The terror of the accidental vagina

Why are accidental vaginas so funny and horrifying? Zaha Hadid found this out when designs for her football stadium for Qatar were unveiled. It looks like a vagina! the world hooted. A temple to a male-bonding ritual in a sexist society turns out to be a sly reference to the one thing we’re obsessed with, but can never display — you have to love it.

The accidental vagina weighed on my mind when I was painting this image as a tribute to Madiba on the occasion of his burial:

madiba embraced by the earth in lipstick

The combination of hands shielding a flame in which the figure of a man could be discerned meant that, at the size of an avatar, it was going to remind some people, somewhere, of a vulva. (Vulva: a word that we should all learn to use, because that’s the correct term, not vagina. Also, it uses fewer characters so is more Twitter-friendly.) I posted it anyway. Because why is an accidental vulva a bad thing? We are born from there, and a return to the earth is in some ways a return to the womb whence we all came. Since this was painted in something intimately associated with women’s bodies — lipstick — the links were appropriate and I thought, to hell with it.

Inevitably, a friend DMd me to tell me: “Honest to god that looks like a vagina til you look closely. Every time you tweet I’m like O_O “Wait, it’s not!”

I saw his point.


Life is filled with accidental genitalia. This church, which looks like meat and two veg from the air, caused tremendous amusement this year. We see accidental genitalia in much the same way that we see faces of Jesus or Elvis in toasted cheese sandwiches. Our brains are wired to see faces where there are none, and it seems we’re also prone to seeing penises. In a culture that is both obsessed with sex and weirdly appalled by body parts, this is hardly surprising.

More accidental vulvas, I say. And more intentional ones too. Maybe if we saw more of them, we’d have a healthier relationship with ourselves and others.

Image – A view of the art installation “Giant Walk-In Vagina” installed at a former women’s prison by artist Reshma Chhiba in Johannesburg, 2013. (AFP)