Plastic Surgery: Has It Finally Gone Too Far?
The relative mainstreaming of the sex industry along with popular culture and its objectification of women in many forms, such as in advertisements, have led to a perpetually increased sense of pressure among many women to obtain seamlessly sexualized and almost airbrushed bodies. The movement towards this idealized physique began with the now socially approved breast augmentations, liposuctions, rhinoplasties, and so on. Yet the road to achieving this perfect body has taken a turn below the belt, and the new craze is for women to alter the shape of their labias to create a more aesthetically pleasing look. The new trend for women to shape the size of their labias is a practice that virtually serves no purpose and fosters negative social obligations for females. The practice essentially takes away from the notion that every woman is beautiful in her own way by comparing each woman to her neighbor, and classifying genitals on an “abnormal” or “normal” scale. The Second Wave Feminism urged women to take out their hand mirrors and embark on self discovery and celebration. However, women were now beginning to look for imperfections and defects, such as large labias, and were seeking possible ways of fixing these imperfections. The surgical procedure, called a labiaplasty, involves trimming away labial tissue, and sometimes injecting fat from another part of the body into labia that have been deemed excessively droopy. In contrast to the tightening operation known as “vaginal rejuvenation,” labiaplasty is merely cosmetic in purpose and claims to have no impact on sensation (Davis, 2002). Labiaplasties not only medicalize and pathologize the differences in women’s genitals by using words such as “normal” and “abnormal,” the procedure also thrives off the insecurities of women, supports homogeneity among women rather than heterogeneity, increases health risks as a result of surgery complications (both physiological and psychological), and is set up to serve the patriarchal form of thinking our society exhibits while disempowering women in the health and social arenas.
Early reports of the procedure documented the correction of labial hypertrophy caused by congenital malformation, exogenous hormones, myelodysplasia, and manual stretching of the labia with weights, a practice of the Khoikhoi tribe in south-western Africa. In 1984, Hodgekinson and Hait were the first to discuss this procedure performed for purely aesthetic reasons, and since then the surgery has become an increasingly popular and is increasing in demand (Goldstein, 2007, p. 2). A valid point to ponder, however, is how can our society be so hypocritical? In Africa the cultural tradition of female genital cutting is compared to barbaric mutilation by Americans, but here in the U.S. labiaplasties, which are essentially of the same nature as they both involve invasively modifying the female genitalia, is seen as cosmetic enhancement.
Why has this procedure become such a common practice? Similar to the way teenagers idolizes and imitate celebrities, some women are viewing and seeking to imitate porn stars. In Women’s ENews, Los Angeles gynecologist Dr. David Matlock said “I can’t even tell you how many pages and pages of pornographic material women have brought me and said ‘I want to look like this,” (Kobrin, 2004). Many feminist critics have pointed out men’s sexual obsession with young women by observing the websites promoting “barely legal babes” and “teenage sluts,” (Scheeres, 2000, p. 75). This reason leads back to women comparing themselves to one another rather than embracing their differences. There is no single or “normal” look when it comes to the vagina. In fact, there is a broad spectrum of shapes, sizes, and skin colors, all of which are one-hundred percent normal. “Many women dislike the large protuberant appearance of their labia minora. This may cause severe embarrassment with a...
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