In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Do whatever you want with your body, but please don’t get “the Barbie”

This two-part series on labiaplasty is all kinds of horrifying / fascinating / mostly horrifying (part 1, part 2). Usual caveat: Do I think that people should legally be able to do pretty close to whatever they want with their bodies? Yes. Do I nonetheless think that amputating part or all of your inner labia because you want a designer vagina is about 17 kinds of fucked up and says a whole lot about our culture and our views on female sexuality? Yes. The fact that there’s a labiaplasty surgery called “the Barbie,” which removes the entire inner labia, is horrific. Barbie doesn’t have genitals! Barbie is a plastic doll. The goal of looking like you don’t have a vulva — not for any medical purpose, but because normal female genitalia has somehow been deemed aesthetically displeasing — is a pretty disturbing one.

People modify their genitals for all kinds of reasons, and have been doing so for centuries — see, e.g., circumcision. But a whole lot of female genital modification has been based on a hostility to female sexuality, and a related disgust with the female body. There are of course some people who have labiaplasty for medical reasons, but those are few and far between. The vast majority of women who are removing part or all of their labia are doing it for aesthetic purposes. I don’t blame women themselves for wanting to conform their bodies to a particular aesthetic ideal — most of us do that to some degree, although not usually to the point of amputating a body part — but I do blame a sexual culture that sees female sexuality as existing to serve and please men, and that views women as receptacles for male pleasure.

Also, the doctors who are performing these surgeries and who evidence some very clear disgust with totally normal human bodies? Fuck those guys.

125 thoughts on Do whatever you want with your body, but please don’t get “the Barbie”

  1. Ethical doctors are committed to First, Do No Harm. Unnecessary surgery that harms the patient is unethical, EVEN if the would-be patient THINKS that they want it. The doctors that cater to this kind of self-hatred should be stripped of their licenses. Enough said.

    1. Ethical doctors are committed to First, Do No Harm. Unnecessary surgery that harms the patient is unethical, EVEN if the would-be patient THINKS that they want it. The doctors that cater to this kind of self-hatred should be stripped of their licenses. Enough said.

      But, and while I don’t think this is necessarily an issue with labiaplasty, “harm” is often a purely social construct and the idea of a doctor telling a patient “I know better for you than you do for yourself so tough shit” comes with a lot of dangers. A person suffering enormous pain has to basically be lucky enough to find a doctor willing to take a risk if they want help exiting a life that has become unbearable, vile paternalism from controlling doctors is a serious impediment to a lot of trans people receiving the services they need, and lets not forget the ways in which the idea of knowing better and avoiding a given construction of harm is being strategically used by opponents of basic reproductive rights. I’m pretty uncomfortable with pressuring doctors to overrule their patients based entirely on social constructs.

      1. Cool. So how about you tell us how any of that relates to the actual surgery under discussion, which in this case is labiaplasty?

        1. By all means attempt to use the language of social justice to support a practice that’s oppressive towards women, but you’re kidding yourself if you think nobody is going to call you on it.

        2. I think William is pretty clearly not supporting this specific kind of surgery, but saying that a general policy of refusing procedures based on perceived harm could have negative consequences for trans people, people seeking euthanasia, etc.

        3. In which case he’s conflating things that don’t need to be conflated in a way that isn’t helpful to any of the groups of people involved. It’s a lazy intellectual co-out. It’s really not that hard to take a more fine-grained approach, and doctors do need to retain the power to say no to patients in some circumstances.

        4. There’s also the fact that “trans woman seeking labiaplasty” and “cis woman seeking labiaplasty because she feels like she needs to look like whatever she’s seeing in porn” are not at all the same things. The conflation of the two and the suggestion that the fact that we support the first means that we can’t discuss how the second is problematic bothers me.

        5. Trans people who desire SRS would almost certainly be caught under the umbrella of “don’t allow people to modify their sexual organs”.

          People who are intersex or have otherwise truly non-conforming genitalia, who want to modify it, would be caught under this umbrella.

          And how would you even begin to put a policy into effect? It would be completely subjective to the power of the doctors to decide who is and isn’t allowed to do what with their bodies. The more power you give someone else over your body, the more chances you give someone else to abuse it.

          And, lastly, the dynamic of giving men power to decide what a woman can do with her vagina is one that makes me so supremely uncomfortable that I’d rather convince women not to do this than order people to stop them.

        6. It would be completely subjective to the power of the doctors to decide who is and isn’t allowed to do what with their bodies.

          That is the case now. Doctors aren’t compelled to provide services against their well. They use their professional judgment. A doctor is not a short-order cook.

          I’d rather convince women not to do this than order people to stop them.

          How is wanting more doctors to say “This is a completely unnecessary and unethical thing to do and I won’t be a part of it” ordering anybody to do anything? How is a doctor saying that stopping anybody from doing something? Are doctors not supposed to make professional decisions?

        7. EG, this whole conversation was started by WordWizard arguing that doctors who perform these procedures (or any procedures that cause harm, even if patients want those procedures) should be stripped of their licenses. I’m not entirely sure what we’re arguing about any more – that these procedures are unethical? Or that they should be prohibited, either by law or by licensing body?

          I agree that doctors’ ethical standards should be higher than those imposed upon them by the law or by licensing bodies. I think these surgeries are a revolting expression of the pornographic hatred of women’s bodies. I think any doctor who would seek profit from patriarchy is execrable as a human being.

          But I don’t know what it would mean to ban this sort of thing. A narrowly-targeted law might avoid banning medically necessary surgeries for trans folks, intersex folks, and others. But I am not sure who I would trust to write such a law.

        8. By all means attempt to use the language of social justice to support a practice that’s oppressive towards women, but you’re kidding yourself if you think nobody is going to call you on it.

