How One Woman Is ‘Working With Vaginas And Breaking Taboos’: BUST Interview

by Jessica Mahler

A look at Melina DiMarco may leave you with a familiar feeling, like you know her but can’t quite put a finger on just how, exactly. We’ll help you out: DiMarco is one of the models for Thinx underwear, so chances are you’ve seen her in those cheeky ads that garnered a lot of attention for their too-close-for-comfort imagery. Modeling agencies had warned their clients against posing for the company as they feared being associated with a brand that is so in your face about menstrual products could be damaging to their careers. But when the MSA Model first heard about them, she was really excited. “Working with vaginas and breaking taboos?” she says with a feeling of “duh, yes, please” in her voice. “I really wanted to do it.”

DiMarco was the type of kid that always ran around the house naked. “I think my parents were confused by me because I was always comfortable in my own skin,” she says, quick to add that this sense of comfort doesn’t necessarily translate to self-confidence. “My comfortability has always been with my form,” DiMarco says. “When you enter the modeling industry it’s an interesting thing because not everyone respects the female form.” Which isn’t necessarily news — or surprising — when you consider the direction advertising has taken, oversexualizing images to sell everything from swimsuits (which is to be expected) to sandwiches (not so much). But it is disheartening if you 1) identify as female, and 2) want to express yourself through your body. “When I’m nude it’s a freeing experience,” says DiMarco. “I’m taking control of my body and I’m happy doing it.”

It was an attempt to share this freeing experience on social media that gave DiMarco the idea to create an app. “I started kind of expressing my own nudity through modeling in an artful way,” she recalls. “Guys can post pics without their shirts on, why can’t I?” But in her attempt to share herself and do something that made her feel good about herself she felt deflated, not just from the restrictions put on her about what she could post, but all the overly sexualized, catcall-like comments she received in response to her pictures. Met with disapproval from even her own family, “I just had these overwhelming feelings of guilt from people’s responses,” she recalls. And that’s when creativity struck: Why not cover the parts of her body she was restricted from showing with illustrations of the same body parts? Thus her idea for nood was born.

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“I thought I would cover my own nipples with stickers of nipples and post what I want to post and stay true to the female form,” she says. Pulling from her art school background, DiMarco created cartoon-like renditions of nipples and vaginas in an array of hues to cover said body parts or just add a little something extra to users’ posts. It was clever, it was simple, it seemed to be just the thing to get around restrictions set in place by various social media platforms. But when DiMarco was finally ready to bring her vision to cyberspace, her hopes were smashed when the App Store rejected the photo editing app, citing “objectionable material.”

In the creation stages, DiMarco never thought that she’d hit a wall with the App Store itself since it is home to such apps as DirtyMoji (“adult” emojis that feature vaginas and sex positions), Perfect Girlfriend (which features a woman in a skimpy outfit who responds when touched), and Bra Xray Scanner (this one speaks for itself). “I always had the idea that this would be a movement and not just an app,” says DiMarco — she just didn’t realize the movement would begin in nood’s birth story.

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“I created my account, then you submit [the app], then you speak to someone who is assigned to you.” The assigned person is the one who gives the green light — or the red. Despite many calls to customer service, DiMarco says there doesn’t seem to be any manager, no higher up in command based on her conversations with her contact person. “I assume they are just doing their job based on their platforms, so there is no one official official that I can talk to.” The guidelines state that objectionable content is qualified as overtly sexual or pornographic in nature, so who at the App Store is deciding what constitutes as “objectionable material”? It’s clearly a blurred line that shifts depending on who’s in charge. So why isn’t this person around to defend the App Store’s take on the matter and explain why DiMarco’s app won’t be approved when there are so many other programs created to be lewd and lascivious for users to download?

Feeling as if she had failed, she called Veronica Del Rosario, Thinx’s director of brand, who assured her, “This is the best thing that could have happened.” Because now DiMarco had to figure out how she could spread the word about nood and get people interested to see the good it could do. She enlisted a few friends to help re-create famous nude artworks (see their interpretation of the Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, and an updated version of Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces), even held a breast cancer event where portraits of breast cancer survivors were taken and scars and nipples were covered using nood’s appliqués. She shared her artful and emotional shots with the App Store to prove how her app was created to celebrate the beauty and life surrounding the female form, even asked that the app get a “mature” rating, but she was still refused.

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Asked what she thought would be crucial to delineating that “objectionable material” line, she believes that it is something that will take everyone’s effort, “whether opening up and sharing about it, hearing [people’s] explanations about why they are doing it. Vocalizing their thoughts about it and having an opening dialogue. Creating something that will push society forward. Always that stride to think big, push forward.”

She says it’s already happening, albeit slowly: She’s noticed people not just showing their bodies on social media, but owning them. “There seems to be a lot of shame with nudity and there shouldn’t be,” says DiMarco. “I hope that through the work I do more women will feel comfortable with their bodies.”

DiMarco has no plans of letting go of her nood dream, she even started a petition in order to get enough signatures to help overturn the App Store’s decision, which you can sign here. And please share with all of your lady-parts-loving friends to help the movement!

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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