Daily Reads: The Barbie Vagina

If the title of today’s Daily Read didn’t get your attention, then perhaps this will: “In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 5,000 labiaplasties were performed in the United States. That may not seem like a huge number, but it’s an astounding 44% increase over just one year prior, making labiaplasty the second fastest growing plastic surgery that year.” This fascinating statistic comes from an article on Alternet by Kali Holloway. Labiaplasty is a form of plastic surgery in which women have their inner labia – the inner lips of their vagina – cut and shaped to be more aesthetically appealing. The article attributes this to a rise in “perfect” genitalia being showcased in pornography. In recent years, both male and female porn actors have shaved and shaped their pubic areas to reveal more of their genitals, and with this trend has come an uptick in surgeries among women who perceive their vaginas as deviating from the porn standard, which values a smooth, hairless, and small-lipped vagina – the Barbie vagina. I find this fascinating for multiple reasons, not least of which is the fact that a smooth, “pure” vagina is one of the goals of female genital cutting (FGC), which is practiced in multiple places around the world. I teach about this practice in my cultural anthropology classes to help students learn about cultural relativity. Of course we find FGC to be horrifying – especially because it is associated with men’s control over women’s sexuality and behavior, and the young girls who are subjected to it are not given any choice. The cultural relativity part doesn’t mean we have to accept this practice; it just means that we need to try to understand it from the perspective of its practitioners rather than judging it from our own cultural standpoint (this is a complicated subject so I won’t go into it here; just suffice to say that exercising cultural relativity does not mean finding a practice acceptable). In any case, I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees an uncomfortable parallel with voluntary labiaplasty and FGC. In my classes, I typically juxtapose FGC with voluntary plastic surgeries such as breast implants. Now, I’ll be able to use labiaplasties as the example instead and ask my students why they are different from FGC. I’m sure it will generate some vigorous and thoughtful discussion.

The Labiaplasty Boom: Why Are Women Desperate for the Perfect Vagina?

2 Comments Daily Reads: The Barbie Vagina

  1. karen

    WTH? This is one trend I just don’t understand. Well, I guess I do sort of understand it…but I feel very sad and disgusted by the beauty industry (and make no mistake, porn is part of that industry in that it makes viewers feel inadequate), and that women feel the need to make surgical changes in an attempt to conform to an unattainable standard.

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