Beauty

Meet the “Vagina Advocate” Who Is Literally Sticking It to the Man

Fig leaves won't cut it for today's digitally savvy nasty woman

Apple’s App Store does not allow people to submit “objectionable material”—in other words, content that’s offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste. Yet, one quick scroll through the store and you’ll find things like Perfect Girlfriend!, an app featuring a virtual woman who responds to touch. Dirtymoji is another misogynistic masterpiece offering emoji versions of various sex positions and boobs. Oh, and lest we forget Tickle Her Free—Brunette Edition. (Google it if the name doesn’t quite spell it out for you.) So imagine self-described “vagina advocate” Melina DiMarco’s surprise when Nood, a photo-editing app that covers users’ nether regions via anatomically correct illustrations (think a nipple with a hair sprouting out, a vagina not waxed to pre-pubescent perfection, C-section scars, and even drops of period blood), was rejected by the forward-thinking tech company. 

All the while, DiMarco, who also works as a model for MSA (you may have spotted her in those Thinx ads on the subway), was simply trying to combat the glaringly sexist guidelines imposed by Instagram. While DiMarco wasn’t reported for her nude photos—many of which were artistic shots captured during professional photoshoots—she said she was hit with over-sexualized comments and disapproval from her family. “I realized my nipple was the same as a male nipple, and yet I had to put an ‘X’ on it,” she said. “I just didn’t understand why. It just seemed so negative.” DiMarco added that much of her frustration largely stemmed from her art background, much of which consisted of  drawing nude bodies. “I was trying to figure out why the female body is being perceived this way and why,” she explained. “When a woman is naked, she’s always considered sexual. I think that frustration led to me being like, Okay, I need to find a solution here. I’m going to put nipples on nipples.” Her aim is simple: to give women a chance to represent their bodies on their own terms. But most of all, she said, “it’s a statement of how ridiculous and hypocritical these rules and guidelines are on female nudity.”

While Apple’s App Store did allow DiMarco to upload a beta version before subsequently rejecting it, Google Play “shut it down almost immediately,” she said. DiMarco blasted back by launching a petition on change.org. At the time of publication, it’s currently garnered nearly 1,400 signatures, but there’s still a long road ahead. “I don’t think Apple or Google will listen to something short of 10,000 signatures,” she explained. “But it’s really about getting the word out there and trying to get as any people involved as possible to really show that this app is desired by many people, and that it’s also a statement amongst women in terms of how they want to represent their bodies and having that choice.” 

Here, we caught up with DiMarco to discuss the over-sexualization of the female form, how women can be more body positive under a Trump administration, and why she’ll never give up on this movement.

Hilary Shepherd: I read that you went to Catholic school as a child. Have you always been body positive and comfortable with female nudity, or is this a recent development? 

Melina DiMarco: I went to Catholic school basically my whole life since kindergarten. In college I ended up at art school, so it was quite a change. I have these very distinct memories of me being very comfortable with my body. I would be at friends’ houses and I would lift up my shirt and run around the house. I never thought there was anything strange or private about bodies. I was kind of an eccentric kid. I have insecurities like everyone else, but something that was innately comfortable to me was expressing my body in these ways. 

HS: You call yourself a “vagina advocate.” What does that mean exactly? 

MD: That’s a hashtag my friends and I came up with one night when we were drinking wine. It felt so right with the work I was doing with Thinx with periods—my interest in college was helping people become more comfortable saying the word. A lot of people, even women, are just uncomfortable saying [period]—and they have one! It’s more about female empowerment: Women feeling comfortable in their bodies and knowing how they work. 

HS: What does the vagina represent to you?

MD: It represents a very strong power. It’s something we shouldn’t be afraid of. I’ve never quite cared about something this much. I think being a vagina advocate is so important, as well as talking about it and keeping people educated.

HS: Let’s talk about your app, Nood. You started it last summer as a way to get around Instagram’s censoring of lady parts. How does it work?

MD: It’s a photo-editing application. You take a photo of yourself, or you have a photo of yourself and you upload it. You can place nipples or vaginas [on your lady parts], and we also have body-positive stickers. We have C-section scars, masectomy scars, breast milk, period blood, an egg, a rainbow, a breast cancer sticker—just like very body positive things. If you were to not want to put a nipple on top of a nipple, you have more female and body positive options.

HS: Were you surprised when Apple rejected your idea?

MD: You know, it shockingly was [a surprise]. I actually thought we would have more of an issue with Instagram itself. I thought we’d get through the App Store and people’s photos would be flagged down and it would be us making a statement against Instagram, but we actually couldn’t even get through the App Store. It’s shocking because of what’s actually in there—it’s a bit confusing and very frustrating and hypocritical.