          Notice how I explicitly said that I don’t think this applies to cosmetic labiaplasty when I said “while I don’t think this is necessarily an issue with labiaplasty.” I’m not co-opting the language of social justice to support the practice. I find it repellent. What I was objecting to was the idea that we should be empowering the state, who has traditionally done a hell of a lot of harm to patients in the name of paternalism and continues to do that harm to this fucking day, to strip doctors of their licenses for doing it because you’re going to see some pretty serious unintended consequences.

          I know, it sounds great to get all involved in decisions made between women and their doctors but when you open that door for even the most righteous of causes you’re going to have half a dozen oppressive assholes follow right on behind you. The exact same logic you’re employing here is used by forced birth proponents to pass laws requiring ultrasounds or clucking warnings about fetal development designed to guilt women out of having abortions, its the same logic that leads to trans people having to jump through hoops because society assumes that anyone who doesn’t like their assigned gender could well be crazy and needs to prove otherwise, its the same logic that leads to psych patients being forced to take medications with severe side effects because someone else has decided its for their own good, its the same logic that has traditionally supported forced sterilizations, ECT, and lobotomies.

          So you can imagine whatever you want about my intentions and call me out if you feel you need to, thats fine, but don’t for a moment imagine that I’m not going to turn around and call you out for the same reactive reach to state-sponsored oppression that is far more likely to be used against women (and the disabled, and the mad, and people of color, and the poor, and pretty much anyone else not white, rich, and male) that for them. Because, at the end of the day, what you’re saying is “fuck bodily autonomy and allowing patients to make informed decisions about their own bodies with their doctors because I know better” and I’ve seen the end result of that repellent logic as a provider having to fight tooth and nail to get their patient’s opinions heard, as a patient held down and forced to submit, and as a friend of people denied basic fucking care because someone else thought they knew better.

          Never again. Not seeing women make a choice I disagree with (as if the idea that my opinion about someone else’s body isn’t what started this whole goddamn mess in the first place) just isn’t worth seeing people I care about suffer in the name of what some other asshole thinks about their bodies.

        9. You’re correct, Alexandra, but telling doctors not to regulate themselves or adopt professional standards is an absurd position.

        10. Have fun with those projections, William.

          (For everyone else – please note that what I would like to see doctors lose their licenses for isn’t doing labiaplasty in general, it’s doing things that the patient didn’t ask for or agree to, which unfortunately happens quite a bit.)

        11. Have fun with those projections, William.

          Care to point out where you think I’m projecting and what you think I’m attempting to defend against or are you just tossing words around?

      2. I am really struggling to understand just what William has said here that’s wrong.

        Of course the kind of labiaplasty being discussed here is completely different — as I pointed out — from the kind that many trans women have. And of course nobody here is conflating the two. But anyone who doesn’t understand how these things work in practice is naive or uninformed or both. Karak doesn’t really go far enough in saying that it’s “almost certain” that any kind of new guidelines or regulations, whether within the medical profession or imposed externally, either restricting genital modications or imposing new standards for informed consent, will be applied in a way that hurts trans people long before anything is done that restricts cosmetic surgery. How do I know this? Because every one of the arguments people are making about unnecessary surgery, lack of informed consent, etc. — or that it’s impossible for any consent to such surgery to be a truly informed or voluntary choice — has been repeatedly used against trans women for decades, and still is. Most of you have no idea whatsoever of the humiliating and unnecessary hoops trans women have to jump through to be able to be approved for such surgery by one of the small handful of surgeons in the USA who are competent and willing to do it. If a few cosmetic surgeons give up doing the kind of labiaplasty being discussed here, because the burdens are too high and they’re afraid of losing their licenses or being sued for malpractice if people change their minds, there will be dozens or hundreds of others to take their places. If a few surgeons who help trans women give it up, there won’t be any left at all. And speaking of unintended consequences, I’d like to know how people who argue that it’s impossible to give informed consent to the complete removal of external female genitalia actually think that regulations would be written in a way that would still allow trans men to have genital surgery, remove their breasts, etc. — all of which, of course, many people consider to be radical, unnecessary, mutilating surgery on the healthy “female body.” The answer is, they wouldn’t.

        1. That said, I completely agree that the sort of thing being described here — and, no, I will not look at the pictures — is barbaric, and in an ideal world I’d ban it tomorrow. But the world isn’t ideal. What’s the answer? Education? Publicity? Public shaming of doctors who do this? Requiring women to be shown movies of surgical results before they have the surgery? Now we’re right back to some of the analogies William raises.

        2. I don’t see any good reason why a professional body couldn’t in theory write their guidelines in such a way that surgeons are discouraged from doing this kind of surgery for cosmetic reasons, and even more discouraged from advertising it, while still allowing members to perform surgery for patients who are trans. It seems to me that pressuring the professional bodies who regulate this stuff to write their guidelines in a way that’s sensitive to the needs to trans patients would be more useful than throwing up our hands and doing nothing, or saying that we shouldn’t even suggest doing something in case it might potentially have unintended consequences.

          Also, I really hope I’m misreading your argument, but it sounds like what you’re saying is that if there’s a possibility that limiting the number of doctors who do labiaplasty might have an impact on the ability of people who’re trans to access a similar but not quite the same surgery then oh well, guess we just have to shrug our shoulders at the fact that something you yourself describe as “barbaric” is going to continue to be done to a lot of cis women – not for reasons intrinsic to who they are, like for trans women, but because porn has made them insecure about the way their vulvas look.

        3. oh well, guess we just have to shrug our shoulders

          Don’t make this into a trans women vs. cis women issue, because it’s one step from that to implying that if trans women end up having to be thrown under the bus for a chance at the “greater good” (with no certainty that the greater good will actually be achieved), then so be it, given how small in number trans women are. There’s more than a hint of that in your argument.

          Once again, I’m saying that regardless of what can be written in “theory,” history tells me it’s very likely not to happen that way in practice. It isn’t exactly as if trans people and their allies have a whole lot of influence, or as if most of the people who would actually be doing the advocacy in this area give a flying you-know-what about trans people. Which is why I’m suggesting being cautious about advocating a regulatory approach. God forbid you should recognize that maybe, just maybe, I’ve thought about these things and their practical implications a whole lot more than most people. Because I’ve had to. And no, god damn it, I am not suggesting “shrugging my shoulders.”

