During puberty, one of the big questions people ask themselves is: is my body normal? That question often continues into adulthood. That’s no surprise, especially in cultures that place a premium on ‘normal’ physicality and sexuality, but that represent only a narrow range of variation within this normality. Add to that few natural opportunities for seeing the naked bodies of others, and why should anyone be surprised that grown adults are often worried about how their bits compare.
What is normal, anyway? Is it anything that many people in my community do or recognize? Anything that has it’s own Wikipedia article, it must be normal, right?
There’s probably a good reason that so many people give a lot of thought, attention and importance to normality. It’s probably helpful for group cohesion, or learning or something. Lots of us feel better about doing things we’ve seen done before. Blame the mirror neurons!
The problem arises when ‘normal’ gets conflated with ‘healthy’ and ‘abnormal’ with ‘unhealthy’, which is totally fucked up by itself, but it gets even worse when there are just a few ways of being normal.
One way to tackle the tyranny of normality is to make sure that as many ways of being alive – of looking, of acting, etc. — get represented.
Here are some places that are doing this with body parts that many adults worry about being normal:
Expect images that are NSFW after the break
Because of conciousness-raising groups starting in the sixties and the more intense oppression that patriarchy can have on female bodies, vulvas tend to have a bit of a leg up in the realistic-and-empowering representation area. I think that this tradition got kicked off with:
Years later, Morgan Hastings took up this tradition of vulva -coloring (even though he calls it vagina — argh.) I haven’t gotten to look at his Big Coloring Book of Vaginas up close, but one look at the ‘some vaginas are pierced’ image, and I can’t wait until I’m back in the sometimes-good-old U.S. of A so I can get my hands on one. It is, however, highly recommended by Annie Sprinkle and Always Aroused Girl, so I bet it’s awesome.
So where are the penises? Bring in the penises! There’s just one penis-resource for coloring — Morgan Hasting’s second coloring book, The Big Coloring Book of Cocks:
What I love about coloring books, especially ones that offer a lot of variety, is that they do the work of representing more (thus bring more into the priviledged fold we call ‘normalcy’), but they also give users a big part in making the ‘normal’ – thus extending the range of normal variation to infinity! Plus it’s super-fun.
Now for some internet-age analogs to these coloring books.
I find it interesting that the only one of these sites that has a warning on it — and that’s the Erection Photos one. Penises are so hard difficult to represent. They’ve functioned as a power metaphor for time out of mind in Western culture. But when we strip all that crap away, they’re real, tender and vulnerable body parts attached to real people. And in our culture an enormous amount of pressure and anxiety is attached to these dangly parts and their scrotum-covered friends.
I understand that it’s hard to create a project like the ‘Normal Breast Project’ (wait and see!) for erect penises — these pictures outside of context don’t look much different from unwelcome images you might get through a craigslist or personals ad contact. At the same time, the extra warning is a reminder of how in our culture, the penis, especially if it is aroused, is automatically made the criminal.
Don’t let my musings about the warning page detract my admiration for what the authors and contributors have done here. In case you choose not to click on the link, I’ll describe the site for you: through hundreds of photographs, the makers of this site try “to give reality to all the diversity that gets compressed into the concept of the ‘average penile erection’.” On the ‘cock shots’ there’s brief description of the body that the penis is attached to (height, age, weight) and when the penises line up with cultural ideals, the commentary reminds us how unusual that, say, an erection that points straight up, really is. In the full-body images, even more information is given about the penis-owners. There is also an extensive soft/hard section, where the person in the picture writes about how he feels about his penis and the site authors comment as well. You can tell that posting on this site is empowering and therapeutic for many men. Browsing these pages was not only educational (no, really, stop smirking!), but also increases my awareness and sensitivity to the issues that many people experience around their penises. Also, it’s good for me as a woman to remember that men don’t get let off the body-shame hook, and it’s up to us all to work to end that for all our sakes.
Online for awhile now, and really supportive for a lot of people is the Normal Breast Project. It’s very similar in format to the Erection Photos site. There’s more information given about the breasts, and what they’ve been through (nursing, pregnancy, weight gain/loss, lumpectomies, etc). I love this! It’s a great reminder of how boobs (sorry, I’m juvenile) are dynamic things responding to a person’s history in various ways.
Are you normal? Am I? Beats me!
Special thanks to R. for turning me on to Erection Shots through the Facebook page!