Middle school – formally known as “The Dark Ages” – was a horrible time in my life. On top of hitting puberty, I had to deal with boys - boys who didn’t know how to react upon my recent development except make jokes about wet T-shirt contests.
Those three years taught me to never, under any circumstances, speak about my period. It was a foreign concept – stuff only aliens did in preparation for a little alien to enter earth and destroy us all.
Since bursting from that bubble of immaturity, I hope everyone can talk about sex, development and menstruation without giggling or cringing. You guys know you can talk about this with your friends without having to bring up “So today in my Human Sexuality course …” right? While such topics are normal in my sphere of conversation, I cannot say the same for everyone. Sometimes we need art to get us talking.
Women and young girls who read Rookie may recognize the Toronto-based artist and photographer Petra Collins through her dreamy photo essays. Collins is an artist who focuses on teen-girl culture and sexuality. She is also the founder and curator of the all-female collective, The Ardorous, which displays work on subjects like crushes, equality, sexuality and technology’s affect on romance. For a 20-year-old college student with an envious curriculum vitae featuring work for Vogue Italia, Rolling Stone, Vice and Oyster Magazine, the only waves she’s been making lately are through a $32 American Apparel T-shirt she designed featuring a line drawing of a menstruating vagina.
TIME, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, as well as a slew of other publications, wrote about the T-shirt, and the fact that this is news is unsettling to me. Collins did not put a graphic image of a bleeding vagina on her shirt. She commissioned Alice Lancaster, of The Ardorous, to make a line drawing, to which Collins later water- colored. In an interview with Vice, Collins defended her work.
“ … We’re so shocked and appalled at something that’s such a natural state—and it’s funny that out of all the images everywhere, all of the sexually violent images, or disgustingly derogatory images, this is something that’s so, so shocking apparently. The graphic on my shirt is a line drawing, too. It’s not even a full-on image,” Collins said.
To top off the outrage, Toula Foscolos, columnist for The Huffington Post Canada, wrote a livid column titled “I Like Vaginas, But Not on My T-Shirt.”
Foscolos wrote: “Petra Collins, the 20-year-old Toronto-born artist who designed the T-shirt is surprised that this has caused so much of an uproar, leading me to believe that she may -- perhaps -- have an M.F.A. from a reputable college, but never took any classes in common sense.”
As a female, I AM outraged. I can suddenly find a degrading T-shirt at my local Walmart that proudly claims “Cool Story Babe, Now Go Make Me a Sandwich,” and this is considered playful humor, but I can’t wear a T-shirt that gets people thinking about female sexuality without it being inconsiderate to other people’s eyes. Masturbation among men is talked and joked about, but among women it’s still considered a taboo. According to the media-storm behind Collin’s “Period Power” shirt, such a subject is gross and should be kept in the dark.
Said Collins to Vice: “I’m always scared of people reporting me on Instagram because I don’t want to lose my profile so I have to block a lot of these people.”
In the aftermath of the publicity her shirt received, Instagram proceeded to delete her account. Collins wrote about it for Huff Post Women.
While scrolling through her feed in the interview for Vice, Collins took note of one commenter’s thoughts left on her photo of the shirt.
“Oh here’s a good one: ‘Next to actually seeing a girl sh*t, this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. The woman is the most remarkable creation on the planet but some lady things they go through… I’m not trying to see on a t-shirt. This is just mind-blowingly disgusting. This shirt on any beautiful body will instantly be a deal breaker, I’m sorry! But any publicity is good publicity right?’” Collins read.
Collins has other shirts in her collection for American Apparel, but they don’t seem to be getting as much attention. My favorite one stems from a personal space.
The “Wet Tee” T-shirt is my middle-school middle finger to all the guys who tried to shame girls for growing into women.