A unique type of body cast allows women to see themselves from a new angle. ELENI PHILIPPOU experiences it and meets the woman who creates them

The portal of life lies between a woman’s thighs, yet it is a body part that is for the most part largely skipped over. Those with vaginas are bombarded with messages on how to keep it ‘healthy’, ‘tidy’ and ‘pretty’ but girls and women are generally made to feel shy about their body part.

Vulvas (the external part of the vaginal opening) have been overly-sexualised and talking about them has become taboo. Society asks women to love their bodies, but how are they expected to when they are told to hide them? Hide the skin, the curves and its most intimate part – the vulva.

Personally, the body positive movement has helped me accept my body; from breast shape and hair to the belly bulge yet there was always one body part I never really connected to. My relationship with my vulva was ordinary in that I didn’t really have one. It was simply there. Want to know more about it? Enter vulva casting.

The concept is the same as casts of hands and pregnant bellies, and recently artists have been doing casts of vulvas to encourage people to celebrate their bodies. Abroad, there have been high-profile creative initiatives but in the close-knit, largely traditional Cypriot culture, this practice was practically non-existent. Until now.

P**CY is the handle of a middle-aged woman that creates vulva casts from her home. She’s a creative who by day works in the financial sector and has a drive for self-empowerment and sex-positivity. I met up with her to have my own cast done and, quite literally, face my vulva.

We connected first through Instagram and talked about body image worries, the societal pressure women often feel and ultimately this desire to connect with that part of ourselves. Since the first lockdown of 2020, P**CY has done multiple casts of her own, a mini-project she started to get back in touch with herself.

“As a new mum I was going through matrescence,” she said, “which was a term I didn’t know existed, but which is the equivalent of adolescence but with motherhood. So, my body had changed, I had changed as a woman and I was questioning what it means to me to be a woman after having a child. I was so out of touch with the self I knew before getting pregnant that I was looking for how to get back to her. Casting myself was a way to literally look at me and appreciate this sacred portal that women are.”

Looking at her first few casts was a rather shocking, disconcerting moment. It felt like “listening to your voice on recording. But ultimately, I was really happy with being able to hold myself in a literal sense but also, hold myself figuratively.” Now, more than a year later, she is ready to do casts of other women, although only a few have so far approached her to do so. Many in Cyprus are still nervous and shy about female genitals and sexual liberation. To an extent, this also makes P**CY cautious of sharing her identity publicly, in-person though she’s an open book.

In the days leading up to our appointment, I asked P**CY if I should prep in any way. Pubic hair, she said, would lessen the detail on the cast, but it was up to me.

I was nervous about stripping and putting myself on display but it is something we do also for the gynaecologist and the beautician. Exposure lasts just a few seconds before she pours the alginate, a liquid that sets and what dentists use to cast our teeth. Then you are covered and have to stay still until it dries, a process of about four to five minutes before removing the alginate. That creates the negative inside-out ‘print’, plaster is poured into it, it hardens and then the cast is ready.

The experience felt intimate, like an ancient womanly ritual. Nude but not uncomfortable. The process was rather quick and my shyness faded away as we chatted. P**CY’s considerate and relaxed energy helped.

When my cast was ready, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It felt uneasy at first to be able to see it so vividly. Inner critics tried to peak through but I reminded myself that this is part of my body and it is as unique as a fingerprint. My vulva used to be just a shy part of my body. The unusual experience of getting a cast was perhaps the most honest and vulnerable action I have taken towards self-acceptance and connection.

“It’s about representing a part of the female form that has historically been misunderstood and misrepresented,” P**CY said. Looking forward, she hopes to hold an exhibition of different vulvas of women on the island, to shine a light on their various shapes and stories – menopause, labour, violence, sex change, shame. Perhaps it is by facing and normalising our vulvas that we can reclaim them.

 

Follow P**CY on Instagram @vulvacastingcy to see more and get in touch