Monday, July 29, 2013

Labiaplasty. Why on Earth? A Re-Posting

(Originally posted here.)

This story about labiaplasty may not describe a truly common new type of surgery, but that something called vaginal rejuvenation surgery exists is pretty astonishing stuff.  This is cosmetic surgery, for the most part, not surgery to correct something which causes physical pain or discomfort:

While labiaplasty is increasingly popular, it remains controversial, sparking debate within the medical profession broadly, among specialists, and in wider society. The surgery is relatively unregulated and frequently botched, as indicated by the staggering number of clinics that advertise discreet revisions of bungled previous surgeries. At the same time, detractors claim that women have been manipulated by the media to believe in a mythical “perfect vagina.” Some women undergo labiaplasty for medical or practical reasons—large labia can cause irritation and pain during sex and exercise—but the vast majority elect to undergo the surgery for cosmetic purposes, anxious to achieve a more attractive genital area. The desired “look” is consistently that of a smaller, less obtruding vulva, with “neat,” even labia, and this “streamlined” ideal is becoming increasingly minimalist.
“But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”
Dr. Red Alinsod, a urogynecologist in Laguna Beach, California, claims that his most requested surgical procedure is the Barbie: a procedure that excises the entire labia minora. This results in a “clamshell” aesthetic: a smooth genital area, the outer labia appearing “sealed” together with no labia minora protrusion. Alinsod tells me he invented the Barbie in 2005. “I had been doing more conservative labiaplasties before then,” he says. “But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”

Bolds are mine, to make you read the sentences I want you to read!

First, what is this media which manipulates women into believing in a mythical "perfect vagina?"  Could its name possible begin with the letter "p", continue with the letter "o" and end with the letters "r" and "n?"  Duh, that is really completely obvious.  For most women, relatively few people see their labia in the first place and doctors are unlikely to make comments about how they look.

When I wrote "why on earth?" in the title I meant that.  Why on earth do women think that they need to have their genital area trimmed to look like that of a prepubescent girl?  Because that's what the "Barbie look" implies, unless we wish to be literal and assume that women should look like a doll which doesn't have any genitals at all.

The answer cannot be in the advent of the Barbie doll herself.  Barbie is pretty old and labiaplasty as a cosmetic operation is fairly recent.  No, this has to do with the spread of pron views about how women ought to look.  Female pron actors may have had such surgery themselves to increase camera access.  Shaving the pubic area may have some of its (now shaved) roots in the same need for camera access.

It's my guess that "what is normal" in female genitals has become partly defined by pron.  That actors in pron may not be "normal" in the sense of not-surgically-treated-or-enhanced can be forgotten because we don't really talk about this stuff.  Pron is everywhere but consumed in privacy.  Impressions from pron are not tested in discussions and debates.

Another reason to ask "why on earth" has to do with the fact that surgeries are not without risks.  Thus, it's fair to ask why at least some women find those risks worth taking.  What has happened in their lives?  Are their vaginas and labias actually any different than the normal vaginas and labias, when defined not by beauty standards but by actual frequencies in the real world?  What or who has made them want such surgery?

These are not just righteous feminazi questions, my friends.  We can all be extremely vulnerable to any intimate criticisms and since women don't usually (or ever?) compare their labias with other women, no single woman can really know if criticisms of how her labia or vagina looks has any kind of validity (defined on whatever value system you wish or none).  So we should really talk about it, before someone dies in that surgery, for cosmetic reasons.

Third, why is the desired look that of a prepubescent girl?  I already stated that this most likely comes from pron.  But the question also links to how the question of "normality" oddly changes when women's bodies are the field.  We forget what "normal" breasts look like when so many celebrities have artificial breasts.  Artificial becomes the normal.  If you don't happen to match that artificial new-normal norm, then you need to have surgery.

“Women wanna reduce as much as possible while still looking normal,” he says. To this end, he developed the “Alter labia contouring” procedure. Rather than simply trimming or amputating the labia, this technique removes a wedge-shaped segment of tissue from the central section of each inner lip, then sutures the upper and lower edges of the excision together, creating smaller labia from the remaining tissue. The idea is to reduce the size of the labia while preserving the normal color and contour of the labia edge.
Fourth, and finally, isn't it possible that there is a reason for the labia?  Something to do with health and well-being, perhaps?  I have no idea if that's the case, but in general we humans are not terribly eager to cut out parts which our bodies might actually use for something.

None of this is exactly new when it comes to cutting and shaping the female body.  The cutting of  the clitoris and the labia, in Female Genital Mutilation  is an obvious example of such unnecessary surgery, and so are the anecdotes about Victorian women trimming their lower ribs to attain narrower waists or the Chinese foot-binding.  But I'm hoping that we can grow out of such practices.