyvagandme