I went nude this weekend. I needed to banish my emotional burdens and strip down to my source. When I soak in the hot springs in Calistoga, the water takes off more than just a layer of my skin; it lets me be around other naked bodies without judgment, something that didn’t always come naturally. In fact, I still wrap a sarong around me when I strip down in the co-ed changing room out of habit. By the time I step into the Warm Pool, or emerge from the Hot Pool, I’ve let it all go. I splash down the stairs as if I own the place, or at the very least, my body.
Nancy Amanda Redd would have been proud of me. As a twenty-six year old former Miss Virginia, she set out to create a revolution as to how we view our own bodies, and her new book, Body Drama, is a big step in a healthy direction.
As I flipped through Body Drama, which is filled with straight body facts and photos of real women with real bodies, I found a chapter called “Down There,” which has a photographic spread of twenty-four different vulvas. I knew we had to talk.
Nancy, a twenty-six year old from rural Virginia who graduated with honors from Harvard, spoke to me from a publicity tour in New York. She said she knew by twenty-four that no book or magazine in print spoke to who she was.
“Every listing on Craigslist says ‘No Drama,’” she says, and that’s what inspired the title. “I wanted something that was modern that girls could be empowered by, [the word] drama makes it fun. There are different types of body drama. Our society focuses on the physical, but even before the size of my butt, I was having issues with my smell.”
Nancy, who got her period at the young age of ten, didn’t know that the smell she noticed was discharge, because no parent or teacher or mentor had ever told her what discharge was.
Later in her dorm room among more modern girls, she noticed the pressure to fit in.
“Friends looked me up and down and asked me if I had a credit card. They took me to the mall and I bought a Coach bag. I got a bikini wax. I so desperately wanted to fit in. Glamour was a different universe. Now girls see this as reality, as Disneyland. If you’re looking at an airbrushed magazine, you think that’s reality.”
Body Drama talks about bodily changes and self-image, but it also delves deeper into what our mothers never told us.
“We’ve skipped the ABCs of body education like vaginal discharge because the vagina is about sex,” Nancy acknowledged.
To find a particular issue in the book, she picked the dramas based on what her friends griped about, as well as what conversations happened in chat rooms between teens. She breaks the book into chapters: Skin, Boobs, Down There, Hair Mouth Nails, and Shape, and underneath each chapter, she feeds the reader a line that at some point in time has crossed her own, and perhaps all of our, lips. “My nipples are always hard,” “I need cosmetic surgery BAD,” and “I hate the way I look down there.” Statements that made me want to turn the page to find out why.
Which is how I found the vulva spread.
“These are our issues,” she laughed after I applauded her vulvas. “And if we can just nip this in the bud early on, then we can spend time on more important issues. [Many of us are] completely covered in shame when we could worry about something more important. We are so lucky to have what we’ve got, but we spend so much time on breast implants. We love our vulvas, we love the way it feels, but hate the way they look.”
I wondered if Body Drama could infiltrate our education system to lighten up our schools’ sex education programs, because with Nancy’s heartwarming voice, humor brings light to what has become an epidemic in our society. She agreed.
“Maturity comes in time, but the body issues are always there. If I were fifteen, I’d want jokes and pictures, especially in this culture with reality TV and sex. It was fun to come up with ways that weren’t too hokey, but I had to fight about the constipation joke with my editor.”
So I wondered, now that all of our body drama was out on the table, how could anyone pose for the next book?
“Everyone assumes that only skinny women want to show their bodies. The most skinny ones [for this book] had the most issues, the larger ones were more like, ‘I’m free, I’m here, I get to show my body!’ They wanted to do it to help younger girls and the photo shoots were like therapy, especially after spray painting a skid mark onto a pair of panties at four in the morning.”
Which might be the only body drama I hang onto to keep me in check.