Interview with Nancy Amanda Redd; author of Body Drama
“Come show your vagina for a good cause,” was the ad Nancy placed on Craig’s List. Specifically, Nancy wanted to photograph vulvas. Do womyn know what their vulva looks like or even exactly where their vulva is located? Many womyn and men don’t know what the difference between a vagina and a vulva. Nancy tackled an area risqué, using a taboo term that even outspoken personalities like Oprah skirt around using. (Most recently Oprah referred to the vagina as a “vajayjay.”) The other ad Nancy posted, “Looking for nude models of all shapes, sizes and colors.” However, Nancy noted, “Please don’t send me a nude photo, all I want is a headshot.” The idea behind the book was to portray real and different looking womyn.
The ad responses were incredible, it turned out many womyn enthusiastically wanted to show their body parts to the camera, to the world. In one of the responses Nancy received, a womyn wrote, “I hate my cellulite I’d love to photograph my body.” Womyn were paid $50.00 to have their vulva photographed.
A Harvard graduate and Miss America Swimsuit Competition winner, Nancy Redd proves it is possible for a smart grrl to kick ass, take names and look good while doing it. This amazing do-gooder also won $250,000 on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and donated part of her winnings to the 4H Club in her hometown in Southern Virginia. During her childhood and teen years Nancy felt comfortable with her curvy body. Throughout these years though, she longed to find answers to questions about her body and bodily functions. Not surprisingly, it turned out Nancy could not find any real explanations or non-medical diagrams to answer the questions in her curious teenage mind. On her quest for answers the idea of this book was planted.
Me: I find it interesting that you went to Harvard to pursue a degree in Womyn’s Studies.
Nancy Redd: I didn’t go there to study Womyn’s Studies. I just went there cause I got in! I probably applied as an English Major. That wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. I went to Harvard and my mom was terrified that I’d flunk out. And so, my brother, who went to Yale-was much more of a bookworm, he just said ‘the best advice I can give you is major in something you like and that you can do.’ Something that you like basically, and enjoy. So that canceled out like 90% and I went I took a womyn’s studies course, I found myself excited about going to class, and wanting to share in lectures and reading the material, unlike my usual experience.
Me: Do you remember a particular moment when you experienced a consciousness click? When your perspective or your thinking may have changed in the way you saw the world.
NR: I don’t know if there was one specific one, I don’t think in my situation there was like an ‘ah-ha’ specific moment. Because I always grew up with a really empowered mother but in a different way. My dad died when I was four. So she [my mother] went from being a stay-at-home mommy to a business womyn who had to manage a lot of properties that weren’t even in our home-state. These businessmen were really nasty and saw this black womyn in control and they were like, ‘oh please.’ They would yell at her and try to take over her properties. She would just treat them just like a first grader. She was a first grade teacher, so she’d say “I do not think you are speaking to me nicely. I am not going to be working with you on this project”. I just grew up with that subconsciously, that you could be a womyn and not put up with bullshit at the same time. I saw a lot of very matriarchal womyn ironically because a lot of times they were single parent situations, so of course I it was matriarchal society. So I always grew up very in charge and empowered with who I was. But the body issues really didn’t start…
Well there two types of issues I think about. I think about body issues as your external which is how sexual and beautiful you feel in society and then there is the general physical normal issues that you go through as a human that involve flatulence and bad breath and other things that just are part of being a human. I always hated my body because of the gross things that it did but I was really happy with my body as a chubby little grrl.
Me: Wow, you grew up in a very encouraging and nurturing environment. I know you competed in the Miss America Contest. I wanted to ask you about that. As a Womyn’s Studies graduate did you come across many feminists that feel that it is objectification of womyn [to participate in the contest]. How do you relate to this as a feminist and a womyn?
NR: Well it’s complicated. Here is the thing; you come from a perspective and me coming from where I come, having people try to shove stuff down my throat that I didn’t agree with you can meet people half way. It makes such an impact. And I am a grrly-grrl as you can tell. And I grew up with a very grrly-grrl but very powerful mommy. My whole thing is that I think a lot of womyn think you either have to be grrly-grrl and ditsy or all not grrly-grrl and powerful. I had this whole vision for life where I wanted to become Miss America and show the whole world what a strong empowered feminist womyn can do and make all this change. I had these goals and dreams. In Virginia I did similar things, you just have to meet people half-way. You have to relate things for teenage grrls to get the idea of empowerment. So if you relate things, so if I say ‘I have these shoes and this car because I don’t let men push me around.’ I think the message gets across. It’s not about you it’s about me, and I am buying things for myself.
Me: Um-huh, like Beyonce singing,”This ring I bought it…” That brings up something you mentioned in your book. You say in there, ‘I don’t care if you shave or don’t shave or do things to your body as long as you are doing it for you.
