Fierce

Why This Latina Started The Bloomi, The First Digital Marketplace For Clean Intimate Care

Would you put something on your vulva that hasn’t been tested by a government agency? Turns out, it’s likely you already are. While our genital organs are extremely sensitive, oftentimes the everyday products we use to keep them clean, safe and itch-free are unregulated and filled with unexamined ingredients that could be causing our private parts more harm than good. You wouldn’t know this because most personal hygiene products are also not required to list its ingredients on its packaging. Luckily, the Bloomi, a digital marketplace for clean intimate care, has taken on the job for the sake of all our vaginas.

Launched in 2018, the Bloomi is the first and only online shop selling and informing people about toxin-free hygiene, menstruation and sexual products. While there are many big-name brands at pharmacies selling items that are “pH balanced” or for “sensitive skin,” because these trusted goods are unregulated, many are deceitful and include components that could lead to adverse effects. Unlike your local CVS or Walgreens, the products on the Bloomi’s digital shelves are tested, so every sensitive wash, tampon or condom the market carries is safe.

This was essential for the company’s founder and CEO, Rebecca Alvarez Story, who dealt with pH imbalance and vaginal dryness for years because she was unable to find products that were as “gentle” or “hygienic” as companies advertised. The Mexican-American businesswoman, who spent her career working in sexuality wellness and research, was aware of the loopholes that existed for intimate care brands and how this has led to mass-produced products that had harmed, not helped, the women around her. Knowing that people were interested in curated clean products, she thought it was time to give them what they wanted and deserved.

“I think a marketplace like the Bloomi is essential from a public health standpoint. For women and femmes, looking at it as a wellness topic, we need to be able to trust that the products we are putting on our bodies and in our bodies are healthy, and right now that’s not happening,” Alvarez Story, 33, told FIERCE.

According to Alvarez Story, most intimate care products fall into the category of cosmetics, which isn’t heavily regulated in the US. As a result, big companies, which tend to use cheaper ingredients or include components that make their products smell “fresh” or have long shelf lives, sell products that are loaded with elements that could be harmful. Because these brands aren’t required to disclose ingredients on their packaging, they’re also able to throw trendy words like “organic” or “sensitive” on their items and hide all the toxins that are actually festering inside its bottles.

“A product for our labia lips has the same rule on labeling that lipstick does, even though our bodies have different areas that need different things,” the Oakland, Calif.-based entrepreneur said. “Testing for products is minimal and some don’t even need to be tested, giving companies a lot of leeway. They can kind of make anything. As long as they are not putting a couple extremely harmful ingredients in it, there’s no governing agency telling them they can’t sell it. There are no rules for intimate care products.”

The negative outcome of untested products varies. For some, it’s minor: some dryness, irritated skin or pH imbalance. But for others, Alvarez Story says, it can be more extreme. Some of the ingredients can cause vaginal infections, skin damage on the vulva, pelvic inflammatory disease and could even lead to cancer. For example, in December 2018, Kimberly-Clark recalled its U by Kotex Sleek Tampons after several reports that the hygiene product was unraveling or coming apart inside some users’ bodies. The unwinding caused some women infections, vaginal irritation and vaginal injuries, among other symptoms.

“If we talk about the body, the vulva and vagina are the most absorbent parts of our body. Everything we put on and in it ends up in our bloodstream in seconds, so we should be aware of what we are putting into our bodies,” she said.

This is especially true for Latinas, and other women of color, who Alvarez Story says have a higher risk of experiencing adverse effects from intimate care products. Due to early messaging that menstruation is dirty and lessons that overwashing is good for the skin and smelling “clean” is a reflection of being clean, women of color tend to purchase fragranced products, which are usually the most harmful, and overclean their sensitive vulva skin. Even more, Alvarez Story says that Black and brown women often already have slightly higher pH levels than white women because of our diverse microbial profile. As a result, women of color are both culturally and anatomically more susceptible to vaginal irritation, infection and pH imbalance triggered by hygienic products.

At the Bloomi, each of the 100-plus items sold on the digital marketplace has been screened. In fact, when Alvarez Story began working on her business in 2017, she tested 5,000 products, and only 2 percent met her clean criteria. While each category is reviewed against their own “clean categories,” meaning menstrual cups are examined with a different standard than wipes, bath salts or sex toys, there is a list of banned ingredients, which include toxic components like glycerin, parabens, petroleum, phthalates, synthetic dyes and more. Additionally, all liquids, like washes, moisturizers, ingrown concentrates and lubricants, are tested in an independent lab to ensure the product matches the brand’s claims.

The lengthy screening process has limited how many items are available on the marketplace, but Alvarez Story hopes to have at least 200 products for purchase by the end of 2019. As the small team builds its inventory, it’s also working on its own affordable intimate care line that they hope to introduce in 2020, recognizing that many people don’t buy clean items not because they don’t want to but rather because it’s more expensive than pharmacy store products.

