Commenter aspiringexpatriate recently sent me an e-mail entitled: I don’t even know what to say. It included a link to a BBC News article entitled “New Warnings on ‘Perfect’ Vaginas.” The article presents a new medical study about the perils of labiaplasty–surgery to trim and sculpt the labia–and the misguided reasons women (and plastic surgeons) think we need it.
Yes, plastic surgeons can fix your ugly nose, your teeny boobs and your fat-ass cankles. Now they can snip your unsightly, dangly labia too!
Wait, you didn’t know your labia needed surgery? That’s because they don’t:
Research published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology questions the very notion of aesthetically pleasing genitals.
Operations to improve the appearance of the sex organs for both psychological and physical reasons are on the rise. But consultant gynaecologist Sarah Creighton and psychologist Lih-Mei Liao challenged the ethics of offering women surgery to address such insecurities, suggesting it was adverts for a “homogenised, pre-pubescent genital appearance” which created these anxieties in the first place.
Apparently the problem is with our perception, not our pussies. To make things worse, it turns out that labiaplasty can result in post-surgical complications, “by damaging the nerve supply to the area, impairing sexual sensitivity and satisfaction.”
Readers will probably be unsurprised when I say that blame porn for this shift in popular perception. When one version of female genitals–sleek, pink, hairless, and yes, “pre-pubescent” looking–is widely glorified and eroticized, that’s going to become the standard for “sexy.” What’s especially fucked up is that women may be permanently sacrificing their own sexual pleasure in order to obtain that porn-star look:
“Furthermore, quality research is needed to improve our understanding of the psychological drivers behind women’s decision to sacrifice sexually sensitive tissue that contributes to erotic experiences, for a certain genital appearance that used to be an obligation only for some glamour models.” (ed: Glamour models being Brit-speak for Playboy/Penthouse-type nude models)
Even the pro-labiaplasty surgeons quoted in the article agree that it’s rarely medically necessary, and that porn-y media influences women’s decision to have the surgery:
“Women want this for a number of reasons…but for the majority it is aesthetic, that’s true.
“Lads’ mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look. We live in times where we are much more open about our bodies – and changing them – and labioplasty is simply a part of this.”
By “open” he means “willing to expose ourselves to other people’s criticism and let them define how we should look” and by “changing”, he means “willing to undergo potentially damaging surgery on our perfectly healthy bodies to conform to someone else’s idea of sexy.”
A couple years back, Jezebel editors Anna Holmes and Tracie Egan wrote about labioplasty in “Pimp My Vadge”. Egan went to a Manhattan plastic surgeon specializing in labiaplasty to see what he’d say about glamorizing her completely normal genitals:
Frankly, I think this whole cookie-cutter cooch thing is bunch of bullshit. [Egan wrote] I’m a feminist and everything, but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that vaginas aren’t always pretty. The thing is though, vaginas are supposed to be like that. And just like snowflakes, no two are the same. I’m sure there are occasions of extreme physical abnormality, but those cases are rare. Because if they were common, then they wouldn’t be abnormal, now would they?
Honestly, I have no beef with my lips—they’ve always done right by me. So when I was finally in the doctor’s office, and he asked me what I wanted fixed, I had to think fast on my feet—or in my stirrups, rather. It’s really clear to anyone looking that I don’t have a labia minora problem, so I made up a complaint about my labia majora. I was somewhat shocked that he agreed that something could be done to improve the appearance of my pussy.
The whole visit was recorded and you can listen to the audio. You may want to cross your legs while the surgeon describes the procedure to “cut a wedge out” of her labia majora.
What makes this whole mess especially ridiculous is that genitals–female AND male–have never been the most beautiful part of the human body. But as reproduction-loving mammals, we have always found them plenty alluring–until now. Thanks to porn and porn-y media, some people now think our normal protruding labia are a problem that needs a surgical fix. But they aren’t, and the physicians who authored the study score major points with me when they:
…also suggested that any pain apparently caused by [labia's] protrusion may well have a psychological root – noting that male genitalia protrude far further without causing major discomfort.
If theirs can stick out, so can ours.