        4. No, what I’m saying is that we need to find a solution that doesn’t throw anyone under the bus. What bothers me about William’s argument is the idea that even suggesting that we should try to do something is throwing trans people under the bus (as well as the fact that he seems to be incapable of saying anything without being condescending), because that leaves us in a situation where the “barbaric” stuff just keeps on happening. It will keep escalating, too, because traditionally that’s what’s always happened with cosmetic surgery, and because of peer groups influencing each other.

          I don’t think this is the kind of thing that a government ban would be in any way useful for. That’s far too much of a blunt instrument. What’s needed is for the professional organizations that govern the doctors and surgeons to set some guidelines, and for those of us who care about this stuff to try to influence that process in such a way that nobody ends up under that bus.

        5. I’m having a real issue with this whole thing being framed as “horrible bad doctors do things to poor sad brainless cis women who just can’t HELP voluntarily seeking expensive mutilating surgery”, particularly when the suggested measures I’ve seen for dismantling this bullshit at the doctors’ level have been impractical or just plain ridiculous. Yes, the doctors are horrible and bad, but you know, if it comes down to making me choose between potentially fucking over trans women who need to get surgery so they’re not in constant psychological trauma, and paternalistically limiting the choices even of some rich, dim ditz “for her own good”, I’m going to come down on the side of helping the trans woman every damn time. And believe me, there’s no non-bus-throwing solution if you’re attacking this at the provider level. I mean, attacking issues at the provider level is going SO well for issues like anti-FGM activism, anti-abortion activism, anti-euthanasia activism, right? We should just keep right on that train!

        6. And sorry, and I know everybody’s going to jump on me and yell for this, but if you have $6000 to throw away on getting a “Barbie”, you probably have enough to buy a $20 book on media and feminism and figure out why that’s a bad idea. At some point, people have to acknowledge that women have some damn responsibility for their choices – you know, the ones they hunt down specialised doctors, go through long waiting lines and shell out sums greater than the annual income of people on disability to make. Everyone was just fine judging people for wanting to get diamond engagement rings; why is this some big different deal? Unless you’re seriously going to tell me that Barbie-style labiaplasties are as much of a popular, well-known and normative social convention as engagement rings.

        7. If “rich, dim ditz” is how you’re going to describe a bunch of women who’re being negatively impacted by porn and plastic surgery marketing then you’re right – there’s no point in continuing this conversation. Bye.

        8. If “rich, dim ditz” is how you’re going to describe a bunch of women who’re being negatively impacted by porn and plastic surgery marketing.

          Nope, not the women negatively impacted by porn and plastic surgery marketing, just a chunk of the ones who have the time and money and resources to apparently fling money at expensive elective surgery. Like I said, at some point, SINCE AND ONLY SINCE THE MEASURES YOU SUGGEST WOULD NEGATIVELY IMPACT TRANS WOMEN, who are statistically less rich and in far more pain, policing the voluntary choices of women with the economic resources to get themselves an education or maybe even just a rudimentary clue is of less than no interest to me in proportion. I’m interested in dismantling the shit that’s hurting them, but it’s a far second to how urgent the needs of trans women are.

          To me, anyway. Feel free to prioritise as you will. But proposing measures that right off the bat would result in transphobic doctors being assholes to trans people with legal backing, and refusing to back down on it when called out by a trans woman (aside from making vague nods towards “well nobody should suffer” in your replies), means that I wasn’t really hoping for that much perspective from you in the first place.

    2. A plastic surgeon could ethically dock or shape the labia minora at a patient’s request. (I wish there were no demand for such a service, but it’s within the bounds of ethical cosmetic surgery.)

      Removing the entire structure for purely cosmetic reasons seems borderline unethical. If a plastic surgeon was amputating fingers, ears, or ribs, we’d consider that ethically dubious, even if the patients consented.

      If you google Dr. Alinson, the plastic surgeon who invented “The Barbie,” and look at the “before” and “after” pictures, it’s hard to characterize this procedure as anything other than a homegrown form of female genital mutilation. It’s quite horrifying.

      1. I think it would help this conversation if everyone would Google the “Barbie” and look at the pictures to get a grasp on what we’re actually talking about. The fact that I did so is why my gut response to the whole “harm is a social construct” business was “fuck you”. Which I didn’t say, but I guess the sentiment came across anyway.

        1. Now, now Cassandra, just because we are encouraging cutting off large chunks of the female body for no reason doesn’t mean our culture is fucked up.

        2. If only we could overcome the foolish social constructs that lead us to see the complete removal of the external female genitalia because porn is making people hate their own bodies as harmful!

          (Yeah, I’m still a little annoyed at that guy.)

        3. Keep being annoyed. Right now you’re saying that doctors should be prevented from removing anything. I’m totally in favor of advocating for ethical standards that would marginalize and hopefully eliminate the practice. That said, once you give someone authority over someone’s body you lose the ability to control how that authority will be used and neither the government nor the medical profession has done shit to make me believe that that they’ll keep it to social justice issues.

          You and I agree that this is likely harm. Now take a second and imagine what happens when this is used as a precedent for the latest GOP creature babbling on about “legitimate rape.” I give it less than a congressional term before someone makes the argument that if you can pull a license for removing labia you can pull a license for removing a fetus. Although it’ll be phrased as “why can you stop a woman from beautifying her vagina but not from murdering her baby” and the mob will eat it right the fuck up.

        4. William, they are doing that anyway. The right wing’s attack on abortion continues no matter what we do or say.

          Anyway, they’ll never be able to bring themselves to say “labia” in public. It’d almost be worth it to watch them dance around it.

