Why I paint vulvas in public toilets instead of penises

By Amante Falkenstein
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, JACK LAWSON

Paintings of vulvas are popping up on doors of toilet cubicles across London.

It's all part of a campaign to promote positive body image among women - specifically what's "down there".

Oliwia Bober, 23, is the artist behind the genitalia designs - and says feedback has been positive.

"Women are often shamed for how they look, especially the most private and delicate part - and that is just a really unpleasant experience," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

'Sexual organs shouldn't be positive or negative'

Image source, JACK LAWSON
Image caption,
Oliwia was commissioned to design the vulvas on toilet cubicles in bars, pubs and other venues

"I think it's important to recognise that having a vulva or vagina isn't something that makes a woman, but for a lot of women that have them they're really important," says Oliwia.

Oliwia, who graduated from Brighton University last year, says she's felt the pressure too.

"Having seen porn, the vulva that has been normalised is a very specific type - and if you have anything that deviates from that the message is still ingrained that maybe something's not OK - which obviously isn't the case at all."

The installations have been launched by Bodyform as part of its Viva La Vulva campaign.

Image source, JACK LAWSON
Image caption,
Oliwia's designs on cubicle doors at the Queen of Hoxton bar in London

Although she's drawing private parts in public spaces, Oliwia doesn't think there's anything offensive about her art.

"I don't think sexual organs, in and of themselves, should have positive or negative connotations attached to them as they are just that - organs.

"It's the meaning that we assign to them that could be positive or negative."

'People would have a hard time drawing a vulva from memory'

Image source, JACK LAWSON

While it's common to see scribbles of penises in public toilets, it's not often that vaginas get the same attention.

Psychoanalyst David Morgan thinks there are so many penises because it "represents anxieties about male sexuality".

"It's dealt with by literally drawing their penises everywhere and shoving them in everyone's face.

"When someone sees a penis on the wall, there's a slight shock and vulnerability - and through that action the person is reversing their own anxieties by projecting them on other people."

Image source, JACK LAWSON
Image caption,
Oliwia with the designs she did for the Tara Theatre in Earlsfield

Oliwia says she's got her own theory on that.

"In women's toilets, the sort of graffiti that features on the walls is usually quite empowering - or drunken confessions to other women.

"But I think part of the reason why it's usually penises that are visible is because people would have a hard time drawing a vulva from memory if they tried.

"I also think men are made to feel more proud than women, so maybe that's why."

Follow Newsbeat on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Listen to Newsbeat live at 12:45 and 17:45 weekdays - or listen back here.

More on this story