Initially, artist Jacqueline Secor didn’t intend to show her series “The Diversity of Nature” to a public audience. Rather, she created her unapologetic paintings of vaginas (or, if you prefer the anatomically accurate term, vulvae) as a personal coping mechanism, part of her ongoing fight with body dysmorphic disorder.
After relocating from North California to Salt Lake City, Utah, Secor says she felt overcome with insecurity and shame, especially with regards to her physical appearance. “Living in Utah, there is still a widespread unspoken rule that women should conform to this really narrow little definition of ‘perfection,’” the artist, a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told The Huffington Post. “There is a really dark undercurrent to all those picture perfect Mormon mommy blogs and Instagram accounts,” she added.
Five years ago, Secor removed herself from the Church, but the impact the religious experience left on the artist was not so easily displaced. She began to channel the overwhelming mix of emotions ― pain, powerlessness and possessiveness ― into artworks that celebrated female beauty removed from any one idea of perfection.
Secor, simply speaking, paints vaginas, adorning the body parts with vines, flowers, butterfly wings and other natural forms to portray their elemental power. The artist spends approximately 25 to 35 hours on each painting, which features acrylic paint, watercolor, ink and pastels. Each artwork is made from collaged layers of sketches, giving it a subtle, sculptural depth. In person, viewers are invited to touch the works, whose layers and folds mirror the real things.
The works, which Secor said are partially inspired by cave paintings, depict in no uncertain terms how no two vaginas are quite alike. Each subject boasts an entirely different shape, all comparably beautiful, proving the impossibility of a “perfect” body ― or, yes, a “perfect” vagina.
After Secor shared some of her first paintings with friends and family, she was surprised when they responded by sending back photos of their own bodies to serve as her subject matter. It was their enthusiasm that encouraged Secor to share her work with a wider audience. “They said that seeing their most intimate body parts represented on canvas helped them deal with their own secret insecurities.”
For Secor, the act of illustrating and exhibiting a body part that mainstream culture deems illicit, grotesque or shameful is a mode of revolution in itself. As she put it: “Painting vulvae, focusing on details of women’s bodies, even the parts that are ‘supposed’ to be hidden, does sometimes feel like a small act of resistance ― a way of saying that women don’t need to hide, that we deserve a place, not just in the art world, but in every sector.”
In 2015, the artist showed the series publicly in Utah and, although some viewers were surprised by the content, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Secor hopes that her all-natural portraits inspire women to appreciate the beauty of their bodies, no matter the shape they take. “Even today ― despite the prevalence of female nudes in art museums, despite the accessibility to pornography ― there is still tremendous pressure on women to hide themselves, to be ashamed of whatever doesn’t conform to societal standards of beauty and propriety,” she said.
Secor believes this pressure is part of the contradictory ideals women are expected to embody. “It’s part of this strange dichotomy that culture has created for women: reveal and conceal,” she said. “On one hand, we’re always supposed to reveal enough of ourselves to be sexually attractive, but simultaneously we’re expected to conceal our bodies, our opinions, and, ultimately, I believe, our power.”