        5. I know that they’re already doing that, but I don’t think further weakening the ability of doctors and patients to make decisions together without the legal (and, looking back, I don’t think I was clear in saying I’m talking about legal measures like taking away a license rather than the development of socially responsible professional ethics) interference of external political forces is going to do anything but give the forced birth crowd more tools. Hell, its actually worse than that for me because its also going to give more tools to the forced medication argument, create more situations in which trans people have an even high bar to clear if they want to access care (which is going to price even more people out of care entirely), and lead to a further erosion of basic bodily autonomy.

          Thats my beef here. I agree that purely cosmetic labiaplasty is creepy and depressing and that we ought to work to make it something doctors aren’t trying to sell, I just don’t think that going after medical licenses is a responsible way to pursue that goal because it necessarily means creating a precedent that will be used against vulnerable populations.

        6. How about taking away doctors’ medical licenses for not getting anything even remotely resembling informed consent, William? Because the article makes it sound like these doctors don’t at all, and I’d say that’s really what’s at issue here. (Nobody but you is actually saying that doctors should be banned from performing labiaplasties; that’s an utter straw man).

          And I mean this for all doctors– I don’t want someone who doesn’t inform patients of all the risks and benefits of the procedure performing an abortion, either. (And here I mean real, research-supported risks, possible side effects, etc, including the fact that the risks are pretty low. Not some bullshit unscientific right wing script).

        7. How about taking away doctors’ medical licenses for not getting anything even remotely resembling informed consent, William?

          Yes, I do have something of a history of opposition to informed consent round here.


          Nobody but you is actually saying that doctors should be banned from performing labiaplasties; that’s an utter straw man

          You got me! I certainly wasn’t respond to WordWizard saying

          EVEN if the would-be patient THINKS that they want it. The doctors that cater to this kind of self-hatred should be stripped of their licenses.

          I mean, thats not even the comment I responded to and we’re not having this discussion in that very thread.

          And I mean this for all doctors– I don’t want someone who doesn’t inform patients of all the risks and benefits of the procedure performing an abortion, either.

          I agree. I also agree that the doctor discussed in the article is vile and unethical. No where have I said, or implied, otherwise. All I’m saying is that talking about pulling licenses for performing procedures we find horrifying is going to lead to some very serious unintended consequences.

        8. That said, once you give someone authority over someone’s body you lose the ability to control how that authority will be used

          Uh, welcome to the entire concept of doctors? They kind of have a lot of power over your body, for better or worse, and having stricter rules about what they’re allowed to do to said body would be spiffy.

          But please, warn us moar about the government getting involved in our lady-bodies, wouldn’t you? It’s a totally new concept.

        9. @ Bagelsan

          Uterus-having pro-choice feminists get yelled at by some dude about how they’re empowering the government to control women’s bodies. Laugh a lot.

        10. Bagelsan,

          No, that isn’t the entire concept of doctors. Doctors are supposed to be care providers, not authority figures. Sure, they have expert knowledge, but authority is neither central to their role nor to their responsibilities. More importantly, when someone is talking about licenses to practice (which is what I was responding to) we’re no longer talking about a decision between a doctor and a patient but adding an additional means for the bodies of patients to be politicized.

          I’m not trying to warn anyone about their lady bodies and I know you’re well aware that this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about patient rights or bodily autonomy. It wasn’t too long ago that I was invited to blog about those things in this very space. I’ll be damned if I’m going to apologize for suggesting that maybe we ought not be encouraging the government to get involved in private medical decisions even if we think they’re horrible ideas because that kind of power and authority is routinely used (and fundamentally exists) not to keep people safe from disgusting social pressures but to enforce disgusting social pressures. Not when I’ve watched patients shuffle back from a hospitalization with life-long extrapyramidal symptoms because a doctor thought that they must not really be allergic to Haldol and were only saying that to avoid having to take the med because they’re crazy. Not when I still remember what it felt like to be in a restraint position, my eyes stinging from being held down in a puddle of someone else’s piss, my fingers turning blue from losing blood, and someone with the best of intentions telling me I needed to calm down and this is for my own good. Not when this latest rash of mass shootings means people attacking patient privacy in the name of safety because, shit, everyone knows those kids with Aspergers are dangerous. Not when I’ve got patients today who can’t get the medication they need because doctors are afraid their licenses will be pulled.

          But who cares about intersectionality and unintended consequences, right? God knows sections of this community have shown over and over again that they couldn’t give two shits about the ways in which other people might be being oppressed, especially if those other people are crazy, brown, or trans. So go ahead and call me an asshole or laugh at me or accuse me of mansplaining or whatever else it is you need to do for whatever reasons you feel like it. I’ll still be here, and I’ll still be talking, I’ve never been much for being shouted down.

        11. Uterus-having pro-choice feminists get yelled at by some dude about how they’re empowering the government to control women’s bodies. Laugh a lot.

          Fucking seriously? Look, um, uterus-having pro-choicer here, who sees that William has a goddamn point about deciding to institute arbitrary rules for what doctors can and can’t do. I would infinitely rather that some women undergo ass-backwards bullshit cosmetic surgeries that they volunteered and desired than that transphobic doctors seize on some tenuous “no performing non-medical labiaplasties” rule to, say, deny trans men labiaplasties. Or trans women. Hm?

        12. Yeah, another uterus-having pro-choicer here who is with William and mac. The surgery? Is vile, as are the standards about what women ‘should’ be that are behind it. But there are other ways of working against those standards and discouraging people from doing this that do NOT throw trans people and others under the bus, and that do NOT involve inventing yet another precedent for taking people’s decisions about their OWN bodies out of their hands. Things like education, activism to change cultural norms, advocating for our ownership of our own bodies, and so on.

          Because, you know what? Whatever social pressures come into play, at the end of the day women and other vulva-having people do have agency and can make choices about their own bodies. Including the choice to get a fucked-up surgery, if that’s what they’ve decided they want, for whatever reason. Nobody is forcing people at the point of a gun to have the surgery (and if they were, the coercion itself would *already* be a crime). If doctors are going beyond the terms of what their patients have agreed to, that is *already* a violation of their ethics as it would be in *any* surgery. In neither case are new, intrusive regulations required.

