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Loving Your Ladyparts

November 30, 2013

I posted an article and depiction of an art installation on Facebook, featuring the plaster-casts of 160 vaginas (the article is a miscount), taken from all types of women from young to old, cisgender- and transgender-identifying, adorned and unadorned etc, with the intention of sharing the myriad variety of vaginas that are in existence.  The article, and my reason for posting, was to confront the rising number of women who are seeking plastic surgery to remodel these most tender and intimate of body parts.

There is a great difference between having cosmetic surgery in order to conform to a socialised ideal of beauty and seeking corrective surgery for either transitioning or ridding oneself of discomfort or pain or lack of sexual feeling caused by an extended labia or clitoris/clitoral hood, for example.  I am talking solely about surgery which is intended to alter the look of one’s vaginal area and not to address a medical issue.

My post sparked a discussion partly based on a fundamental misunderstanding of my position as detailed above.  One participant linked to a documentary on the topic, for which I thank them and which can be viewed here, which contains the earlier-mentioned art installation explained by the artist (NSFW – graphic imagery including surgery).

Vaginas change throughout one’s life, that is normal.  It is not discussed and most women have no idea what their own vagina looks like, let alone that of their friends.  As the video states, a vagina varies in labia length from 2 to 10 centimetres, and that variation can occur for just one woman as they grow older.  There is no ‘normal’ look.  It is not a discussion for sex education, but perhaps body image and issues should be discussed in schools and within families, to address this fear of ‘abnormality’ which bears no relation to reality.

The salient point, for me, is the reason why women and girls as young as 16 are having cosmetic surgery on their genitals and consequentially how much of a free choice the decision to beautify oneself is.  We live in a culture where women are valued for their looks and are objectified at every turn.  Females in the public eye will find their clothing, hair, make-up, choice of whether to retain body hair (remember the Julia Roberts has unshaved armpits ‘news’ story?) up for intimate discussion.  Their body of work is eclipsed by discussion about their body.  Studies into the pornification of culture and the correlation between this and increasing pressure to conform to an idealised image of intimate body parts is being conducted.  Such pornification results in there being no part of a woman’s body that is not up for analysis, comparison and rating within a westernised, heteronormative, white-privileged ideal.

Transgender women, who already have to conform to a patriarchal concept of ‘female’ gender in order to seek medical assistance in transitioning, risk transphobic ridicule by prejudiced members of society if they do not conform, but the conformation is to a stereotype.  Thankfully the medical profession is slowly changing in this but society is slower to catch up.  Vaginas vary as much as individuals do, whether cisgender- or transgender-identifying.

Lads mags and glossies promote a particular ideal, and nudity within raunch culture means all parts of women are critiqued.  Pressure is increasing to conform.  Women are pressurised within relationships to ‘beautify’ and I know of more than one woman who has told of being dumped because of an ugly vagina.  Excuse or not for ending a relationship, this is very psychologically damaging.  Vaginas change shape and elasticity as women age, especially if they have had children.  Growing another human (or more than one) and then pushing it out through a tunnel that in my head it really shouldn‘t fit through (I am and shall always remain child-free) is incredible and should be celebrated.  No mother should ever feel ugly or deformed as a result of birthing a child.

Cosmetic surgery will not address the psychological issues which exist.  I spent years wanting rhinoplasty because I felt witch-like and ugly; I still do sometimes but now recognise the peer and social pressure I am under and have reached a point where I can understand we all find different things attractive (a different concept to ‘beauty’) and that I am loved and lovable.  I am seen as beautiful by those that matter to me.  That beauty is subjective, unique to me, and is far more than skin deep.  I don’t always feel that acceptance of myself, I am just as subject to society’s pressures as anyone else, and I know that not everyone will be able to reach that level of acceptance.

To put yourself through such intimate surgery with all the risks that any surgical operation will entail makes me question how much of a free choice it is for a woman to make, given the society we live in.  I will support the choice as I do believe it is a woman’s right to do what she chooses with her body.  But that does not mean I will not question why such a choice is being made, within the context of our patriarchal society.  Sharing the image of the 160 vaginas in the artwork with all the people you know would, I believe, be a good start in addressing this.


From → Ideology

  1. Kate permalink

    I have a friend who knows the artist and have regrettably not managed to meet him yet, but we have had lively conversations about the whole idea behind it. There is an absolute awareness that male genitalia comes in a vast array of shapes and sizes; I find it hard to believe that on a wall of plastercasts of male genitals that most men could not pick out their own penises with a fairly high success rate, and yet my friend and I looked through the brochure accompanying this piece of work and were struggling to identify which of the casts we thought might resemble ours the closest.

    I remember once talking to a woman in a bar about her genital piercings and she remarked that she had 17 piercings. I was genuinely surprised and replied, “I am now suffering from clitoral envy; I had no idea they came in different shapes but there’s definitely not room on mine for 17 piercings”. She said she had a friend with 33 and I was even more surprised. She asked if I wanted to see and promptly took me to the side of the room by the fag machine and undid her trousers. And as I looked in curiosity and realised as an only bi curious and never having practised lesbian sex woman that it was the first time I had really looked at ANY vulva, even my own. Since having stitches after having my children my genitals are something of a mystery to me; if I do find myself properly exploring around that region they feel unfamiliar and almost alien to me.

    There is a perception which children are brought uip with that “Boys have a willy and girls have a hole”, that the female genitals are more of an absence of a willy, a space, a nothingness, and very little thought is given to what IS there.

    • “There is a perception which children are brought up with that “Boys have a willy and girls have a hole”, that the female genitals are more of an absence of a willy, a space, a nothingness, and very little thought is given to what IS there.” – beautifully put, you are so right.

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