American Apparel’s ‘Period Power’ T-Shirt Lays Bare the Labia and Tackles a Taboo

Naked women's bodies are a pop culture cliché. Just not when they're menstruating -- or showing the hair down there

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AmericanApparel.net
AmericanApparel.net

Petra Collins wants you to gaze at a real woman’s erogenous zone without shying away. The Canadian artist collaborated with illustrator Alice Lancaster to create a new t-shirt for American Apparel featuring an artistic rendering of the crotch of a woman who is both menstruating and masturbating.

“I decided to put a super-taboo topic right on a t-shirt to make it viewable for everyone,” says Collins, 20, who has also published photos in Rolling Stone, Vice, Vogue Italia and the online magazine for teens, Rookie. “I’m really interested in what is hidden from our culture. We are always repressing or hiding what is natural to a post-pubescent body. We’re taught to hate our menstrual cycle and even to hide masturbation.”

period power neon

Petra Collins

The idea for the t-shirt — which just went on sale last week and has predictably already attracted its fair share of haters — stemmed from a neon piece (shown below) that Collins exhibited at the Gynolandscape show last month. The show featured work from The Ardorous, an all-female art site curated by Collins, who is currently taking a year off from OCAD University in Toronto, where she is studying art criticism and curatorial practice. (The exhibit was sponsored by American Apparel, for which Collins also does photo shoots.)

American Apparel’s willingness to sell the explicit t-shirt follows another mainstream celebration of menstruation: The video promo for a new monthly service called HelloFlo that delivers tampons and candy to girls who just started getting their period. Rather than euphemize or downplay menses, the ad, which went viral this summer, features a young teenage girl who becomes a summer camp superstar for being the first to get her period. The decidedly edgier Large Labia Project, featuring exactly that, has also gotten plenty of notice – and criticism– in recent months.

Here’s hoping Period Power gives women of all ages one more reason to feel good about their bodies.  Or at least spurs a conversation about why — in an age of unlimited porn, 50 Shades of Grey, HBO’s Girls and social media oversharing — so much of women’s sexuality is still such a secret.

44 comments
gwenie
gwenie

Good grief, I thought I'd have to die and be long dead before anyone publicly talked about the labia.  Having performed many health exams on women, I saw many different types of labia.  Each one represented what is beautiful and good in women, each one was the vestibule for the honoring of physical love and the portal of exit for that next beautiful human. Even when women got "old", the labia had a particular beauty.  Sexual shame cannot be part of our life.  Too much other stuff causes grief .  

newworldatheist
newworldatheist

Ok, this is nice. Now, what's next? Depiction of a lad's first nocturnal emission? How about depicting an anus' first bout of diahrea?

newworldatheist
newworldatheist

Ok, this is nice. Now, what's next? Depiction of a lady's first nocturnal emission? How about depicting an anus' first bout of diahrea?

JjMontague
JjMontague

If this is feminism, I want nothing to do with it -  This is  the equivalent of  a little boy who's proud of his penis taking it out and showing it to the world. Most of them outgrow that phase by the time they are 5 years old.  How immature  can you get?

CherylReyes
CherylReyes

That model is probably like 'dang this grotesque shirt better make me famous…"

xanon7
xanon7

When your daughter get her first period, is this the shirt you hope she wears to school everyday? Or maybe at the company picnic during an intership for her degree in Women's Studies? I think it's the fingers that ruin whatever progressive message is supposed to be conveyed.

Wowzers
Wowzers

  1. disgusting
  2. disgusting
  3. disgusting 

RhiannonAustgen
RhiannonAustgen

We are not taught to hate our menstrual cycle. It hurts and makes us fat. You are not a woman therefor I don't believe you have the right to make money off of our "erogenous zone." Go make a shirt that has a penis with crabs on it stray away from the vagina.

TallusRip
TallusRip

That's just dumb.  You don't have to be obscene to make a statement.  This is just tasteless.

michael.e.lovett
michael.e.lovett

Yeah, I am sure there will be hundreds sold. I can see it now. Some chica who is about 22 and outgrowing her "all in black" goth faze, thinking "I'll look bitchin' cool with this T shirt!".

IF they want to print fine art and nudism, then for kryst sake, do it Roman or Greek style classic, not this tawdry crap that a 15 yo boy would dream up.

PaulQ
PaulQ

That tee shirt is disgusting! 

All that pubic hair!