Alvarez Story wants the Bloomi to be a trusted go-to place for all intimate care needs, including information and materials that educate people and destigmatize their bodies and sexuality. On Intimate Talk, the Bloomi’s blog and newsletter, a team of professionals share modern, research-based intimate health articles and guides on topics ranging from Black motherhood, using and cleaning period underwear, the causes and prevention of painful sex, how to practice body positity and the different types of condoms, among so much more.

“I don’t want people to just come to our site and buy from us. I want people to come in and feel like they’re adding value to their lives, and not just from a product,” she said.

With the slogan “be the CEO of your own body,” the Bloomi ultimately wants to offer women and femmes information and products that can help them make decisions about their health, pleasure and reproductive lives for themselves.

Read: This Puerto Rican Illustrator Uses Art To Explore Her Sexuality

Recommend this story by clicking the share button below!

A Recent Poll Says More Than Half Of Women Could Not Identify The Vagina On A Diagram

Entertainment

A Recent Poll Says More Than Half Of Women Could Not Identify The Vagina On A Diagram

vagina_museum / Instagram

Museums, by definition, are institutions that conserve collections of objects and artifacts of artistic, cultural, historical, or scientific significance. Of course, this significance is almost always influenced by a museum’s location—the Dalí Theatre-Museum surely belongs in the town of Figuieres, Spain, where Dalí lived and died, and the Blue House is the only place that could adequately capture the lives of Frida and Diego. It’s true that traveling exhibits can bring new knowledge to museums around the world, but a museum’s permanent installations are what really define its impact. As more than half the planet’s population possesses a vagina, the new Vagina Museum in London’s Camden Market is no exception. With its educational posters, sculptures, and feminist-focused gift shop, it boasts content of truly universal (and gynecological) importance.

Fueled by a goal to end stigma, support reproductive justice and promote public health initiatives, London’s Vagina Museum is the first of its kind.

credit: Instagram/@vagina_museum

Unlike Reykjavik’s famous Phallological Museum—a space densely packed with nearly 300 penile specimens from local animals—the Vagina Museum focuses on disseminating information, rather than putting biological samples on display. Even so, visitors might expect the Vagina Museum to resemble a sex museum (which, no joke, exist all over the world, from New York to Amsterdam to Barcelona), showing examples of early pornography or ancient Stone Age dildos. But in lieu of tangible collections, the Vagina Museum is dominated by its first exhibition, Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them, comprised mostly of informational panels that address and shatter long-held myths about vaginal health.

“The anatomy has such complex politics around it that we found it was best to first engage people through what they know, so we can teach them things they don’t know,” said Sarah Creed, the museum’s curator, to The New York Times. “We can talk about cold, hard facts all we want, but that’s not going to change people’s minds. It’s all about unpacking social constructs and changing perspective through engagement.”

While the space itself is quite small, Florence Schechter, the museum’s founder and director, takes advantage of the museum’s intimate atmosphere to fully realize this intention. A single room with exposed brick and wood floors, the museum feels comfortable and safe, inviting people—of all genders, sexes, and ages—to enter and learn about the nuances of the female anatomy (a subject that is still widely and unnecessarily taboo). To Schechter, this information is of particular importance to visitors who themselves possess this anatomy.


“According to a recent poll, more than half the women couldn’t identify the vagina on a diagram,” she said to The Daily Beast.

credit: Isabel Infantes/Getty Images

3-D drawings and sculptures serve as original, customized extensions of the information on the posters, helping to distill and demonstrate the educational content hanging from the walls. Schechter emphasizes the necessity of these creative renderings, affirming that her museum is not rooted in the questionable, largely patriarchal tradition of “steal[ing] some stuff from Africa, put[ting] it in a building, and pretend[ing] it’s a really good thing”—to Schechter, the Vagina Museum is about connecting with its visitors in a way that is current and relevant, focusing instead on “sharing a particular story.”

With her plan to run two exhibitions per year, covering everything from human cervical health to reproduction in the animal kingdom, Schechter intends to take full advantage of this new brick-and-mortar space. On its very first day, the museum drew large, eager crowds, which seems to bode well for the museum’s future.

The Vagina Museum currently has a two-year lease on its Camden Market property, with plans to expand when the contract ends in 2021.

credit: Angus Young/The Daily Beast

“The ultimate goal is to build a permanent museum, but that takes a lot of time and resources. This is like our starter home,” Schechter told the New York Times. The Vagina Museum team has expressed surprise at the public’s positive reception, though they’ve also conceded that the internet has been difficult to navigate. 

“Algorithms are set to assume that anything with the word ‘vagina’ in it is adult content or porn,” said Development and Marketing Manager, Zoe Williams. “Our emails go to spam and our online ads get rejected, and it’s all because of stigma.” The hope is that by challenging this stigma with its educational approach, the museum—and other emergent institutions that are sure to crop up in its wake—will not continue to face this sort of issue in the future.

Fortunately, word of the Vagina Museum has spread organically, and people have continued to flock there in pursuit of knowledge, support, and camaraderie. 

