Natalia Vodianova has spent the better part of two decades as a supermodel, but now — in her mid-30s and a mother of five — the model is devoting most of her time to giving back. She founded the charity the Naked Heart Foundation, which helps children throughout Vodianova’s native Russia; she serves as an ambassador for the Special Olympics; she co-founded Elbi, an app designed to make donating to charities simpler, and now she’s on the board of directors for the period tracking app Flo.
Her work with Flo has awakened in Vodianova the importance of destigmatizing female sexual health and periods, two topics that she says were entirely taboo where and when she grew up (in Russia, in the 1990s).
Vodianova hypothesizes that she might have made different choices were that not the case.
“I wish I knew that I was precious,” Vodianova told a live audience at BUILD series on Thursday. “I grew up without a father, and I had a father figure in my grandfather — and I loved my grandfather very much — but anything like sex is such a taboo topic in Russia that we never had those conversations.”
Vodianova went on to say, “In a way, I sort of discovered everything by a most persistent guy eventually getting to me, and not letting go ever. I think if someone had told me, ‘You’re precious; you’re very very special — you should know that.’ [It was like] Someone building barriers around you as a young girl. My sex experience was not that young; I was almost 17, but I still feel it was too young.”
Vodianova is certainly doing all she can now to simultaneously battle those taboos and build barriers by helping girls and women realize that their sexual health and sexuality should not be stigmatized. In a campaign for the Flo app called, “Let’s Talk About It. Period,” Vodianova is encouraging women around the world to talk about their periods and remove the social stigma about them.
“We so often feel that it’s something shameful and something not to be discussed. Sometimes, even with our best friends, we feel uncomfortable to bring this topic up,” Vodianova said of women’s health and periods specifically. The stigma regarding women’s health and periods is an issue all over the world, she said. “Even in some sophisticated offices around the world, you wouldn’t find pads or tampons, and this is just one discrimination against women we find very normal,” she said.
Essentially what she’s doing is telling women everywhere that they are precious, and that taking care of their bodies and reproductive health should not be a point of shame but rather a right and a point of pride.
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