by Natalie Michie
Lydia Reeves’ art is all about bodies. More specifically, the parts of our bodies that are most vulnerable and likely to be criticized. Feeling uncomfortable in your body is something that many people can relate to, especially gender-marginalized people.
Accepting our bodies isn’t something we’re generally taught to do. From a young age, we’re often conditioned to dislike the sensitive and sacred parts of our physical appearance. There’s a lot of unlearning and forgiveness that goes into the process of body acceptance, but doing so can be a powerful form of resistance.
Using colourful and textually unique molds, Reeves turns regular body parts into idiosyncratic works of art. Amassing over 22,000 followers, her Instagram page is a mosaic of vibrant body castings; featuring sculptures of boobs, bums and vulvas. The comments on her posts are equally empowering, with people sharing personal testimonies of how Reeves’ art has completely changed their relationships with their bodies. It’s more than a platform for Reeves to share her work, it’s a community that centres an ongoing dialogue about the nuanced journey towards body acceptance.
I spoke with the artist, based in Brighton, UK, about how her career has intersected with her personal journey and growth.
What inspired you to get into female body casting?
“Definitely it all stemmed from my own experiences of growing up as a woman. I suffered with a severe lack of body confidence throughout my teens and into my early twenties. I dabbled with body casting throughout my Fine Art degree, but it wasn’t until last year when I delved into body casting more seriously. As soon as I realized the positive effect it can have on womxn, and how they view their bodies, I wanted to help as many people as possible on their journey of self-acceptance and becoming more body positive.”
Collective self-acceptance is something that Reeves has cultivated through her artistry. Her pieces spark conversations, and she actively works to build a narrative around body positivity. Her most recent initiative is through her Vulva Diversity project: Reeves does body casts of vulvas with the goal of educating people on what a vulva looks like and how unique each one is. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the project is Reeves’ request of her participants to write about their relationships with their vulvas.
Are there any similarities in people’s stories about their vulvas that have stood out to you throughout this project?
“There have been such a huge variety of stories that I have been sent. But there are some common themes that run through some of them. One of these is just not knowing what their vulva is ‘supposed’ to look like. Having never seen any other vulvas, a lot of people feel confused as to whether theirs looks ‘normal’ or not. Ultimately, this is one of the reasons for my whole project, as so many vulva owners never get the chance to see other vulvas in real life! I’m hoping by viewing my project/exhibition/book that people will feel so much more comfortable in knowing that in fact every single vulva is completely normal and beautifully unique.”
Young genderized people are sorely lacking in proper sex education in schools. Due to the lack of visibility and hushed dialogue surrounding sexual health, there is often shame associated with vulvas. When we’re not taught about our bodies, it can result in confusion and self-doubt that is hard to get rid of. Reeves is doing the work of providing sex education through visibility and conversation-starting.
What’s something you learned through the Vulva Diversity Project?
“One thing that I hadn’t predicted when I started asking participants to write about their relationships with their vulvas, was the sheer amount of completely different experiences everyone had had. At the start of this project I knew my story, and my story only. Reading everyone’s different stories has been so eye-opening and made me realize how much this project could really change so many people’s perspectives regarding their vulva by realizing that they aren’t alone in what they may have been through, or experienced.”
Why should talking openly about our relationships with our bodies be taboo? Reeves has created a community where it isn’t — instead, it’s celebrated.
Having a stranger cast your vulva may seem like an uncomfortable experience, but Reeves’ passion is palpable. She emits an aura of warmth and sensitivity, and her goal is to empower her clients and anyone who views her art.
What feelings do you wish to evoke through your work?
“I hope that people will see my work and it will help them view their own bodies in a kinder way. I hope that my work helps people see what a huge variety of bodies there are, and how beautiful each and every one is. I hope that people view my work and find the beauty in bodies, and then in turn, in their own body. I hope that my work would evoke feelings of joy, freedom, love and liberation.”
The artist candidly shares how her journey toward body acceptance has not at all been linear. Working toward a state of self-love is a long and complex path—one that often takes years—but it’s also incredibly freeing.
What, to you, is the key to self-love?
“I don’t think it’s as simple as having one key tip (annoyingly!). For some people, myself included, self-acceptance is a really long journey and some people may be on that path for years. But one thing that has really helped me is realizing that you do not have to be in love with every inch of your body.
Coming from a place of hatred for a lot of my body for many years, feeling like one day I’d need to be in love with these areas felt so unachievable, and almost had the adverse effect on me. Sometimes it made me feel like I didn’t even want to try to love these parts, as I felt like I knew I just never could.
Realizing that I could just accept and embrace my body for exactly what it is…. this seemed reachable for me, and led me on my own path of self-acceptance. I am still hugely on this journey myself, and maybe there won’t be an end. But I can’t tell you how peaceful it feels to be surrounding myself and my body with kind energy after years of hatred and self-destruction.”
To see more of her work and keep up with the Vulva Diversity project, follow Lydia Reeves on Instagram.