          And if a woman decides that she wants this surgery, no matter how fucked up and vile I think it is, in the end it’s her fucking body and her fucking choice. And I’m not ok with forcibly taking away a woman’s right to do as she pleases with her own body just because I don’t like the choices she makes.

          I’d rather work towards a world where she isn’t pressured to make that choice in the first place, because there aren’t disgusting standards about women’s bodies in force. And we sure as hell are not going to ever get to that world if we think that taking away women’s control over their own bodies is an appropriate or logical way to go about it.

        13. OK, and I agree with all that you’ve been saying, but that also seems like a really easy way to absolve doctors of any moral responsibility for their actions. And I’m really not comfortable with the idea of doctors as restaurants, where you just order what you want and that’s that.

          I agree about choice, and consciousness-raising, and education etc. but is there not room as well for non-license-pulling measures and professional standards? Say, censure by the AMA? Revocation of AMA membership?

          Ultimately doctors do have moral responsibility for what they choose to do. They could say no. God knows enough of them choose not to learn how to perform abortions.

      2. @ ch

        The thing about plastic surgery is, it’s not as if the patients are all coming in already decided about what exactly they want done and the doctors are doing exactly that without giving their own input. As the article makes very clear, the surgeons are allowing their own attitudes as far as what they think makes for a pretty vulva to influence the way they speak to their patients, which may then influence what the patients decide to have done. Even just within that one article we have a patient who in retrospect wished that she’d decided on the less radical procedure, but she was working with the guy who invented “the Barbie”, and that’s what she got.

        I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    3. Ethical doctors are committed to First, Do No Harm. Unnecessary surgery that harms the patient is unethical, EVEN if the would-be patient THINKS that they want it.

      a thousand times yes.

      just saw the pics online-
      its like from scifi.
      like this;
      Lamia Mutable-Again, Dangerous Visions
      soon we’ll all be modified.

  2. My immediate response to reading about The Barbie.!The_Scream.jpg

    I think the fact that male doctors are more likely than female doctors to recommend this surgery is rather telling. There’s a long history of male doctors imposing their aesthetic ideals on their patients (giving patient larger breast implants than they asked for, as an example, or performing pelvic surgeries on women post-birth without bothering to ask the patient’s opinion). I feel like that’s such a clear breach of professionalism that the doctors in question should be at risk of losing their license to practice if a patient complains.

  3. Ow ow ow ow ow. I can’t. I’m going back under my Rock of Oldsness and pretend that stuff like this doesn’t happen.

  4. Alicia Klein […] sees pornography as a driving force behind the anxieties of genital appearance. “It’s normal now to feel a little insecure or worried about an ‘out-y’ labia,” she says. “There is a little bit of pressure to keep up with everything.”

    “Normal?” “Keep up?”

    Oh. My. God.

    1. “Honey, did you see Mrs. Johnson’s labia? Why, it was almost entirely gone! She is the envy of the PTA. Now why can’t we do something like that?”

    2. “Hey my dear little sweetie, why don’t you go get your penis chopped up for no medical reason, hmmm? Then we’ll see about this labiaplasty.”

      Boys start using porn long before they actually have sex, and then when they do have sex as adults, chances are they’re disgusted by bodies with actual visible labia, and consider a woman frigid if she doesn’t enjoy sex with no lube, foreplay, or clitoris stimulation, and dares object to such delights as having a dick shoved up her ass with no lube as hard and fast as possible, followed by a nice money shot in her face. *puke*

    3. See, the proper response to a man telling you your labia are unacceptably ugly is not surgery.

      It’s, “Go fuck yourself, because you certainly will never fuck me.”

      1. I’m not saying all men, or even all of the ones who watch porn. But sadly, certainly some I’ve met. And yes, Zuzu, that is the right attitude.

        1. I’ve never been pressured to hack off my labia, but I have been pressured to shave my vulva, been told the whole reason I wasn’t being told to shave was because I wasn’t “THAT hairy” (these were from different people), been told that lube wasn’t necessary for anal and spit was just as good, and been asked “you’re bisexual, right? Want to have a threesome?” Porn influences some people. Not all people. These incidents all come from 1/3 of the people I’ve slept with, and of the remaining 2/3, at least one of them watched a relatively large amount of porn–all of the feminist/queer kind.
          I don’t think it’s a ridiculous idea to blame the desire for designer vaginas on porn. But I also don’t think it’s the only factor in play.

      2. Indeed zuzu!! I also wonder if women who have these creepy labiaplasties are also interferring with sensitivity and sexual pleasure. I’ll apologize now if this is TMI but in my experience, it is very pleasurable to have my inner labia rubbed by the spouse during funtimes. I doubt that is unique to me.

    4. Yeah, who the hell is this person to assume that everyone (even “everyone in a particular country”) a) uses porn at all, b) uses a type of porn that has these sick attitudes to women’s bodies or c) takes their notions of what’s “normal” from porn?

      Go fuck yourself with a Lego, sirrah.

      1. Whoops, didn’t read carefully – delete “sirrah”.

        But ditto to the response to any man who thinks there’s something wrong with women’s bodies because they don’t conform.

        “Here’s a knife, sonny. You first.”

      2. Uh, not to pause the rageasaur, but is there a type of feminist porn that’s super popular with boys nowadays that I just haven’t heard of? Or are we arguing that porn has no influence on a teenager’s expectations of what sex should be like?

        Sure not everyone watches porn but a lot of people do, and it has clear effects on real-life sexual standards. That’s kind of the point of this article.

        1. I know it’s very widespread, but I raised my eyebrows a bit at the “it’s normal” like it’s going to be affecting most people everywhere.

