Have you ever taken a hand mirror into the bathroom and actually looked down there? If so, you may sadly be in the minority of young women today, but Labella, an app about vaginal health is looking to change that.
Designed by a team of graduate students from Newcastle University, Labella seeks to educate women about their genitalia, help them become more comfortable with it, and start a conversation about reproductive health. The designers point to research that shows women avoid contact with their genitals unless they are experiencing pain. To ease the discomfort many women feel getting up close and personal with their labia, the app is connected to a small camera sewn inside a pair on bikini briefs. The camera sends images to your smartphone encouraging you to "look down there."
In an email to Mic, app developer and researcher Teresa Almeida wrote, "The underwear is a middle ground, an everyday accessory, that we use as a way to "make strange less strange." Some women never looked at or thought of looking at themselves that way, so Labella [brings] it up as [a] possibility." While I had an amazing female teacher in seventh grade who encouraged us in health class to, as a homework assignment, check out what's going on below the waste — many women do not experience this kind of support and guidance.
The app users also review a three dimensional model of the external female genitalia, and are prompted to identify the vagina, vulva, anus and perineum. In research from 2014, half of women surveyed aged 26 to 35 couldn't point to the vagina on a medical representation — illustrating just how drastically undereducated young women are about their own anatomy. This unease with our intimate areas could lead to some serious health consequences. "While this discomfort might contribute to the estrangement between women and their genitalia, “having the knowledge and ability to make bodily and verbal distinctions” is critical to women’s reproductive health and sexual well-being," Teresa Almeida wrote in a press release featured on The Conversation. Interaction with one's own vagina through the camera's images and discovery through the mobile program are the two key elements in the proposed app.
Labella also seeks to help women deal with urinary incontinence, which researchers site affects approximately a third of women in the UK. The app offers instructions and representations of different pelvic floor muscle strengthening exercises, which can be helpful especially for women after childbirth.
With the Labella, researchers hope to take the first steps towards eradicating the stigma attached to the female body, and the shame many women feel. Almeida told Mic the ultimate aim is to create a tool that will educate women in a fun and comfortable way on all aspects of their reproductive health: "The goal is to develop the app further so it's available [to help explore] external anatomy and pelvic fitness, as it is now, but also to expand to diverse areas of women's health like periods, female genital mutilation, cervical [screenings] contraception [and more]."
Hi vagina, nice to finally meet you.