A Labiaplasty Lament

I just read this article on Jezebel about labiaplasty, its growing prevalence, and its general fucked-up-ness. I couldn’t agree more that plastic surgery on your vulva is totally messed up if you’re doing it for cosmetic reasons. Here in America, we’re ostensibly against genital mutilation, at least in the form of unnecessary clitoridectormies as they’re practiced in parts of the world to “control” female sexuality and prevent women from enjoying sex. But if we think our labia minora are too big, long, floppy, or just, you know, there, many American women will go under the knife to make their genitals look “tidier.” Ostensibly that’s ok because it doesn’t interfere with sexual function or pleasure, and I’d venture to say that for many women who have this procedure, pleasure may actually be more forthcoming after being Barbified, since obviously they were uncomfortable with their bodies beforehand and it seems likely that made them uncomfortable during sex.

I’ve always been a little conflicted about cosmetic surgery for the same reasons I am about labiaplasty: I think it’s great for people to feel confident, and if some people feel more confident and happy after having had a change made, then who am I to judge? But I hate it that we’re living in a time and place where even the sex organs are up for scrutiny and “correction.” For goodness’ sake, your vulva is deeply connected to you. It’s the site of most of your sexual pleasure! Treat it with respect!

There’s been some movement toward more natural female bodies in pornography in the past few years, thanks to indie pushback and amateur/real-world sex sites growing in popularity. Hell, even Jenna Haze, one of the biggest names in porn in the past decade, only films women with natural boobs for her company (except for in the few movies she’s made that explicitly featured enhanced boobs). But meanwhile, there’s been very little said about the fact that most of the vulvas we see in porn are incredibly “neat” looking. I know a few performers who have had labiaplasty, and I can see why that’s a career decision for them. If you stand to get more work because your down-theres are easy to look at, then of course you might consider doing it. And I’d assume that a lot of women who do well in the porn industry are simply born with particularly tidy pussies, which helps them get a leg up in the industry.

I can’t help thinking that, with porn’s obsession with anatomy-textbook-grade HD closeups of genitals, many of us are getting a much clearer view of the vulvas of American women than we may have previously. And that sucks, because vulvas are not supposed to all look trim and svelte and pink and hairless. Vulvas may have more variation across the board, in their natural state, than any other piece of the human anatomy; my man-friend has told me on several occasions that “vaginas are creatures with very different personalities.” And it’s true; I’ve seen lots of vulvas in person and in pictures and in movies, and they’re so wildly different it’s hard to even tell they’re the same thing sometimes. And that’s amazing. Our culture supposedly prizes the idea of individuality. We are told from birth that we are all special, unique snowflakes and that we should always strive to “be ourselves.” And women who are born women are particularly blessed in that area: we all have genitals that are absolutely unique to ourselves. That’s fucking cool.

So, yeah, love your vulva! Dig your labia! Celebrate your sex! But then… I have to get personal about it. I’m all for people loving their bodies and being proud of them, but just because I think that on a philosophical level doesn’t mean that I’m immune to the body image messages out there, particularly in porn, which I’m very well versed in. I am totally grossed out by my skinny arms and bony shoulders. I think my butt is too big for my size. My jaw is asymmetrical and I have a mole on my chin that I find nasty. And my vulva… I don’t know. I mean I like it because it makes me feel great, quite frequently. But if I had to spend a long time looking at it, I’d probably start thinking it was horribly ugly.

This is just how it goes. I don’t think it’s just a female thing; I’m sure guys are just as easily persuaded to hate their bodies, and we all know that for many men, self esteem is tied very closely to the aesthetics and metrics of the penis.  But as a woman it’s pretty easy to totally despise your own body. For crying out loud, today during the pre-ceremony TV coverage of the President’s inauguration, the commentators were talking about what designer the female dignitaries were wearing. Because as women, their appearance is more important than anything else, like what they do or what they’ve contributed to the world. And in a time and place where pornography is easy to find and most of the pornography shows very detailed shots of female anatomy, it’s really easy to think that your privates don’t measure up. I mean, let’s be honest… and here’s the thing I hate to admit… vulvas can be really weird looking. And I like mine. And I like other vulvas. I even love being near other vulvas. I like touching them. I like putting my face in them. They’re fantastic. But that doesn’t mean that their appearance is always the most delectable part of the experience. They can be strange looking and sometimes even a little ugly. But maybe that’s really the beauty of it. They’re weird and they’re all over the place as far as size, shape, color, furriness, and so on. But they’re the seat of incredible power and pleasure, and in that way they’ve got a beauty that’s all their own. Maybe we should just respect them for what they are, because seriously… I’ve known some vulvas who could kick some ass and take names, and frankly, they deserve my respect. As Betty White said, “If you really wanna get tough, grow a vagina.   Those things take a pounding.”

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