Meet The Vagina Lady
By Angela Kilduff
Like any superhero, mystery surrounds the true identity of the Vagina Lady. She makes appearances at Bay Area events wearing a cape and a plush, pink vagina costume nearly as tall as she is. Even among the unusual characters San Francisco is known for, she stands out in a crowd.
In her other life, Julie Vanadis, 30, is a writer and editor. Her co-workers don’t know about the character she plays, so she uses an alternate last name in interviews. She prefers to keep her personal life and role as the Vagina Lady separate.
“I put on the costume, and it’s like I’m famous,” she said. People run up to talk to her and take pictures. For those who require an explanation, she tells them, “This is my feminist sex-positive art project.”
As the Vagina Lady, Vanadis wants to convey “an empowering feminist message.” She said, “Vaginas have been a commodity,” and wants to “put ownership back in the hands of women.” She aims to “claim back some of the shame.”
“The actual word ‘vagina’ – which has caused me no end of grief – comes from ‘sheath’ meaning a place to put the penis.” She dismissed the word’s origin, saying there’s so much “more to it than that.” On her Web site (vaginalady.com), she lists other words used to describe “the lady bits” and links to a more comprehensive list.
Sitting at Apollo Coffee on Divisadero, Vanadis worked on a rhinestone-studded laptop. Unlike the unremarkable alter-ego of most superheroes, Vanadis’ appearance was anything but bland. Her clothing was bright pink and black, accented with black and white-patterned accessories. A pink rhinestone lip piercing brought it all together.
The Vagina Lady was born six years ago, Vanadis said. Since then, she has made appearances at events like Gay Pride, Bay to Breakers and Love Fest. She’s appeared at performances of the Vagina Monologues, participated in the AIDS Walk and wooed the crowd at the Exotic Erotic Ball, whereshe has twice taken home the Best Costume award.
Her character came about unintentionally. When her sister graduated from a midwifery program, Vanadis made her a pillow shaped like a vulva. Then she made more – with crescent shapes for the inner and outer labia and a round shape as the clitoris.
On Halloween in 2002, she took the theme a step further and made herself a simple vagina costume in two shades of pink. That night her character was born. She didn’t choose the name, she said. People gave it to her.
Since then, Vanadis has recreated and improved upon the original costume many times over. In front, it has greater dimension and detail as well as hidden interior compartments to stow keys and a wallet. In the most recent version, pink faux fur makes up the outer portion, and shimmery pink fabric forms the center. Her head, covered by a pink hood, takes the place of the clitoris. There is a pocket behind the vaginal opening, where Vanadis said she sometimes puts Hershey Kisses. Should anyone miss the reference, the back of the costume reads “Vagina Lady” in curly red letters.
In high school, Vanadis said, “I found second wave feminism like it was my religion.” The movement, started in the ‘60s, asserted that women have equal abilities and deserve equal rights as men. Then came third wave feminism – “God bless it” – in the ‘90s. It incorporated sex-positivity and a broadened the possibilities of femininity within feminism.
A Flickr search for the Vagina Lady yields photos posted by friends and fans, but comments do not always convey the same appreciation. Some express shock while others – mostly men – make sexual comments.
Vanadis has experienced this at events, where “boundaries are not always as clear, and men behave inappropriately.” In response, she said she responded with a “fulfilling” slap in the face. “It brings me such joy.”
Vanadis keeps her sexual orientation to herself.
“I know people make all sorts of assumptions about me as that character,” she said. “I want to speak to everyone – vaginas are both straight and gay.”
She was at work on another costume, one that will include an element of surprise. The “girly, girly” dress will have a full skirt concealing multiple layers. Lifting it will reveal the figure of a naked woman, painted and constructed with fabric. Her “flasher” costume wasn’t finished yet, but the big-breasted body was taking shape.
As a child, she said, Vanadis was into dolls. “Now I’m my own Barbie doll.”
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