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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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.