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A vulva pie by Mikel Iberra

Q&A | Mikel Ibarra Defies Objectification with Pies in the Window

Pie 45 by Mikel Ibarra

Have you ever seen a pie with a photorealistic vulva on top? Neither had we, until we encountered Oklahoma artist Mikel Ibarra’s series, Pies in the Window. With experience as an artist, art teacher, home baker, dessert decorator, and mother of four, Mikel explores themes of empowerment, acceptance, sexuality, and objectification with her vulva pies.

Let’s dive in with the first thing we noticed: the refreshing range of different bodies celebrated in your art.

When I started, I just wanted to make a pie with a vulva — a real vulva — you know? Not the textbook illustration that we get. So, I just started looking at pictures. Coming from a fine art background, I use a figure drawing approach. When you’re figure drawing (or sculpting), it’s not a caricature; it becomes a portrait. And so each pie I made took on the actual diversity of the person. We’re all so different…the colors, the shapes, the length of labia, every part is unique. I've come across similarities, but never two that are the same.

We actually wanted to ask you about that. Have you dealt with a lot of censorship on social media?

On Instagram, yes. My account is constantly getting content warnings and I've had two pies removed. I always have this little notice saying something like “these images go against our community guidelines.”

I can't make money from my Reels, even if they play a million times. But the main issue is that it keeps me from being recommended. So people who aren't my followers only see my work if my followers share with other people. And even then, sometimes those people get a warning for sharing.

It’s a problem for me and other creators in this space. Our work gets censored, but Playboy can just go on into infinity, you know? It's like stigma in action. My art is a protest movement. It’s not pornography.

Pie 72 by Mikel Ibarra

Tell us more about the theme of protest and objectification in your artwork.

My idea to put vulvas on pies was inspired from the movie Revenge of the Nerds that came out when I was a kid. The nerds had found a way to make money at a bake sale by putting naked sorority girls in the bottom of a pie plate. It stuck with me, that idea that we're just pies and we're discarded.

In my other more traditional fine art, I was also exploring objectification and confrontational sexuality from my point of view. Like, why do I have to worry about my reputation while guys brag and give each other high fives? I was thinking “We’re objectified and commodified. We’re just pies in the window.” And then the project took on a life of its own. It also became about diversity empowerment and how we’re so much more.

Has it doing this work changed your relationship with your own body?

Oh, yes. It’s made me a lot more loving and kind. I'm more careful with the way that I talk to myself, just in my own head. Though I haven’t made my own vulva as a pie yet. [laughs] I hear myself laugh every time I say that, but I think it's in delight, not shame. I laugh because 10 years ago, the idea of me doing this…I would have just been like, get out of here!

But yes, it’s definitely has made me more open with my body. I think it's improved my sex life, because it's made me more willing to enjoy my own body…to have pleasure and not feel ashamed and not be in my head the whole time. Now I want to be present for myself and think sex is for me and just not for my husband. I think that's what Pies in the Window did for me. It took me from being objectified on display to being, like “this is my pie.” Now it's a dessert I'm sharing instead of a display in the bakery case.

Do you feel like that new relationship with your body informs the art, too?

Definitely. I’m branching out now. I made a packaged meat series called Fresh Meat with little cakes in one pound meat packages. I got a lot of flack for those and I was scared to share them, but I feel like it’s an important conversation to start. The news and statistics aren't pleasant and I want to address that as an artist.

Pie 45 by Mikel Ibarra

For people who aren’t familiar with Fresh Meat, can you describe its message?

I was trying to say that no matter what our size or skin color, people with vulvas have all had that experience of feeling like a piece of meat in a package. That there has been a time where we were either looked at or commented on, or treated like meat.

I made real meat packages and I modeled the labels after the percentages of meat on the package. And I went to nutrition sites and found out like, if you're 73 percent fat, how would you weigh your calories? I made the labels accurate.

To my terror, there were men commenting that it was amazing and they wished it were real. And I was talked down to a lot by women who thought that it was terrible, that it was misogynistic.

I think my message got lost. It’s not that I wanted women in packages, I was trying to speak about the experience of feeling that way. The response kind of shook me for a while. I pulled back. I mean, that was the first time I was like, “this isn't a safe place.”

They're still in my freezer right now. I haven't had the heart. I didn't want to eat them. I didn't know what to do with them. So every now and then I just open up my freezer and look at these little packages. They're on ice. I took some photos of them there with a pack of corn and stuff.

Despite the shame and stigma, you’re still making your art.

Well, for the people who've gravitated to me and my art, like Origin, you're strong for women, you're not shaming women. I try to send it out that way. Every time I make a piece, I hope it connects with the right people. I want to help create a future where this stigma doesn’t exist.

Mikel in her kitchen

How do you see your art as part of this larger conversation about women’s health and wellness?

Well, thinking of Origin, If I hadn’t been doing this work, I don’t know if I would have gone for pelvic floor physical therapy myself. I've had three C-sections and one vaginal birth and I was having a lot of pain in what I thought was my hip area. And I was also starting perimenopause where everything shifts. Going to physical therapy really improved my quality of life.

Now I use my art and make reels with anatomy, like “this is the mons pubis, here are the outer labia, these are the inner labia.” I always try to use the right terms. A lot of times, people who need it most aren't looking at anatomy charts or going to the gynecologist, so they might find those terms through my work.

And I’ve seen that a lot of women don't even know that pain isn't normal. As a former middle school and high school teacher I saw students in debilitating pain from cramps and irregular periods and they didn’t know that's not just part of being a woman. The mentality was “suck it up, buttercup” and that's terrifying now. I wish I knew what I know now.

I hope my art is a place where people can see the beauty of the body and think “this is something I need to take care of.” It’s more than for the male gaze or reproduction. It’s my quality of life. This is my center. I have a right to health and safety and pleasure.

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Ryann Summers
Ryann Summers

Ryann Summers is a freelance writer, birth doula, and trauma-informed yoga teacher. Whether she's writing an article or attending a birth, Ryann's always working to support people in making empowered choices about their bodies and health. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and two very vocal cats.

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