Mints and dyes. Swarovski bedazzling and trimming manuals. Life-like scents direct from Germany.
To the glee of marketers and chagrin of feminists, vaginas appear to be enjoying their 15 minutes of fame in the commercial world.
In January, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt popularized "vajazzling" when she revealed in her memoir that she'd had Swarovski crystals applied to her "precious lady" to get over a break-up: "It shined [sic] like a disco ball," she chirped on Lopez Tonight.
Earlier this month, comedian Kathy Griffin underwent a poolside pap smear to promote feminine health – and then got vajazzled herself.
Now available in several Canadian salons, the practice has raised the ire of feminist bloggers, who rank it alongside other dubious grooming trends such as pubic hair stencilling and Brazilians. They also aren't especially fond of Linger, a new line of vaginal mints, or My New Pink Button – that's labia dye.
"Vaginas are having a moment right now in our popular imagination," says Cynthia Loyst, host of TV's Sex Matters.
"It's the last frontier. These savvy entrepreneurs are marketing and creating a product, telling women, 'Maybe you should consider this. Maybe you've never thought about it before, but other women have.'"
On the other end of the spectrum is VulvaLoveLovely.com, an online emporium of wares intended to "foster understanding and appreciation of Vagina." The merchandise, which also sells on Etsy, includes "portrait pendants" crafted from photos of customers' "Yonis" and uterus-shaped pillows fashioned after feminist icons Frida Kahlo and Rosie the Riveter.
Perhaps the most baffling of the vaginal offerings, however, is VULVA Original. Launched in December by a German company called Vivaeros, the scent is made from the "organic substances of a real woman" and is aimed at men.
"It is for your own smelling pleasure," chief executive officer Guido Lenssen explains on the phone from Cologne. "You just put it on the back of your hand, smell it and the film starts rolling in your head."
Lenssen doesn't recommend wearing VULVA to the office, and won't divulge what's in it except that it involves the secretions of a real woman whose scent male testers preferred above other women sampled. (For this reporter, the aroma only invokes Parisian alleyways in summer's heat.)
The small vials sell for €25 ($33) and are only available online. Americans are buying up much of it, Lenssen said, with Japan picking up the rear in recent weeks.
"Japan is wonderful," he says, adding that the company is advertising with Manga images there. In North American ads, a blond, elfin man sniffs a sweaty exercise-bike seat.
According to Lenssen, some people have called him a "pervert," which dismays him, as do those who treat the product as a joke.
"Every adult man loves this scent, and every man who says no – he is a liar," he insists.
My New Pink Button, a line of non-permanent labia dyes, has been met with similar incredulity. The dyes come in four vivid shades: Marilyn, Bettie, Ginger and Audry.
"This wasn't something that was made up as a joke: It was something that really grew out of women asking gynecologists and plastic surgeons how they could get their pink back down there in their genital area," Karan Mari, the California paramedical aesthetician behind the product, says from Sacramento.
Launched last summer, the dyes sell for $29.95 U.S. via Amazon and will be launching soon in France, which is also the capital of hymenoplasty.
"I didn't know that it would be such a big hit, because I didn't realize that so many [women] do not pay attention to their genital area," Mari says.
In her view, pornography may have something to do with the increased scrutiny, but she swats away at the product's detractors: "There's criticism from feminist blogs, although all it does is boost our sales."
And VulvaLoveLovely.com owner Jessica Marie's take on the dyes, mints and bling? "They make your vagina look like a freakish … glittery acid trip."
The 24-year-old Miami artist can't believe that vajazzling is a "real thing," pointing out that the practice was initially spoofed on YouTube with a fake advertisement for something called "clitter," a faux vagina glitter. "Using Clitter while pregnant may result in sparkle babies," read the disclaimer.
Marie thinks that many of the current offerings devalue women: "They sexualize our bodies and retard people's abilities to appreciate them. They make people believe that … you have to colour it pink, stick a breath mint in it and throw glitter on it. Things like this only encourage the low self-esteem women have."
While the Etsy wares remind her of the youthful feminism of her university years, Loyst said she finds vajazzling "silly" and the dyes and mints even more suspect.
"Although we're in a world that embraced second- and third-wave feminism, we've also grossly distorted it. A pornification of women's sexuality has taken place: It's [debatable] whether women are actually empowered or just acting out pornographic ideas."