Why am I discussing my most intimate bits and pieces, you ask? Because of a recent absurd “study” by a Texas TV News station that proclaimed 80 percent of women have larger than average labia, and that they suffer medical problems as a result.
This was such a spurious report that I feel compelled to comment. I have included the full report below, along with a portion of a blog post by the brilliant Dr. Petra Boynton, who flays the account with real science.
But, before I give my friend the doctor her say, I want to have my own. The report provides no information on how they arrived at this ridiculous percentage – and just what exactly, is an “average” sized labia?
This type of non-science only serves to pressure women into unnecessary surgery to “correct” an imperfection that doesn’t exist, and it further erodes a woman’s self-esteem and body image!
Women’s vulvas are as different and unique in appearance as are their faces – there is NO average. Some women have symmetrical labia that barely raise above the skin, while others have glorious a-symmetrical labia “wattles” that spread up and out like the wings of a magical butterfly. Their colors are as varied as their shape, and generally deepen spectacularly when the woman becomes sexually aroused. (In fact, many women enjoy having their labia stroked, licked or pulled during sex because it can provide a great deal of pleasure.)
It is these symmetrical labia that we women are now being told are the only beautiful variety and thus should be sought after, and that anything else “down there” should be considered ugly and surgically altered cosmetically. ABSURD!
I am old enough to have lived through a lot of negative sexual imagery aimed at woman. While much has changed, we still live in an extremely misogynistic culture that minutely scrutinizes every part of a woman’s body, literally from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. The result almost always finds each and every woman lacking in some minor to major area. Women are told that they just don’t measure up. They are not attractive enough and need makeup or cosmetic surgery – or, they are too attractive and need to tone it down.
Sadly, even though this is 2010, a lot of women have never seen their nether regions, and many believe those unseen bits and pieces are ugly, vulgar and even dirty. How can we ever hope to evolve into a sex-positive society if that type of female self-loathing continues to be passed down to each succeeding generation of girls? If you are a woman and have never looked, do so already! If you’re embarrassed, do it alone, maybe in the privacy of a shower; if not, then enjoy the exploration of your own body with your partner.
Just think for a minute, can you even imagine a society in which men subliminally tell their sons that their penises are ugly, and should be hidden away from view at all costs except to pee – and even then, that they should not look at or touch them because they are loathsome?
Dr. Betty Dodson (Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving; and Orgasms for Two: The Joy of Partnersex) pioneered an approach for women to learn to accept and then to love the body that they have, exactly as it is – whole, totally individual and without exception, beautiful. Dodson, who has worked in the sexual health field for decades and continues to do so (Betty Dodson: My Sexual Revolution,) even took photographs of women’s vulvas to use in her practice. Those photos are gorgeous. She is also a talented artist, who rendered the images of these precious vulvas into breathtaking black and white drawings.
It is high time for women to reject marketing and cosmetic companies efforts to define what we should look like simply to line their own pockets with gold. Take pride in being female, in having an amazing body that only other women have! Embrace your sensuality and sexuality, and just refuse to allow anyone, or any company, to belittle your body or appearance. It doesn’t matter what color you are, how tall, short, heavy, thin, able-bodied or disabled, you remain a woman – innately beautiful and gloriously unique, even sacred. The rest is truly just so much hateful bullshit!
The following is the ridiculous “report” that started it all, read it below or at the TV’s website:
Nip/Tuck: Don't Like How Your Vagina Looks?
Women Turning To Elective Surgery For a Cosmetic Fix
CW Dallas Fort Worth TV News
Shana Franklin, The 33 News
For the first time since she was a teenager, one Dallas woman in her 40's can now bend down and twist without discomfort. She said, "It completely changes your life. Now when someone says, 'Do you want to go and do something?' I don't give it any thought."
We're withholding the woman's name to protect her privacy about a something that may affect as many as 80% of women. It's an enlarged large labia majora and or labia minora. With it comes genital pressure, friction and chaffing that can make sitting or doing sports nearly impossible. And sex, well forget about it being fun or sexy.
Dallas Ob/Gyn Dr. Otto Huertas said, "I have a lot of patients that come in basically ashamed of their bodies. I mean they don't even want to show their body, their body parts to their partner."
Dr. Huertas has done of hundreds of surgical corrections. It's an outpatient procedure called Labioplasty. The extra genital tissue is trimmed with a laser, sometimes under just a local anesthesia. Dr. Huertas said, "You have to take into consideration that the with the media and the magazines, a lot women are looking at these perfect pictures of women, including the genital area. So their self-image changes a little bit."
