Tyra Banks meets her vulva

Or, specifically, an anatomically correct puppet.

Published November 9, 2007 2:30PM (EST)

I like to start out my shift with something that'll pep up your day. So today I am happy to offer a rather unusual accompaniment to your morning coffee: the vulva puppet.

This week, Tyra Banks decided to devote an entire hourlong show to the vulva. As part of the production, she invited a woman named "Dr. Debby" to teach women a bit about their anatomy by means of a velvet and satin replica of a vulva. Please picture the resulting scene: Tyra Banks chatting with Dr. Debby, who looks totally normal, except for the fact that she is holding a giant puppet vulva. To Tyra's left, a very uncomfortable-looking blond woman who remains silent for the duration of the clip, and who can't move because Tyra's got an arm around her. (I tried to figure out who she was from the show's recap, but still was left confused. Was she Sarah, a young woman "terrified of the gynecologist until Tyra accompanied her to Dr. Francis' office"? Or Brianna, who was so inspired by the show that she "was able to get over her tampon fear and tried one for the first time"?)

Regardless, I know what some of you are thinking: Vulva puppets aren't new. Good Vibrations has been selling them for years! Perhaps some of you are so well acquainted with the vulva puppet that you've got a few lying around the house as novelty throw pillows -- sort of like those giant lips one can win at carnivals.

Fair enough. But until now, no matter what role the vulva puppet has played in your home décor, it hasn't had a celebrity/model spokesperson before. Enter Tyra Banks. It would be hard to imagine someone who is more enthusiastic about the concept. She invites Dr. Debby to give the audience a tour of the puppet, and later comments that when she was about to go to college, her mother gave her a hand mirror and encouraged her to check out her own vulva. Overall, Tyra's message is a great one -- to encourage women to get over whatever awkwardness they feel about their genitalia and learn to treat their nether bits as just another part of their body that is important to keep in good health.

However, some bits of the segment are jarring, such as when Tyra, upon first meeting the puppet, says, "I'm so happy that you have this because it really ... it makes it cute and sweet and not scary. It's like a stuffed animal." Sure, a giant puppet vulva does sound like something that could have been an extra in "Little Shop of Horrors" -- but I would have hoped that by this day and age, most women wouldn't be so uncomfortable with the concept of their vulvae that they'd need to think of them as teddy bears. (And after all, as Dr. Debby warns, real vulvae are not actually made from satin and velvet.) Likewise, I was very surprised to hear Tyra comment, when Dr. Debby introduces the urethra, that "many women think that you pee and have a baby from the same hole."

I don't bring that up to criticize Tyra -- I'm more just shocked. Is that true? Dr. Debby responded by saying, "You don't pee from your clitoris; you don't pee from your vagina. You pee from your urethra." The exchange seemed crazy to me, until I realized that if there are still numerous women out there who believe that urine comes out of their clitorises, then there might be a genuine need for puppet vulvae that are as cuddly as teddy bears. Regardless, props to Tyra Banks for devoting her whole show to a part of the body that is usually kept under wraps. Now if someone could just explain to me what that blond woman is doing ...

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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