The female body has long been subjected to a societal standard of impossible perfection. According to Jacqueline Secor, creator of a gorgeously unapologetic series of vagina paintings, women and girls face daily criticisms, not over the quality of their accomplishments or the content of their hearts, but of the bodies they were born in. Her series, Diversity of Nature, creates a space free from comparisons, where each body is honoured in all of its individuality.
The female body has long been subjected to a societal standard of impossible perfection. According to Jacqueline Secor, creator of a gorgeously unapologetic series of vagina paintings, women and girls face daily criticisms, not over the quality of their accomplishments or the content of their hearts, but of the bodies they were born in. Her series, Diversity of Nature, creates a space free from comparisons, where each body is honoured in all of its individuality. For Secor, choosing to portray vulvae as parts of nature is not about trying to make them “prettier,” but about showing vulvae as they are: integral elements of the natural world that we are a part of. The beauty, the strength, and the very survival of nature depends on diversity; so too with humans.
ineffable had the opportunity to ask Jacqueline a few questions about her work.
How long have you been painting, and how have you noticed your practice evolve into what it is now?
I have been painting since 2008, but this series began in 2014. Initially, I never intended to make this project public or political. The Diversity of Nature series began after I was in a very unhealthy relationship and environment that caused me to become extremely self-critical. Now this series has evolved to [include] people from all around the world: friends, family members, casual acquaintances, and total strangers contributing as models for my work.
Can you tell us a little more about your experience as a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints? How has painting and creativity been a source of reconciliation for you after leaving?
I feel that Mormonism’s systematic oppression toward women influenced my art, and in a way, my series is an act of resistance towards the judgment and powerlessness I felt being a women within the church. I want to artistically communicate the need to overcome a history of shame, misogyny, and patriarchy. Painting parts of the body that are “supposed” to be hidden helped me to reclaim my body, power, and voice.
In your interview with Huffington Post, you said that in Utah, where you were living, there is "a widespread unspoken rule that women should conform to this really narrow definition of perfection." How do you challenge this idea of perfection in your paintings?
This is all based in the desperate quest for an arbitrary version of “perfection,” which has a lot to do with our value on superficial beauty in a patriarchal society. I felt some of that pressure to conform when I moved here from Northern California, and painting has helped me overcome this
In 2009, a study showed that Utah had the nation's highest online porn subscription rate . If men and women only see this one specific version of female genitalia, then they start thinking that there’s something wrong with anything that doesn’t conform to that. Increasingly too, women are getting labiaplasty. Our society has created an entire culture around how our vaginas are “supposed” to look, and gynaecologists have reported an increase in demand for labiaplasty among teenage girls. A few years ago there was a study that linked “Toxic Perfectionism” to depression among LDS [Church of Latter Day Saint's] women ( Utah's population is 62.2% Mormon, "LDS"). Way back in 2007, Forbes ranked Salt Lake City as the “Vainest City in America” based on plastic surgery rates, and there are even more plastic surgeons in Utah today.
These topics were the catalyst for my “Diversity of Nature” series.
How do you hope viewers respond to your work?
I hope others will see the individuality and elemental power of every body. Each piece celebrates the model's individual strength and intensity within natural elements of the landscape. I hope my art can influence cultural attitudes to transform the way they see the female body—mostly the taboos surrounding genitalia. This series converts the vulva from object to subject.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I hope this series will be ongoing. I feel there will always be room for individuals to celebrate their individuality, and the Diversity of Nature Series is a forum where this can take place.
I have another series that I continue to work on, titled Defying Extinction.