  5. There are of course some people who have labiaplasty for medical reasons, but those are few and far between

    I would agree with you if the definition of labiaplasty were narrow enough to include only this kind of surgery. It isn’t. There are other kinds of labiaplasty as well, including what I had done.

    So I think that “[t]here are of course some people who have this kind of labiaplasty for medical reasons, but those are few and far between,” would be a far more accurate statement.

    Yes, I know that the kind of labiaplasty I’m referring to (and vaginoplasty, for that matter) is probably numerically inconsequential compared to the kind that’s the subject of this article, but it’s very necessary for many trans women, and I’d prefer it if it weren’t invisibilized. (This feels like where I came in, on a thread about genital modification surgery about 16 months ago. So I’m anticipating the likely response, which I got on that thread, that what I’m mentioning affects so few people that it’s unimportant, and I’m derailing to bring it up at all. All I ask is that people try to be a little bit careful in their choice of words. If they were, it wouldn’t be necessary to bring up this kind of thing.)

    1. I am always grateful to read your contributions, Donna. You’re one of the reasons I read and participate in the comments here. Totally not derailing.

    2. The last time I looked it up, slightly above 10% of labiaplasty operations were done for medical reasons. So it is not a totally insignificant portion, though a clear minority of cases.
      (There is not a very clear difference between the classifications. There are borderline cases where it is a judgement call whether for example labial hypertrophy is severe enough that it should be classified as a medical or cosmetic procedure).

  6. So I’ll play old person here and say that bygone era the 1990s, modern primative folks sometimes made deliberate surgical modifications to their genitals — home-brewed with black market local anaesthetics and varying safety. They didn’t do it to look more perfect or aesthetically acceptable, but to reclaim their bodies by doing something bizarre and radical.

    One of those things some people did to be bizarre and radical was removal of labia minora. (Along with radical male genital mods like subincision. Once you google that, you cannot unsee it.) (Note that much of the modprim stuff is white folks blithely appropriating someone else’s culture. I in no way defend against those charges.)

    Now, some cosmetic surgeons are making money convincing women that they will look physically odd or distasteful if they do not do the radical body mod that a generation ago people did to claim their place on the fringe. That is SO fucked up, and points out that the concept of what a woman’s body “should” look like is 100% deployed as social control.

  7. Just what we as a culture need–for women to be comparing themselves to porn images and feel lacking somehow. Boobs not big enough, twat not small enough.

    So, OFF with her labia!

    Yikes, whatever happened to….oh, never mind.

  8. Really, really glad that I’m so poor, and so are the people I hang out with, that this is unlikely to be extremely relevant in my life. But this stuff has a way of “trickling down” culturally, and so much of what is considered “beautiful” already is so unaffordable.

    Yeah… pretty much, one more reason why I’ll never have a family in the US.

  9. yeah it doesn’t even just go one way. its not common but there are those of us born without inner labia, i myself just discovered a few months ago that i am missing something down there that i am supposed to have, and i have been feeling extreme anxiety over it ever since. i’d like a labiaplasty to GIVE me one so i could feel whole, because now all i can think about is if every guy i have slept with noticed i have none and thought my vag was deformed. /sigh. and i feel like i don’t even have the right to my feelings about it because technically according to arbitrary “beauty standards” i should be glad. this beauty culture sucks.

    1. I think you have a right to your feelings. The beauty culture we live in is constructed so that none of us ever feels good enough, no matter how we look. I also think that anybody whom you allow close enough to you to notice, who then judges you, would be a total asshole. Goodness knows I’ve slept with enough total assholes in my time that I don’t judge any woman for realizing she’s done the same, but anyone who judges is saying far more about themselves than about you.

    2. And there are those of us who don’t have them because their surgeon didn’t or couldn’t make them. At least I think I don’t; I’m not entirely sure. And I’m not about to ask my gynecologist!

  10. You know, I’ve heard a lot of women claiming that the trend toward removing all pubic hair is totes not infantilizing, it doesn’t have anything to do with making women look pre-pubescent. And now here we have removing the labia minora to look “neater,” particularly when they protrude past the labia majora. Am I still supposed to believe that this isn’t about trying to make women look like children?

    1. But then at the same time, women are supposed to have big breasts, which is the opposite of making women look like children.

      I don’t get it.

      1. Big breasts don’t seem to conflict with infantilization, somehow. (See: anime. Some of the bustier characters look about 10 years old. >_<)

      2. This suddenly reminded me of a quote about Sam Fox, the 1980s Page 3 girl. An industry insider said he knew she’d be successful because “she has the face of a child and the body of a woman.”

        Actualfax shudder. I read that quote in an essay in Joan Smith’s Misogynies, well over a decade ago, (and from the little I remember of the essay I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone except perhaps as a historical artifact) but that quote always stuck with me.

    2. Actually what jumped out at me as soon as I heard about this trend was the fact that if removing pubic hair wasn’t as much of a thing, the trend for labiaplasty probably wouldn’t be as big either, since part of what’s feeding the labiaplasty trend is that when you remove people’s pubic hair all the bits become a lot more visible. So people are now freaking out over stuff that they might not even have noticed if they hadn’t removed the hair.

      1. Ha, that’s a great point! Kind of like when women started wearing short skirts and freaked out about how their knees looked.

    3. I find it very difficult to believe the “not infantilising” or for that matter the “not a touch of the pedo fetish” in men who insist women should be hairless. Whatever its source, it creeps me out.

        1. I’d be more of “fair enough” in that he does it himself, so it’s not just do what I say, not what I do, but wanting me to depilate would still be a deal-breaker. (Did I phrase that at all clearly?) I wouldn’t be willing to shave my legs or oxters just because a man didn’t like them as they are; my most delicate bits are a no-go zone for shavers or wax or anything along those lines.

      1. The hairless thing is just a fashion trend, one on the wane at that. It’s unlikely that large numbers of men suddenly started wanting preteen girls–just like it’s unlikely that women in the 20’s-50’s wanted preteen boys who couldn’t grow facial hair.