“I would like people to leave the Vagina Museum knowing that there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Schechter. “I want to get rid of the stigma, so we can start making progress towards equal rights and protecting women around the world.”  

T.I.’s Daughter Unfollows Him On Instagram And ‘Likes’ Comments That Call Him Out For Being Controlling

Fierce

T.I.’s Daughter Unfollows Him On Instagram And ‘Likes’ Comments That Call Him Out For Being Controlling

princess_of_da_south / Instagram

Rapper T.I. lost the respect of quite a few fans last week when he joked about conducting a hymen check on his daughter. This week he’s lost at least one Instagram follower: his daughter, Deyjah Harris. 

During an incredibly cringe-worthy interview last week, T.I. bragged about knowing the status of his daughter’s virginity.

princess_of_da_south / Instagram

In a recent interview, the rapper boasted about his desire to keep his 18-year-old daughter “pure” and said that he does so by accompanying her to her yearly gynecologist appoints. As if the whole interview couldn’t have gotten worse, T.I. proved his ignorance by saying that, despite all of the doctors in the world that says that the absence of a hymen does not provide viable of proof a woman’s sexual activity, he makes the doctor report on its status.

In an interview with Nazanin Mandi and Nadia Moham for their podcast Ladies Like Us, TI gave the most bizarre and nasty response to a question about whether or not he had the “sex talk” with his daughter yet.

“Have I? This is the thing: Deyjah’s 18, just graduated high school now and she’s attending her first year of college, figuring it out for herself,” he replied. “And yes, not only have we had the conversation, we have yearly trips to the gynecologist to check her hymen.”

His response promoted laughter from the two hosts of the podcast, but T.I. made it clear that he was as serious as the heart attack that I had when I heard this.

“This is what we do. Right after the birthday, we celebrate,” T.I. continued “Usually like the day after the party she’s enjoying her gifts. I put a sticky note on the door: ‘Gyno. Tomorrow. 9:30.’”

Following her father’s comments, Deyjah Harris has unfollowed her dad on Instagram.

 According to E! News, Harris, 18, unfollowed her father after telling the world that he check the status of her hymen. While she has yet to comment about her father’s gross interview she has reportedly liked several tweets that have lambasted T.I. after the “Ladies Like Us” podcast aired.

We’re not sure when Harris made the decision to unfollow her father.

But fans have pointed out that she hasn’t just stuck to clicking the “unfollow” button on her father. Harris no longer follow’s  T.I.’s wife, Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, or her stepsister Zonnique Pullins.

There’s no easy way to prepare you for what disgusting thing rapper T.I. just said about his daughter, her hymen, and her virginity, so just get ready for what you’re about to read. According to the rapper, he accompanies her to every appointment with her so that he can hear the doctor’s prognosis on her hymen himself. He even pressures his daughter into signing a released statement that will allow him to obtain this information. 

“We’ll go and sit down and the doctor will come and talk, and the doctor is maintaining a high level of professionalism,” he explained. “He’s like, ‘You know sir, I have to… in order for me to share information…’”

“I’m like, ‘Deyjah they want you to sign this. They want you to sign this so we can share information. Is there anything you wouldn’t want me to know? Okay. See doc? No problem.’”

As most of us know, there are many ways for a hymen to be broken that don’t include sex. 

princess_of_da_south / Instagram

According to one Psychology Today article most young girls experience a wearing away of the hymenal tissue that surrounds their vaginal openings. “Most hymenal tissue wears away as a result of washing, walking, athletics, self-exploration, and masturbation, though little bits may remain around the vaginal opening, particularly in the area closest to the anus (hymenal tags).” But these facts aren’t enough to keep T.I. from thinking about his daughter’s private parts.

“I say, ‘Look doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports, man. Just check the hymen please and give me back my results, expeditiously.’”

As if all of this information about his prying interest in his daughter’s private life isn’t humiliating, T.I. claimed in his interview that he knows 100% his daughter’s hymen is still intact. 

“I will say as of her 18th birthday, her hymen is still intact,” T.I. declared on the podcast.

And just when we thought the conversation couldn’t have gotten worse, T.I. went onto shame his daughter and virgins further when the hosts replied suggested that his decision to “keep her a virgin” would put his teenager at risk for “vultures.”

Not so, claimed T.I. “They’re no fun. Who wants a virgin?” he insisted. “Like really? All that work.”

The rapper is the father of six children with three different women.

Of course, it didn’t take long for T.I.’s bizarre interview to go viral.

Women and men were quick to slam the rapper for his behavior and violation of his daughter’s privacy. 

“This is disgusting and horrible. Rapper T.I. says that he takes his daughter to the gynecologist to make sure her hymen is still intact!” New York Magazine writer Yashar Ali wrote. “Even after her 18th birthday (not that it makes it ok before her 18th birthday).  Twitter user and essayist Candice Marie Benbow wrote: “This is absolutely disgusting and perverted and vile and ignorant and just plain wrong. TI is a sick, controlling narcissist and there is absolutely NO way Deyjah, her mother or any woman in TI’s life should be okay with this.”