Cindy Barshop is no stranger to controversy.
Having begun the infamous vajazzle trend that rocked the world of nether region self care back at the turn of the millennium, she then went on to create a stir on her season of Real Housewives Of New York. She’s a seasoned professional in the business of public surprise and glamour. And her new venture is perhaps the most controversial of all.
“I’ve always been one of those women that brings up topics people are kind of afraid to take about.”
Way back in 2000, Barshop was the pioneer of waxing studios in New York, with her line of spas, Completely Bare. It was becoming cool to be completely bare down there, and Barshop was a woman happy to talk about the situation downstairs openly. Nothing was taboo.
She decided to make an appearance on RHONY because she was about to launch a product line and of course, it would prove to be the best form of publicity.
Having endured tremendous success with the spas, she eventually sold them off, admittedly naive about how long she could last off the back of the sale. “I’m good at promoting and getting the word out there - not that good on the finances.”
Barshop would inevitably have to go back to the drawing board, as, at this stage she was now a mother of two, having given birth to twin girls Jesse and Zoe back in 2009.
“I was lucky enough to find out about this great technology in Europe from the laser companies of my previous life," she says. Barshop then began to look through different methodologies and research and discovered that technologies and groundbreaking advances for women's sexual health were sorely lacking in the U.S, and the statistics that compounded this horror would lead to more questions about why the technology has not arrived yet. Barshop says she was awed by the amount of women who endure vaginal loosening after they give birth; can’t orgasm; or have incontinence. Three out of four women suffer from incontinence throughout their life. And nobody was addressing these issues in the U.S. There was only one treatment, in Europe, coming shyly out of the woodwork.
“There are so many young women out there that don’t have orgasms, or can’t orgasm - it’s part of their life. If this was a man, you would be able to get this treatment out of an ATM Machine!”
For her, it’s the lack of communication and speaking up that has restricted the women of the U.S from getting such treatment. The subject is taboo. “This year however,” she says confidently, “ I believe will be the year of the V Spot sexual revolution.”
When the treatment eventually got to the U.S, Barshop was straight over to try it out. She got what was called the FemiLift. “And that was the beginning of the whole thing,” she recalls.
Having initially availed of the treatment to address incontinence, she realized quickly that she was experiencing a period of low libido, and the treatment would ultimately serve this issue as well.
“I had a very low libido, but thought I was just a busy mom with twin girls - five at the time,” she says. Once the treatment was finished, this was a different story. “Oh. I’m alive down there,” she thought. Barshop would begin dating again after her FemiLift.
Thus came the concept and creation of Barshop's "vaginal rejuvenation spa," VSPOT. She would bring together a team of professionals - all women of course, to use these new technologies and treatments and tackle the problems associated with women's sexual health actively and openly.
Barshop is, of course, aware that a lot people won't welcome such subjects with open arms, but is nonetheless defiant in her approach. “Women in their minds, with this, will automatically go to the negative,” she warns - continuing, “but I’m not sitting here trying to make anyone a porn star.” While I might have felt the tiniest bit queasy as she explained the o-shot to me, I was still able to recognize its empowering abilities. This treatment involves a removal of blood from your arm, and the plasmas from that blood injected right into a numbed clitoris. The after effects of which are heightened clitoral sensitivity and a more intense orgasm.
The spa however is not just about techie treatments: “when I started I was just going with these groundbreaking treatments that were addressing sexual health, then realized that there are women who want relaxation treatments and de-toxifying treatments,” she comments. These include a 24karat gold wax and LED vajacial, which fights ingrown hairs or post-wax redness, and a V-steam, which detoxes, soothes (and has the ability to increase libido).
So who, we asked, are the women that are coming? While a lot of her clients are women who have just given birth, or women going through menopause, according to Barshop, a surprising number of young women make up her customer base because they are unable to orgasm.
“The women who are talking about sex - they’re strong powerful women,” says Barshop. They conform to a certain type - women who generally have their act together. They care about their bodies, their businesses, their well-beings and their sexual health. It’s the people who are in the know that are becoming Barshop’s most lucrative customer, and from where she will build her customer base.
Powerful women have powerful friends.
It's something we’ve been learning for months here at SWAAY and through all of our entrepreneurial success stories. And it’s what Barshop is using to grow her business from the ground. These aren’t services that will be streamlined as fast as her last salons were, and they won’t duplicate with as much ease - in particular because of the specialty nature of the treatments and the doctors required to execute them.
The important thing to remember is that Barshop’s treatments at the spa are non-surgical. They may be completed by a doctor using medical technologies, but you won’t be going under anesthesia or have a hospital bill for this. This is you, taking care of your nether regions in the most groundbreaking way possible - and feeling fabulous doing it. The spa and the surrounding area are beautiful and Barshop is the queen mother of vagina spas, waiting to care of something you’ve felt afraid of, or neglected for who knows how long.
She’s ready for you - so the only questions remains is - are you ready for your va-juvenation?
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."