        1. Body policing of women has much more of a history, though. Requiring women to remove body hair is not just a current fashion, it’s been around for centuries and in different cultures. Turkish women were led to believe it was sinful not to remove body hair in previous centuries (see ‘Harem’ by Alev Lytle Croutier). Men’s shaving has been around for millennia, too, but they’ve rarely been required to remove all their body hair except for roles like the priesthood in Ancient Egypt. And women have not had the social power to impose their norms or fetishes on men.

        2. I agree that it has social significance, and that men’s expectations can be onerous and carry more weight than women’s. I guess “insist women should be hairless” goes beyond just having a preference, and I do think men who care a lot about what genitals look like–hair, labia, etc.–are usually swimming in entitlement. Still seems like going overboard to paint them with the pedo brush.

        3. Does anyone know if there have been studies (or at least informed speculation!) on the social origin of men shaving their facial hair? In Europe, the ancient Romans were certainly known for it, and some (but not all) ancient Greeks were depicted without beards, but I don’t know much else about the history of the practice or what its origins were. Was pleasing women a factor? I have no idea.

        4. I should add: I was speaking only about Europe; I know that most men in ancient Egypt were also depicted without beards, not counting the ceremonial pharaonic beard.

        5. Still seems like going overboard to paint them with the pedo brush.

          Good thing I didn’t do that, then. There’s quite a gulf between “look at the way our culture promotes a beauty standard for women that fetishizes prepubescent characteristics; it’s part of infantilizing women rather than recognizing us as equal adults” and “men who like that look want to fuck children.”

          1. I like your idea and I agree with you 101%. This hairless thing and labiaplasty are nothing but the infantilization of women. With due respect, I won’t go for hairless women. The sense of eroticism is simply not there. The hair really does the trick. Some trimmings here and there might help for hygienic purposes, am I right?

        6. Does anyone know if there have been studies (or at least informed speculation!) on the social origin of men shaving their facial hair?

          In ancient Mediterranean Europe, according to tradition shaving was introduced by Alexander the Great so that the beard could not be grabbed in battle. (It sounds suspiciously pat to me, but some sources do make this claim)

          I think that it is simply fashion with no deeper meaning. It has varied much over time and between cultures (So perhaps “the social origin” of shaving does not even exist)

          Somewhat related:
          When it comes to ancient beauty norms I have always found the ancient ideal for the male genitalia rather interesting. Ie The penis should be small, thin, and hairless. Time to return to our roots and start Brazilian waxing for us men also? (No, thank you)

        7. according to tradition shaving was introduced by Alexander the Great so that the beard could not be grabbed in battle

          I am quite sure that the depiction of men (and gods!) without beards in Greek art long predates Alexander the Great.

      1. What sort of natural do you mean? I’m not being snarky, I just don’t know what this refers to. I’m not taking that as aimed at me at all, but I’m not sure if said fetish refers to things like not feeling the need to shave legs/armpits/pubes, or declaring one doesn’t need to bathe/deodorise, or something else again.

        1. I took that to mean men who are into women who don’t shave etc in a way that can verge on the objectifying and creepy– and is often accompanied by a big side of slut shaming: “those women who shave are so fake and misguided and slutty; I like my women natural”. It’s like the guys who creepily claim that they only like women who don’t wear makeup. And like the no makeup guys, they rarely actually want to see women who are completely natural, just women who look completely natural.

        2. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was getting at. Natural meaning letting it do what it does. And that there is now this idea where just leaving your pubes alone is somehow kinky, which is utterly nonsensical. Never mind the fact that you just might not actually give two shits one way or the other. I rarely, if ever, try to make statements with my body hair.

          The bass player in my old band once gave me this lecture about how I needed to get a Brazilian and about how “that’s what men” like. There was no reason why this guy should have any sort of opinion about what was going on between my legs. He was never going to see it. The fact that people try to deny that this kind of body policing is prevalent makes me ragey.

          I quit the band right after that.

        3. ::sigh::

          So it’s more of the ‘whatever you’re doing, you’ll still be wrong’ message women get. Colour me surprised.

          PeggyLuWho – when I read ‘I rarely, if ever, try to make statements with my body hair’ I had a wonderful image of someone stepping up to a podium and saying ‘and now for a short address by my pubes’ 😀

      2. Only in the sense that fetishes are considered “weird and dirty” and now a woman who’s up for sex, only with wrinkles, pores and living imperfection is considered weird and dirty too.

        If the societal ideal we’re all meant to be living up to, in order to be considered any good at being a woman is gonna be quite so “Dita von Photoshop, day-tripping through the Uncanny Valley of the Dolls” about it then…yeah it’s gonna happen.

        And its not the slightest bit new, we just have the technology to make the same old ethereal, reality defying, wipe clean disposable penis receptacle shit even more blatant than the last several thousand years.

        1. ::applauds::

          It’s like that story about John Ruskin supposedly being shocked on their wedding night that Effie Gray had pubic hair. From what I’ve read about them, it might not even have been that – simply that her breasts were, gosh, ordinary women’s breasts, not the peculiar gravity-defying little globes beloved of so much art.

          But yeah, if simply not significantly altering my body (I’m including shaving in this) makes me a fetishist, then fine, I’m a fetishist. Except that changes the whole meaning of the word, because it’s not some sort of fixation, let alone something I get off on; it’s simply having no interest in doing all that depilation nonsense on private parts of my body (which includes legs, since I’m not into shorts or short skirts). I don’t really see how my body/my business translates into a fetish, if that’s what it’s all about.

  11. And one more thing. I don’t want to hear any man ever again whine about how women just don’t understand how much judgment there is regarding penis-size and how we just don’t have to deal with that.

  12. But I don’t understand! Are all these patients women who get absolutely no sexual pleasure from having their labia touched and played with and sucked, or don’t they even care about their own sexual pleasure?

    TMI: I have protruding labia minora, and I LOVE THEM.

