beauty

Why Michelle decided to share her bare vagina with thousands of strangers.

Many women would probably balk at the idea of opening up their legs to have their vagina sculpted, but not Michelle Temminghoff.

The 52-year-old has been running an adult store for women in Melbourne for the last 20 years, so you can’t exactly call her prudish about the female form.

A keen art fan, Michelle has followed the career of sculptor Greg Taylor, whose exhibition, C*nts… and other conversations was on display at Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania around 2010.

It was basically a series of sculptures of different women’s vaginas, and the concept behind it left Michelle fascinated.

“I thought it was such an amazing thing, because I had noticed over the years, there was a lot of shame, and women didn’t really know much about their vulvas and vaginas. They didn’t know where things were…” she explains to Mamamia.

“Obviously, when you’re selling women adult toys, you’re asking them lots of questions, so all that stuff came up, and when I heard about what he was doing, I just thought it was the most amazing thing.”

Michelle Temminghoff
Michelle Temminghoff worked with sculptor Greg Taylor to create a sculpture of her vagina. Image: Supplied

Michelle met with the artist, and the two kept in contact, with a recent conversation leading to their collaboration on a new sculpture - this time of Michelle's vagina.

Although she described the overall experience as "amazing", Michelle admits she was "a bit nervous" going into the project.

"I sort of thought for a while, 'Will I, won't I?' And then I just thought, 'I've got this store, I talk the talk a bit, I should actually put some money down and do something.' But I did have a bit of trepidation," she admits.

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"In the end, I thought, 'I've got two children. I've opened my legs for that many doctors and nurses.' This is kind of a little bit like that, but a lot better."

Despite seeming unconventional, Michelle maintains it was only strange at the very beginning.

"There was some awkwardness at the beginning, when I had to drop my knickers. It was like, 'Well, this is it. Drop my knickers, spread my legs, sit on the beanbag...' That was kind of weird," she admits.

As someone who runs tantric massage workshops though, Michelle says people can only be "weirded out" by things for so long.

"People are sort of weirded out for the first 30 seconds to a minute, but after that it just becomes so interesting, and you can't really maintain that kind of weirdness for that long," she adds.

"You relax pretty quickly, and [Taylor] does make you feel quite relaxed."

Ultimately, the whole experience ended up being quite... normal.

"He's an interesting guy. He's a lovely guy, and he is an artist, so we just kind of talked about his childhood, my childhood, we talked a bit about art... I had a cup of tea and a biscuit," she says.

And she says Taylor made her feel completely at ease throughout the process.

Greg Taylor
Artist Greg Taylor in front of his vagina sculptures. Image: Supplied

According to Michelle, Taylor sat in front of her with a big lump of clay and proceeded to sculpt her vagina.

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She says the whole process took around two hours.

"And then I put my knickers on and go back home," she adds.

Surprisingly, the experience ended up being quite an emotional one for her.

"I was actually a bit overwhelmed. It is amazing to see it. I kind of know what my vulva looks like. My husband knows it a lot better than I do, obviously. He looks at it a lot more than what I do, so he kind of looks at every part of it - but looking at it like that, you just think, 'It is so beautiful,'" she says.

Her husband was completely onboard with the project, too.

"He thinks it's amazing... When I was pregnant, my husband made a cast of my belly. He absolutely reveres my body, and we've been married for 30 years now, so he's absolutely over the moon," she says.

"I don't know whether he'd be so keen on putting it in our lounge room. But each to their own."

Michelle says she and Taylor are now trying to recruit other women to take part in the project, and while they've met a lot of people who are "interested", so far, no one has been willing to get their knickers off.

"It's just such a fantastic thing to do, and it is a piece of art, as well. People spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on artworks. It is such a unique thing to buy for yourself, or to buy for your partner," she says.

Even more than that though, Michelle says the project has created "a lot of incredible conversations" around how women view their own bodies.

"It's another way of looking at yourself... We don't see a lot of vaginas or vulvas close up," she explains.

"We don't even look at our own. We might have done it once when we were 16 and reading Dolly, but we don't really see ourselves in that way, and it's such a big part of our life, and it's to do with our sexuality and our health and our children.

"It's such a core part of our being, and yet we've got all these weird thoughts around it, and a lot of people think that it's yucky and they don't touch themselves, and they mask their natural smells and things like that...

"To be able have something like this done, it does give you that feeling of, 'Oh my God, this is such an amazing, wonderful, beautiful thing.' You stare at it for a long time."

Vagina Sculpture
Michelle's vagina sculpture. Image: Supplied
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She says it also creates a bigger conversation about why society is so reluctant to accept vaginas as a normal and vital part of the female form.

"It's kind of like vaginas are banned from society... There's lots of tits and asses and things like that, but vaginas are kind of still that taboo thing," she says.

"I think it's a really great way to look at yourself and think, 'Wow, that is amazing and that is beautiful.' I think we could all use some more of that."

Michelle says even the use of the word "c***" is a reflection of how society views vaginas, and ultimately, views women.

"It's just so deeply misogynistic," she adds.

"It's really, 'Let's reclaim this beautiful part of ourselves.' And the fact that it's called c***. It's such a reductive word. It's reducing women to that one part of their body that is for a man. The way it's used as an expletive shows so much hatred towards that part of a woman."

Michelle sees the project as being quite "a feminist thing".

"You can have so many great conversations, and that can start change," she says.

She says she would "totally" do it again, and the whole project left her with a "sense of pride".

"I was thinking, 'Gee, I did something pretty awesome today. What a cool chick I am.' I felt a bit proud of myself," she says.

"I do feel like it's a beautiful part of my body. As much as we would all like to say we all love our body parts, it's not that simple for a lot of us. [But] I have a great relationship with my body."

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