Loving Your Ladyparts
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.