The cover that got covered

05/12/2011 § Leave a comment

Guest blog by RHM digital editor Cassie Werber

In May 2010, Reproductive Health Matters published a journal on the theme of Cosmetic surgery, body image and sexuality.

Marge Berer, editor of the journal, proposed a cover featuring an artwork which consisted of the vulvas of women – who had volunteered for the project – cast in plaster. Here, Marge Berer describes just some of the reactions and counter-reactions:

The issue featured papers on female genital mutilation (FGM), cosmetic labiaplasty, ‘hymen repair’ and cosmetic surgery as a human right. But among so many controversial topics, what really sparked debate was… the cover.

The cover ultimately featured an artwork bySusan Lyman:

Final cover for RHM35

Final cover for RHM35

A different cover had originally been proposed, however, featuring the work of a different artist. Jamie McCarney’s work – the Great Wall of Vagina – comprised plaster casts of the vulvas of 400 women, and it was an image taken from this piece which formed the original cover.

Original cover of RHM35

Original cover of RHM35

Alerted by her staff to a possible controversy, Marge asked her editorial board and board of directors for advice. What resulted was a firestorm of comments, opinions and ‘concerns’. “I don’t think anything quite so exciting is going to happen to me, as an editor” says Berer. The months leading up to the May publication date saw an intense, global conversation which brought into play ideas about the female body and its representation; obscenity and indecency; cultural acceptability; freedom and fear; shock; and the law.

Speaking in Brighton in May 2011 – a year after the cover controversy – RHM editor Marge Berer talks about the why she passionately defended the original cover, her disappointment at it being ‘censored’ – and what she did in response.

Other resources:

Watch the full video

Paper titles and abstracts

The Cover Covered editorial

RHM website

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