Tackling body positivity with hand crafted puppets

President of Woy Woy CWA Branch, Jane Bowtell, and Western Sydney University senior lecturer, George Turner, at the Gnostic Mana Cafe with the three vulva puppets Bowtell hand sewed. Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Perryman-ABC Central Coast

Central Coast resident, Jane Bowtell, is helping young people feel comfortable in their own skin by handcrafting educational vulva puppets.

The elaborate puppets, which take around six hours each, were all hand sewn by Bowtell in a bid to help young people learn about their bodies, breaking down barriers and empowering them with the critical knowledge that everyone is unique.

“About four years ago, Evolution Youth Service was doing a lot of work in schools around sex education, and they discovered a lot of young kids were uncomfortable with how they looked and thought they weren’t ‘normal’,” Bowtell said.

“They found out that in America, you could get these vulva puppets which were around $700 each, and they used them over there for sex education.

“They asked me if I would be interested in trying to make one of these puppets, so I thought I would give it a real good go!”

Also, the president of the Woy Woy CWA, Bowtell, used some of the textiles and fabric donated to the branch and got to work creating a prototype.

“I made one prototype, and they loved it so much that I made them another two, which they then started to use for all of their sex education in local schools,” Bowtell said.

“I used bright and vibrant colours, all with different stretchy materials and tactile fabrics to reflect the diverse shapes, sizes and shades of different vulvas.

“They are anatomically correct, but I made sure to make them all unique and fun, so they aren’t so clinical; this helps young people feel comfortable about having these conversations and promotes body positivity.”

Fast track to April this year, and Bowtell was approached by a senior lecturer at the Western Sydney University, George Turner, who specialises in sexual health wellness and social work.

Turner wanted to use the vulva puppets for educational purposes, teaching his students how to comfortably talk about sexuality to future social service and disability clients.

“George found that there was this misconception in young people that vulvas were all meant to look the same, which is really damaging to people’s mental health, especially in marginalised communities,” Bowtell said.

The puppets will act as a conversation starter, allowing Turner to engage his students in accurate and inclusive sexual health education, giving them the opportunity to learn how to approach these “taboo” topics.

Bowtell crafted and handed over three vulva puppets to Turner at the Gnostic Mana Café in Woy Woy in June this year, all free of charge.

“George was so happy to receive them because he had used similar ones in America and knew how effective they were in helping people feel comfortable about their bodies,” Bowtell said.

“I just think it’s a wonderful thing for educators to have access to, and I am happy to make them for any local educators or health care professionals.” 

Hayley McMahon

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