CLITORIS, VAGINA, MAJORA, MINORA

By Larissa Pham

My mother never told me to use a hand mirror to give myself a look and she certainly never told me where to find anything and when I started bleeding at age thirteen it was in the computer lab in my middle school and I ran down to the office to ask for a pad and the first time I ever tried to put in a tampon it was my freshman year of college and I almost passed out in a bathroom stall in Bingham Hall because apparently you can do that to yourself, if you move your fingers too quick and your body’s not ready and your head is afraid of what lies between your legs you can end up blue-black-dizzy and terrified, your hands swearing never to go there again, never ever ever.

The first time a boy kissed my stomach and then my left hip and then the inside of my thigh and then asked if he could, I remember thinking, “Now you’ll know more about me than I do.”

The first time I tried to shave, I was standing on one leg in the shower and the whole time I was thinking about how dumb it was that I thought it was a good idea to put four razor blades so close to such delicate skin, so close to the meaty axis of my body; sometimes, when I touch myself, I can feel my pulse in my clitoris.

And I knew what I felt like long before I ever saw myself: I knew that tiny acreage of skin, made a topographical map of that site of pleasure, as a man would later call our hands roving in bed. Though our whole bodies are sites of pleasure, I’ll argue—every bit of skin responds pleasurably to stimulation—and I knew it beneath my fingertips, the slow and questing search, learning, blind, by touch alone. I knew it under covers and I knew it with my eyes closed and it took years before I looked.

Touching yourself is different from touching someone else is different from someone touching you.

There are certain angles from which you will never be able to see yourself.

We grow up with so many parts of us surrounded in shame, in should-be’s, in hairless pink ideals, in this is gross and don’t touch there and no one wants you. We grow up learning to fear our bodies, mask their smells, hide their presence, pretend our lower halves don’t exist. I just mistyped that as “lover halves” and thought about keeping it. We grow up with shame/pleasure/shame. We ought not to feel so. We ought not to let our bodies keep secrets from us; we ought not to keep our bodies secret from ourselves.

It is weird to go seventeen, eighteen, nineteen years without properly seeing yourself.

When I saw myself with a hand mirror for the first time, I was astonished by how pretty it looked. I was using the mirror I used to trim my bangs over the sink. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub with my knees about shoulder-width apart. The human body is just shy of symmetrical, did you know that? And we are more beautiful than we think.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Larissa Pham is a contributing writer to the Ellipses Project. She makes art, thinks about making art, and thinks about thinking about making art. She believes emotions and bodies are inherently valid. As a junior at Yale College, she is involved in the studio art, history of art, and psychology departments.