    I sort of always felt the same about breast surgery (there’s just no way that you don’t lose sensitivity once a big bag of silicone has been whacked in there) but then lots of women don’t get off on having their breasts stimulated so it’s not something everybody would necessarily consider. But this?

    I just really fucking hate how sexuality gets constructed in a way where women’s subjective experience becomes unimportant, even to the women themselves, and it becomes all about experiencing yourself as the object of a real or potential partner’s sexuality. I feel sad that these women are damaging themselves like this, and I feel sad that it would ever even fucking occur to them to do that.

    1. Honestly, I’d rather lose some sensation in my labia than my breasts…. different women experience sensation differently.

    2. I find myself wondering how long it’ll be before surgeons are saying the clitoris should go too, because it’s just so messy and well, women don’t need to feel pleasure anyway, do they? This whole business is really skirting the full FGM for me. It’s like saying a woman should just have a man shove inside her and it’s not important if she feels no pleasure, or discomfort, or actual pain, as long as she LOOKS like some porn-fed ideal. I can’t imagine sex not hurting if one has no labia minora.

  13. I’m eagerly waiting for the day when we all realize that the majority of us have bodies which are, in some form or another, socially unacceptable to bullies and to idiots. I suspect that appearance insecurity is a carefully cultivated phenomenon originating in corporate greed. I feel very, very sorry for women who accede to this kind of pressure. They need to be reminded that sleeping with jerks, even monied jerks, is a dangerous and expensive pastime. Jerks deserve all the celibacy we can lay on them, if only as punishment for imposing pornification on an otherwise pleasant pastime.
    The comment that this is a sub-rosa means of legitimizing FGM is spot on. Any man who suggests such a thing should expect to be told to have those damned lips removed from his face, and take out that offensive tongue as well.

  14. Many of the nudie mags (yeah I just called them that but I couldn’t think of a better term) in Australia are actually on record about wanting to include women with visible labia minora. Our classifications board, however, has this bizarre thing where they’ve decided that magazines cannot include “explicit” images of genitals where “explicit” means “with visible labia minora”, and though they won’t outwardly admit that that is their policy it means there’s a practice of photoshopping the genitals of any models who might upset the obviously Victorian sensibilities of the average heterosexual softcore-porn consumer so as not to risk a refusal of classification. What logic designates some genitals as more “explicit” than others based on their physical arrangement I don’t know.

    1. I am genuinely confused as to how a close-up crotch shot can be considered non-explicit just because of the size of the labia.

      1. I suppose it’s the same way that if I wear a deep v-neck, it’s no big deal, but if one of my busty friends does, she looks “slutty.” Sexist bullshit.

        1. If she didn’t want to be slutty I guess her genes shouldn’t have coded for boobs, now should they have? That kind of protein synthesis and fat deposition is totally asking for it. Duh.

  15. Who says that women’s vagina are aesthetically displeasing that one has to remove the labia? I may respect a woman’s right for a surgery removing the labia, but, hey, think again! A woman’s vagina is a beauty to behold with all those labia. Without those it will become too artificial/mechanical losing the sense of eroticism.

    1. Caperton had a post on Feministe last year called “Why ‘I prefer small boobs’ isn’t helping”. You might try reading it.

      1. Hello: I missed Caperton’s article last year. Can you give me a summary of his thoughts on the issue, if you don’t mind, please? Thanks in advance.

          1. Hello: Thank you so much. I’ve just read the article – so enlightening, hard-hitting, and thought-provoking! A must-read work for us, men, by a woman liberating us from prefabricated lies in a male-dominated world. Again, thank you.

  16. Most women don’t actually know how other females look down there. Their only information comes from porn and pictures in magazines. These are more often then not photo-chopped (:D) to avoid being censored. If you have no reliable information and you seem to look different from all other woman, you might find yourself in a position to want to modify your body according to censoring rules of porn mags.

  17. Using another handle for this, ’cause embarrassed, but what makes me so sad about those Barbie “before and after” pictures that I found after Googling is… I’ve got “outie” labia minora and years before even seeing porn, I felt sort of ashamed about it, worried it was ugly — somehow I’d internalized the idea without even knowing there was a “porn-standard vagina.” But I figured it my vadge was probably at least “okay.” When I first learned that there were “porn vaginas,” i was shocked and really depressed — I knew my face, my tits, my belly, my body hair, my everything was “wrong” — but I thought my vadge was largely safe! Like, sort of not-right, but at least adequate! Nooooope.

    This Livejournal community called VaginaPagina linked to some site that showed pictures of lots of vulvas and I was really shocked. There was so much variety. There was labia that looked like mine!

    It helped. Sort of. There still is this steady self-hate bubbling under the surface that I wish I could definitively kick. I remember when that picture of all the different vulvas made the rounds on tumblr, and of course the jillions of reblogs and likes don’t stick out in my mind — just the few reblogs that went, “LOL ew” at the outie labia along with the concern trolling to the tune of, “Ohhhh, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, just, wouldn’t it be uncomfortable?”

    So, when I look at those Before/After Barbie pictures, I simultaneously feel like “hey, natural, normal vulvas! OMG WHAT OH NO WHAT DID THEY DO TO YOU BBS” and yet also that the Befores are “ugly” and that the Afters look “neater” all at the same time. IT’S SO FUCKED UP.

    In conclusion: fuck porn-made-by-and-for-straight-dudes and fuck the patriarchy.

    1. Don’t be embarrassed, I’ve got the outie, never before even thought about it and no man ever complained. I have had severe dysplasia that was recurring for a while, so I’ve had slices taken off of me, now one side of the labia is curly/shorter than the other, that did make me feel a bit weird, ugly even. For a while having pieces of my vagina removed was traumatic, I really felt violated even tho it was necessary to stop me from ending up cancerous. I can not wrap my head around someone doing this on purpose to fit some stereotypical idea of what a “pretty” vagina looks like.

Comments are currently closed.