NR: Yeah, I cannot be hypocritical and be like, ‘don’t wear make-up grrls,’ because I love it. But it is totally not for the guy in my life. It’s kinda for like, this is fun today. Most people think this is a zero-sum game. I think they think you can either be really grungy all the time or you can be really grrly, dolled-up all the time and there is no in between. Not even just for public but in their private life. In the South, I find that. My mom freaks out because I am a half and half grrl. I either go all out with make-up or I’m like I am now, I’m just in my pajamas.
Me: I do the same thing, it is all or nothing for me and I like to change my look up.
NR: Yeah. If I didn’t have this ability in my life to split like this, I would freak out on either side of the spectrum. And I see a lot of young womyn are not as comfortable around their romantic partners to let it all hang out. If you can’t fart in front of who you are with you need to think about that. I don’t mean that you should go fart in their face, just really take a moment and think about the candor you are missing out on, and figure out who you actually are.
Me: I get baffled about that myself, like when some womyn say things like that [like she cannot burp around her partner] but yet she is sleeping with her boyfriend or partner.
NR: Yeah like totally awful things. And it starts from early on. So right here with this book, when I started I was twenty-four and I clearly can’t talk to older people, but maybe I can reach teens because that’s when you start having all these issues and you work them out in destructive ways. So, I thought maybe I can help them work things out in some not so destructive ways.
Me: So let’s talk about the Craig’s list ad. What exactly did it say? And how was the response to that?
NR: The ad said, “Come show your vagina for a good cause.” And all these womyn were into it without even knowing the whole project. The response was amazing. I got so many responses and I just collected so many people’s stories. They would send me emails afterwards, like I got this one email after a shoot, it said “Growing up bi-racial I always hated my body and I was anorexic and tried to commit suicide because of it but this shoot was very cathartic for me.” And I was like- she was gorgeous, she was a gorgeous womyn, with a quote un-quote perfect body in the way we look at standards- huge breasts, tiny waist, no cellulite. And she was having all these body hang-ups.
Me: And how about you, you did get photographed, correct?
NR: Uh-huh. (Laughs.) My coochie is in there!
Me: Did the project-from beginning to end- did it change you or change your perspective?
NR: I felt much less weird. Growing up, I was a very curious person, and I was always looking for information about the random stuff my body would do. And I couldn’t find it, I wanted more information. Like when they started talking about pimples in a book I wanted pictures. I wanted the emotional aspect to be represented as well. That’s why I broke the book up into: What’s going on; How do I deal; and most importantly, What if they notice? Because no book ever acknowledges the ‘what if they notice’ part. I don’t know about you, but I was always getting called out on something. Like if I forgot to put on deodorant when I was 12 and people started calling me funky! That was really traumatizing. I wanted to help teens cope instead of self-hate.
Me: I know exactly what you mean! I remember having a pimple-and thinking that everybody was staring at the zit. I would be totally freaked out, and it still happens sometimes.
NR: Yeah! I wanted them to know they weren’t alone in that.
Me: Do you consider your work and yourself to be a feminist? What does feminism mean to you?
NR: Hell yeah! It’s sad because it is a gray word. And it has this great history, but it has been so abused over the years. But there is a negative connotation for no reason. It means to me that I am taking one for the team; we’re in it to win it. It just means I’ve got a mind for making life easier for womyn. It doesn’t have any negative connotation to it. Its sounds so cliché, if you’re not a feminist, you don’t understand what is going on. If you are not a feminist you don’t even know how much is at stake. You don’t know what you could lose. You have these situations where people say “I’m not a feminist.” You need to think about that. But if laws are passed, you are affected-feminist or not. By being feminine in general, you just have to be very aware.
Me: You made a statement regarding other publications and that they touch up the photos. But you didn’t want any airbrushing in your book.
NR: That is not what people look like. This is why I hope that Body Drama can create a trend. We wanna create a trend where people are more comfortable with their bodies.
I think that people that don’t like the book or the concept, unfortunately, are just too afraid to turn the switch on, because consciousness is very scary. We are so ashamed by a lot of these issues.
It’s just what you gotta do. I think everyone at this time, that has the capability, has to take one for the team. Because we can’t just sit around any longer: it is becoming worse and worse. I want the book to be unifying. Bodies are normal, it’s not radical, and this is really common sense.
Me: Any last advice you would give teen grrls or young womyn?
NR: I hate to be cliché and steal Jennifer Love Hewitt, “Stay strong, be brave and put on your bikini.”
Do what you want, be brave. Strive to be comfortable with yourself. I am aware and I do the best I can. I still have body issues. You have to build towards it. People in their 80s-you spend your whole life working towards this goal and when you get to your 80s you say, “Fuck it!” You have to stay strong and brave. I want us to embrace our bodies, and look at them as vessels instead of who we are and what we are. I want young womyn, instead of spending time worrying about their looks to do something creative.