Nancy Redd Sees Vulvas Everywhere

Redd

Photo: Courtesy of Penguin Publishing Group

Growing up, Nancy Redd had a poor relationship with that part of her body that rhymes with Mulva, as Seinfeld famously noted. "I grew up in southern Virginia, where you're lucky if it's referred to as a hoo-ha," said Redd, 26. Then she majored in women's studies at Harvard, won Miss Virginia 2003 and placed in the top ten at Miss America 2004. With a postfeminist résumé like that, it was probably inevitable that she would write Body Drama, a version of Our Bodies, Ourselves for the self-image-addled teen girls and young women of Generation Z, coming out December 27. Covering everything from woes about lopsided boobs and personal smells to serious health issues, it's full of un-retouched photos of buck-naked everyday women, all New Yorkers whom Redd found over Craigslist — including a centerfold of 24 vulvas that gives new meaning to the term "full spread." Redd recounted that shoot to Tim Murphy.

So what did the Craigslist ad say?
It said, "Come show your vagina for a good cause." We ended up shooting about 50. We wanted a variety of colors and shapes, hair and without hair. We concocted this table in a photo studio like you'd have at the gyno — a clean, sterile table with disposable paper. I paid $50 a vulva.

What kinds of women showed up?
There were artists and bankers and a lot of students. Women who wanted to share themselves with the world. I wanted it to be fun vaginas, a happy and wholesome project. We had a pizza area where people watched TV. One woman said, "I can't wait for the book to come out. I'm going to make my boyfriend pick mine out."

Who has actually seen this many vulvas? Lesbians and men who get a lot of
play?

Men don't look. When they saw [the vulvas in the book], they said, "I've never seen anything that looks like that." They're so used to their little airbrushed Playboy vulvas. They don't understand that they've got makeup and glycerin down there in porn. When guys have sex, they're not even paying attention to the real deal.

How do women relate to their vulvas?
You'd be surprised about the shame they feel. They say it's too dark, it's too deep, it's too hairy, it's not feminine — which is the most ironic. How can your vulva not be feminine?

How did your editor feel about the vulva spread?
It was preapproved in the contract, but when she saw it, she said, "Oh, wow, when you said 'vulva,' I thought you meant the front — the muff." That's the whole point. Anyone can see a muff. It's not that interesting.

Um — did you take part in the spread?
I did. I couldn't recognize myself in the photo, though. I was, like, "Oh, really?"

The book has a bit of an anti-waxing slant, don't you think?
I don't care what you end up doing as long as it's for you first and foremost. If you're waxing because your boyfriend won't have sex with you otherwise, you need to think about that.

Do you wax?
I was totally into it, but in doing my research and realizing what it takes for a place to be sanitary, I went on a panic attack. So right now I'm au naturel. But I don't see the point of just removing some from the sides. For me it's a Brazilian or nothing.

Do you think the shoot would've gone differently if you'd done it in L.A.?
Absolutely. They're way more manicured. People are more real in New York. I had Indian, Hispanic, Asian, white, and black women who were all so full of spirit. New York is a city of dreams.

How has your family reacted?
My mom — for the first year she thought I was creating porn. She said, "At least I can tell the pastor the title."

If you stare at the vulva spread, it takes on a beautiful, abstract-art quality.
If you ever go into a Cheesecake Factory, their lampposts are totally vaginal, too. Now I see vulvas everywhere.