HS: Why do you feel it’s hypocritical?

MD: Apple quoted that it was “objectionable material,” and that people might be offended and that they don’t allow private parts in the App Store. But when you look, there’s, like, Dirtymoji and there’s definitely open vaginas and boobs and sex positions—just a lot of apps that over-sexualize women. Their point didn’t quite make sense. [Nood] is very minimal. It’s these cute little illustrated nipples and body positive stickers. It wasn’t inherently sexual. In fact, it wasn’t sexual at all. It’s been interesting to see both Apple [and Google Play] shut it down when it’s such a positive application.

HS: How did people react to Nood? 

MD: Most of it was very positive. A lot of models and friends and different artists were very interested in it. But on the flip side, it was actually pretty interesting to read comments on different videos that came out in press about the app. A lot of them were very negative and narrow-minded, mainly citing that I don’t have intelligence or I’m a ho. That just highlighted my point. There’s still so much work to be done about how the female body and form is perceived in our society. I think that’s good. The negativity is good because it’s going to open a dialogue amongst a bunch of different people, and that’s kind of the point. 

HS: It seems like female nudity is deemed okay in society when it comes to sexualization, but becomes taboo when talking about body positivity. Why do you think this double standard exists?

MD: I think women have been over-sexualized since the beginning of time. If we want to be sexy or we want to show our bodies in a non-sexual way, it’s really hard for society to see it that way—that we want to do it for ourselves. A lot of the time, it’s assumed that it’s for attention, and more specifically a male’s attention, and that’s something that seems like such a large assumption. We see all these beautiful art pieces in museums of nude sculptures and paintings and we never walk through a museum trying to censor the artwork, but somehow you take it onto social media, and if it’s in a photographic work, it’s deemed inappropriate. It’s a pretty complex topic, but I think because the woman has been over-sexualized time and time again, it’s really hard for people to understand that maybe she wants to express herself in this way and it’s not sexual. I mean, expressing sexuality is a positive thing, too—we shouldn’t feel shame for that either. But the body isn’t always sexual, and we should really take note of that.

HS: Sometimes it feels like society takes one step forward and two steps back. Take Thinx for example—it was a big deal that they were in the subways, but then they were banned for using the word “period.” Additionally, with Donald Trump in the White House, I worry all the progression we’ve made as women will be erased. 

MD: I think we’ve been pretty progressive in how we were dealing with female sexuality and nudity, but sometimes that complacency can lead us to feel like we don’t need to do too much, when actually we should be pushing even harder. And I think that’s kind of what this election has led to, that realization that we have so much further to go. We have so much more work to do. I don’t know how I feel in terms of saying we would go backwards [post-inauguration]. I don’t know. We’ll have to see. But I think the most important thing is, whatever we believe in as human beings, we should keep pushing for and work even harder for at this point in time. 

HS: In addition to Thinx, you’ve modeled for Maybelline and have appeared in spreads for Cosmopolitan. Do you ever feel like modeling clashes with your feminist movement? 

MD: Yes. I mean, it really does depend on the job. I think there are a lot of issues with the industry in general. We are making progress—it’s slow, but steady. I think as a model, I always try to advocate for diversity, different body types, colors, heights…those things are important to me. I can’t always be super selective; I need to pay my bills. Some jobs aren’t as fulfilling as others, but I always like to keep that in mind—that that’s really what I care about, and those are the jobs I like to go after.

HS: What’s next for you? What happens if Apple and Google continue rejecting Nood, despite collecting a huge number of signatures?

MD: I won’t give up. I think it’s silly to let this fade because it is such a hypocritical situation. It would just be giving into patriarchal society. I want to continue to try to have them understand why this is an important app to let into the App Store, but it’s also about creating a community where women can feel comfortable to share their bodies without shame, restriction, or hypocrisy. So I’m working on trying to put together some small events that would bring women together in a positive way.

HS: How can we all be more body positive?

MD: How can we all be more body positive? That’s a good question. I ask myself that every day. I think it’s about shutting out all the negative voices. Because of this industry, we see what beauty is in one way. It’s really important to know that there are so many different types of beautiful bodies, and we should always remind ourselves of that. I think with Nood, I’ve realized how important art is to this movement in terms of how the body is perceived, and so I think it’s just silencing the negativity and realizing that there’s really no shame in expressing yourself however you want to express yourself. You do you. I think that’s really the most important thing to take from it.

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