LaShellCherrie
LaShellCherrie

for some women menstruation is less flower of womanhood and more my ovaries need to be declawed. i dont want to exist, let alone masturbate, during those five days of smelly messy agony.

ecostud
ecostud

I get the feeling that an "ejaculate power" shirt with a picture of a penis wouldn't go over so well. 

jonzgraphics
jonzgraphics

would have been better if it was rainbow instead of blood

BruceBrown
BruceBrown

At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I think the idea that each generation seems to think they invented human sexuality is getting pretty old. There are about 7 billion people on earth, each one with a genitalia which after all only comes in two models.  Nothing shocking, nothing new, nothing to see here.  Commits the ultimate artistic sin-BORING.

DavidBatson
DavidBatson

Yech.

Can't wait until this modern form feminism gets crushed in the depths of the coming global economic depression. I am all for protection of women's rights (hint: they are the same as men's rights), but I don't want to see Miley's nasty chicken butt everywhere I go. Or crap like this.

boodaddy
boodaddy

A t-shirt of a menstruating masturbating vagina is probably considered by the art community to be quite liberating.  A t-shirt of a masturbating penis is probably considered by the same group to be oppressive.

sthrnfilly
sthrnfilly

There is a difference between HIDDEN and PRIVATE. Menstrual cycles and masturbation are private things.

 BTW: Collins said, "We’re taught to hate our menstrual cycle…”

 I, for one, did HATE my period. It was messy and inconvenient. I was THRILLED when I entered menopause!!!! That being said, I was never embarrassed or ashamed of it, but I didn't broadcast when I was "on the rag." It was simply a part of nature.

And it does not belong on the front of a T-Shirt. This is not about breaking down barriers or enlightenment. Practically everyone over the age of 10 (and some younger) knows females have monthly periods. So, this is not empowering. It's not news. It's done just for the exposure (pun intended).

KeidraKdpPelloquin
KeidraKdpPelloquin

i'm not going to lie, at first glance, my eyes enlarged and I literally mouthed a WTF?!?!? as an artist I try to challenge my own thought process, convictions and my perceptions of fashion guidelines/rules. but even with all that being said, I won't be rocking this one. I will be checking for this young lady as an artist from here on out though.

create on miss petra, create on.

GLoveBoxX.com

kgeakin
kgeakin

How about a t-shirt showing a graphic depiction of a rectum in mid bowel movement? That's natural and something that both sexes practice. And as a bonus, you are probably slightly less likely to get arrested for wearing it in public.

MariaMitchell
MariaMitchell

While there is nothing wrong with trying to empower girls/women the truth is the t-shirt is just UGLY.

 Surely someone could design something that gets the basic point across in a way that is appealing. It looks like some over reactive hippie chick designed it. 

No self respecting female with any fashion or design sense would be caught dead wearing that atrocious thing.

tdcc
tdcc

I get that Petra Collins and  Alice Lancaster (girl who actually drew the shirt) only did to show that it's a natural state and it's normal. But what really amuses me is that they are both shocked at what peoples reactions are about this shirt, but what do they expect? Yes, we get having a vagina and having your period are natural things but WHY put it on a t-shirt? It doesn't make sense to me. Just because something is natural does not mean that it is okay to publish inappropriate images all over shirts to shove in everybody's faces. What's next? Lined drawings of men ejaculating? What is fashion coming to?

commentary
commentary

This T-shirt is more about the so called artists attempt to make a splash and a dollar than to make women feel good about themselves. I don't know who raised Collins, but I was never taught to be ashamed of my body, my menses, or my masturbation. As for the authors comment that "Period Power" should make us proud;having a period is a natural body function- not an achievement earned. In terms of sexuality being a secret-not everything needs to be displayed in order to instill empowerment. Just because i don't want to see a T-shirt glorifying defecation doesn't mean I'm not proud of having been potty trained years ago. Collins is looking for attention just like Miley Cyrus' tweaking episode-some things do not need to be shared in pictures!

MelDEvans
MelDEvans

I consider myself a sex positive person but WHY do we have to keep throwing genitalia in everyone's face? What's wrong with a few sex-related secrets? I understand the message but I'm calling the artist's bluff.

How will this ugly T-shirt of a bloody masturbating vagina manufactured by a company that's been under fire for sexualizing young girls in an almost voyeuristic way help make me feel good about my body? Taboo for taboo's sake. That's all.

JjMontague
JjMontague

Oh, and the little boys who don't outgrow that phase?  Well, when they grow up and continue the behavior, we call them sexual predators and put them in jail.

