Artist Bex Day On Celebrating The Beauty And Reality Of Female Genitalia
‘Snatch’. ‘Gash’. ‘C*nt’. These are the words often used to label female genitalia; words laden in negativity. “Why are we taught as children to censor the female anatomy, and why do negative swear words suddenly become slang names for it?” These are some of the questions that British photographer Bex Day set out to answer with her latest project, Petal: a photographic series and book aimed at “subverting beauty standards by focusing on the uniqueness of the vulva and celebrating its reality”.
Londoner Day is known for her boundary-pushing photography – shot with the aesthetic value of high-end fashion imagery and the unwavering gaze that echoes her skill as a documentary filmmaker (she directed Children Of Covid in 2022). Her work explores the human experience with a two-fold mission: to challenge rigid beauty ideals and champion personal freedom of choice.
In Petal, she captures her subjects in moments of vulnerability, rawness and open-hearted individuality. “I have body dysmorphia, like many people, I’m sure. And this was the primary driving force behind my ethos,” she shares, underscoring the cornerstone of her philosophy. Her lens opposes the idea of a ‘designer vagina’ or the relentless pursuit of a ‘perfect body’. Instead, it redirects the spotlight to the individual differences that make each person unique. Her photographs present unfiltered depictions of women’s vulvas, each delicately covered with a single flower. They are unapologetically realistic, including aspects such as prolapses and menstrual blood, all in the hope of challenging the representations perpetuated by mainstream media and pornography.
Within the pages of the book, every image is thoughtfully paired with written reflections by the subjects about their personal connections to their own bodies, from poems to heartfelt love letters. More frequently, these narratives share a common theme of learning to love their bodies over time, offering lessons to their younger selves: to be less critical and to release the burden of imposing unattainable standards upon themselves. One reads:
“No life exists without this sacred flower.
The oppression persists because they’re scared of our power.
So, no I won’t be a wallflower. I won’t be silenced or hushed,
In the face of violence that’s unjust.”
Overall, Petal questions the language used to discuss our bodies, particularly our genitalia. Day points out that from a young age, girls are often encouraged to use euphemisms such as ‘flower’ or ‘fufu’ when referring to their vagina, which then evolves in adulthood into much harsher, derogatory terms. These euphemisms, she argues, have contributed to an internal sense of shame and discomfort. By challenging and changing this rhetoric, Day hopes to facilitate a more open and less harmful conversation about our bodies between women, as well as with men.
Although there is irony behind the title Petal, it was also a nickname given to Day by her mother. “A significant portion of the book is dedicated to repairing my relationship with my mum, which was damaged by enmeshment. I’ve dedicated a book to her,” Day reveals. She draws inspiration from influential feminist artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Audre Lorde. O’Keeffe’s work with flowers, often mislabelled as a sexualised series by her husband Alfred Stieglitz, was, in fact, a celebration of female empowerment and the natural beauty of flowers. Similarly, Lorde’s essay, Uses Of Erotica: The Erotic As Power, is about empowerment, rather than sexualisation, as the definition might suggest.
The creation of Petal spanned three years, commencing during lockdown in 2020. Initially, Day focused on photographing herself, and then her mother, “Which definitely eliminated all boundaries!” she says, laughing. Then it moved to “anyone willing to share their perspectives on their vulva and what it means to exist as a woman today”.
The hope is that, even in a small way, Petal will eliminate some of the incessant critique of ourselves against what we see in the media or porn industry. In a world often marked by disconnection, Bex Day’s intimate and empowering photography draws us nearer to ourselves and each other.
Bex Day Shares The 5 Female Artists Who Inspire Her…
- Aleksandra Waliszewska – Polish artist Waliszewska is celebrated for her surreal and dystopian drawings and paintings. Her work blurs the lines between reality and fantasy drawn from a wide range of references such as medieval folklore, fairy tales and horror films.
- Daisy Collingridge – The British multidisciplinary artist and costume designer is known for her imaginative, avant-garde creations that challenge conventional aesthetics, often surrounding the body.
- Viviane Sassen – Dutch photographer Sassen explores identity, sexuality and the human form through striking and abstract photography, gaining recognition in both fine art and fashion.
- Elsa Rouy – The English artist creates multidisciplinary works, often blending surrealism and abstraction to explore themes of memory, identity, and the subconscious. Her art is characterised by rich symbolism and texture.
- Judy Chicago – A pioneering American feminist artist best known for her installation The Dinner Party (1974-79), which celebrates women’s achievements throughout history. She has significantly impacted feminist art and education and remains a prominent figure in contemporary art.
Order Petal by Bex Day here
Pia Brynteson is Digital Editor at Service95
Zinnia, Digitalis, Lilium; all artwork © Bex Day, Petal, courtesy of the artist