Upcycling is big business these days as it becomes evermore fashionable to reinvent tired and worn out pieces of furniture and accessories. Social media proudly offers tips and tricks to turn wooden pallets into new beds, multiple uses for old suitcases and entire playgrounds built from recycled car tyres and plastic. In a world that is now so conscious of recycling and reusing it’s no surprise that pre-loved goods are becoming re-loved. Not only is upcycling more affordable than purchasing something that is new, but preloved items also have character, history and a story to tell; much like the keepsakes that I fill my home with to celebrate my love for my children – from preschool finger paintings to treasured locks of hair, tiny baby grows, first teddies and even milk teeth, I literally keep it all!
Memories are what life is about, pleasantly reminding us of our childhood, good times and even struggles that we have thankfully turned into success. They warm our hearts, motivate and inspire us to keep going, try harder and appreciate our blessings. So when I had a labiaplasty surgery eight months ago for medical reasons – also known as a female circumcision or more fashionably designer vagina – it marked a point in my life where my longterm suffering finally came to an end and I triumphantly asked my surgeon if I would be allowed to keep my cut off labia as a trophy. I know that keeping body parts may not be to everybody’s taste, however my collection began when having children and finding my feet as a tooth fairy which led to me also keeping my silicone breast implants after an emergency breast reconstruction five years ago. I have kept my labia in a jar since my surgery to celebrate my freedom from pain as it took me 29yrs to realise that anything was wrong with my tender protruding labia because nobody has ever talked about it or informed me of what is and isn’t normal. As a result I’d missed out on so many hobbies and interests that I love and had to be mindful with tight clothing, exercise and intercourse because of the discomfort it caused simply because I didn’t know anything could be done about it – I thought all women were just as tender as I.
Having my surgery has been absolutely life changing and I feel passionate about raising awareness for women, and men alike, that circumcision is a choice we all have which shouldn’t be embarrassing, taboo or anybody else’s decision but your own. It’s a little known fact that circumcisions also reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, cervical cancer, penile inflammation and dermatoses and sexually transmitted infections including syphilis, gonorrhoea, herpes, HPV and HIV. Back to my jar of floating labia, whenever anybody has seen it on my kitchen dresser they’ve been puzzled over what it actually is as it’s not instantly obvious, nor expected, to see labia displayed in a jar in a kitchen. However with time the cut off tissue has discoloured from pink to a pale grey, crinkled up in the surgical fluid and turned curly which has made them less of a trophy and more of a Halloween accessory so I’ve been looking into ways to more effectively preserve them longterm.
Searching tissue preservation online led to extravagant techniques about taxidermy, plastination and cryogenics – all of which were far beyond my skill set and expectations as I had the initial idea of setting them inside a resin paperweight and putting them away safely on a high shelf. So when I came across crystal jewellery making it seemed a quirky and easy way to make bespoke keepsakes for all purposes, albeit mine may be quite unique! My 9yr old daughter was thrilled to undertake a new summer holiday craft of her own creations and I had high hopes of rejuvenating my wilting labia in a jar. We started off by making glittery necklace pendants and jewels in beautiful rainbow colours one sunny summer afternoon and once I’d perfected the technique of setting crystal resin effectively I then advanced to preserving my labia within a pendant of my own.
Naturally not everybody will have cut off body parts to hand that they wish to preserve in bespoke jewellery, but this technique would equally be a wonderful way to cherish baby’s first tooth, a lock of a beloved grandparents hair, a four leaf clover, petal from a wedding bouquet or to create bespoke meaningful jewellery, the possibilities are endless. So here I will share with you my technique in making my labia pendant and hope that you find it useful, not forgetting the purpose of me speaking about and sharing this subject being to raise awareness of intimate health and self examination as well as opening up the discussion about the many health benefits of circumcision – I welcome you to leave your thoughts, feelings and any questions for me in the comments box below.
The process began by removing my labia from the surgical fluid and drying them out. Over the 8months since my surgery the tissue had become a pale grey colour, wrinkled from the water and twisted up but from drying it out it’s relaxed and flattened. In order to paint the skin I needed a dry absorbent surface which took around 24hrs for the labia to dry out on a makeshift washing line that I created using Christmas card pegs, an ice cream box and cotton string. I didn’t want to risk washing the labia with water or soap before painting them incase bacteria grows within the pendant and causes it to go mouldy. As they were stored in surgical fluid from my surgery I know that they were already clean and suitable for preserving but a strong alcohol wash works equally well if you have an item that isn’t sterile.
I applied two coats Pebeo Fantasy Moon opaque paint to the labia which is a textured and pearl finished multi surface metallic finish in Carmine Red in order to get a strong enough coverage and hung them up to dry for several hours to dry in between coats. I chose the colour red to match to bold nails and lipstick whilst wearing my pendant as red is my favourite colour, empowering and fashionably classical as an alternative to everyday gold, silver or black. Using a hairdryer on a cold setting I was able to dry the labia on my homemade ice cream box washing line enough for the paint to become tacky before applying a dusting of orange pearlescent glitter to the surface and then hanging them up to dry again to finish setting.
The paint took 24hrs in total to dry after which I placed the labia into an oval pendant mould and filled it with Pebeo Crystal Resin mixing one part hardener to two parts resin. The key to making sure the resin sets properly and turns hard is to make sure you stir the mixture slowly and continuously in a disposable container with a spatula until the liquid changes from cloudy to clear to ensure it has effectively activated. If it isn’t fully mixed the resin will never set and remain tacky which will need to be thrown away so it’s worth having a trial run first to test out your technique before sacrificing meaningful one-off items such as these. As my labia protruded from the mould due to their size they have raised up out of the pendant at the front by a few millimetres so I carefully poured the resin over the top of them to seal the surface and prevent any air from getting in which makes setting larger items possible but may take a couple of coats of resin if it’s particularly bulky or a tricky shape.
Leaving the resin to set for 24hrs the pendant popped out of the silicone mould with a hole already positioned in it so that I could slip it onto a red choker with any small interchangeable chain or wire being suitable. For jewellery moulds which don’t come with a hole already set into them you can get small jewellery hooks which screw into the top of pendants before they’re fully set but you’ll need to buy these separately. All in all I’m really pleased with my pendant, its contents may not be immediately obvious to the unsuspecting eye or to everybody’s taste but that’s the beauty of it. My labia have been successfully preserved, are colourful, bright and cheerful and mark the end of my suffering; one step closer to breaking down the taboo of female circumcision through a unique talking point and bespoke jewellery that I will cherish forever.