TallusRip
TallusRip

@LaShellCherrie Hell yeah to that.  Everything hurts and I just wanna crawl into a cave when it happens.

tastytrixie
tastytrixie

@ecostud We already have tons of pictures of that all over the place - there were even kids wearing "Big Johnson" t-shirts in schools back when I was a teenager (I'm 40 now).

AlanHall
AlanHall

@BruceBrown Boring? Perhaps. But it's more interesting than paintings of Elvis on black velvet or of dogs playing poker, speaking of ultimate artistic sins.

tastytrixie
tastytrixie

@BruceBrown I think each generation of old farts think they invented reveling in being snobby know-it-all fuddy-duddys. It's getting pretty old hearing how you've seen it all, you're not impressed, you're totally bored with humankind revisiting (or in this case just OPENLY VISITING SOMETHING RIDICULOUSLY RARELY VISITED) powerful parts of our lives that NEVER get old.

FYI: genitals come in more than two models, but regardless of how many times we see those standard models you refer to, people on average are still woefully ignorant of how they work. Never gets old. NEVER. GETS. OLD. We'll never be done with genitalia and move on to your apparent higher calling of being above it.

TallusRip
TallusRip

@DavidBatson I don't think this is feminism so much as just plain idiotic.  I'm a feminist but I would burn that shirt just cuz it's stupid.

blahh
blahh

@boodaddy well, it kinda would be. i mean, males have had power and oppressed females for centuries. presenting an image of an sexual organ is giving power and visibility to that biological gender...why would you want to give more power to the male gender? i mean you could if you wanted but it just seems unnecessary.

EllieAvenelle
EllieAvenelle

@kgeakin There is nothing beautiful or liberating about Petra's tee.  I too would equate her imagery with a straining rectum expelling a painful, post-digestion steak dinner.  The image doesn't even appear to me to be shock-value art.  It's just somebody trying to see what they can get away with.  By the way, I would never even think of putting such a garment on my person!!!


tastytrixie
tastytrixie

@kgeakin Menstruation is not the same as a bowel movement. That you and so many others would compare the two just goes to show how backwards and stigmatized and taboo women, our bodies and our sexuality still are.

gdgg
gdgg

@commentaryWhile I cannot say for sure, and neither can you, I don't think Petra's shirt was created solely to attract attention, and certainly not for money. For the past few years I have been following Petra Collin's work. Through the internet I have watched her develop from a amateur photographer to a credible and inspiring artist. While you personally may not feel ashamed of your body, the majority of people--particularly women--do. Our culture teaches us that body hair on women is wrong. Petra is trying to show the mainstream culture that this is not natural. Masturbation, menstruation, and pubic hair are all taboo. But these things are natural! They should be celebrated! While maybe you wouldn't like to wear the shirt yourself, we should applaud what Petra Collins has created!

NajiWench
NajiWench

@MelDEvans I agree. Some things are under cover for a reason, and I think it's perfectly fine to keep those things private. That doesn't mean they are dirty or wrong, just something special to share with the special people you choose to share them with, ya know? And, I can't help but wonder if the people celebrating this image would also celebrate a man wearing a shirt with an artistic depiction of an erect penis being masturbated...something tells me they wouldn't quite be so happy about that one.

shivermetimbers223
shivermetimbers223

@tastytrixie  Please show a basic modicum of politeness in your discussion by refraining from using capitals. It is the equivalent of a polemic shouting in one's face. Not to mention you could have constructed a much more stinging, intelligent riposte but you instead chose to reveal how riled up and immature you really are. Congrats, seriously, well done.

ElaineBrown
ElaineBrown

@tastytrixie @kgeakin They are both bodily functions; they are both messy; they are both smelly; and no one wants to know when you're doing either one.

LaShellCherrie
LaShellCherrie

@tastytrixie youre right, theyre not the same. for me menstration is a five days of messy smelly agony. i have yet to have a bowel movement that horrible.

try to understand that some women have menstrations that are less flower of womanhood and more my ovaries need to be declawed. but i suppose cramps make me a bad feminist.

tastytrixie
tastytrixie

@LaShellCherrie I do understand how/why many women hate their periods, and don't think anybody should feel pressured to celebrate them, sexualize them, or be dismissed for not enjoying them. It's awesome that we can now manipulate and suppress menstruation a variety of ways if we want to. But there are LOTS of things people don't like that are on t-shirts and in art that we respond to with less violent, insulting, ignorant resentment than this. The ugly responses are outsized and telling.