After having Labioplasty, all the activities the Dallas woman we introduced you to earlier couldn't do are now only a memory. Among them, she said, "sitting on a plane, rides at Six Flags, water slides, things like that . It effects every part of your life."
Now, "Let's go" is her motto and peace is a reality. She said, "I think that leaves you feeling very empowered. First of all you own your body again. Nothing else owns it. You have the right to make all the choices you want to make."
And enjoy them.
Below, are excerpts of an excellent blog post by Dr. Boynton. You can also read it in its entirety at her always outstanding website:
Dr. Petra Boynton
Even with my dubious maths skills this doesn’t make sense. Because if such a large majority of women report large labia then presumably this becomes ‘the norm’ rather than ‘a problem.’
Merely an assumption that science has shown us 80% of women have larger labia. So we don’t know how many women were studied to make up this figure, who they were, when they were studied, or whether they actually considered themselves to have a problem. We don’t know who did the research, or whether it was even published. We’re given no clue about how ‘enlarged’ labia must be before they become unwieldy. The statistic becomes even more ludicrous if we’re assuming ‘enlarged’ to mean ‘larger than average’. In which case we seem to be being told that 80% of women have larger than average labia.
Had any research been undertaken the journalists may have learned there is no clear evidence for the effectiveness of cosmetic genital surgery in well women, but there is a growing trend within the cosmetic surgery industry to pathologise the female body as a means to creating a wider market in ‘enhancement.’
Although uncritical media reporting on genital surgery is not unusual there is fortunately an antidote.
THE NEW VIEW CAMPAIGN announces its THIRD Conference, to be held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on Sunday, September 26, 2010.
FRAMING THE VULVA: GENITAL COSMETIC SURGERY AND GENITAL DIVERSITY
While the vulva surgeons are holding a conference on the Las Vegas strip, the New View, in collaboration with the UNLV Women’s Studies Department and Petals, will hold a counter-conference to examine the personal and political complexities of the new female genital cosmetic surgeries.
Our one-day event will include a morning plenary session on the emerging issues in genital scholarship, activism, and art, and an afternoon of experiential and discussion workshops for participants to share strategies and build connections. The event will conclude with an evening reception, photography and craft exhibition, and film showing at the Erotic Heritage Museum.
Areas covered will include:
• Cosmetogynecology and the new genital perfectability industries
• The rhetoric vs. the realities of Western genital surgeries vs. “FGM” (Female Genital Mutilation)
• Collaborative models of activism
• The revival of “cunt art” in craft, film, photography and painting
• Sex education and feminist-owned sex shops
• The latest body modification trends, from Vajazzling to Vatooing
• Disease-mongering, marketing, and body surveillance
• Critical health studies perspectives on cosmetic genital surgery
Confirmed plenary speakers include:
• Virginia Braun, University of Auckland, New Zealand
• Leonore Tiefer, NYU Medical School, NYC
• Vanessa Schick, Indiana University, Bloomington
• Lynn Comella, UNLV, Las Vegas
Full registration, hotel, and contact information here.
Please share information widely and if you’re a health worker, activist, therapist or sex educator do try and support the event if you can – either by attending the conference or donating to the New View Campaign. Journalists may particularly want to attend to learn more about celebrating women’s bodies and accurate reporting on the growing trend for medicalisation.
In the meantime go on – love your labia! Or love someone else’s.
Thanks to Dr. Boynton for such a great post, and for providing the information on the up-coming conference.
Oh yeah, before I forget, enjoy the following vulva photograph gallery that I compiled from the web. I also have a difficult confession: Copying these photographs made me embarrassed! The irony, of course, is that this whole post is to encourage women to accept, even treasure, their natural vulvas; to work toward acquiring fantastic body images regardless of what you look like – and here I was blushing to my toes. How idiotic of me. So, I spent some time privately really looking at these images, and you know what? They aren’t embarrassing, they’re beautiful, whether they look like me, or not. In fact, they depict just a few of the gorgeous variety of women’s rainbow labia. (There may also be a photo that includes a well-placed penis or tongue, too!)
If you’ve never seen your own, or anyone else’s, I promise that you are in for a treat, and will be absolutely amazed. If you feel uncomfortable, do what I did, just keep looking at them until you’re comfortable. If you do, you’ll understand just how lucky we are as women to have a fabulously-beautiful vulva! (My only regret is that the bulk of these women have shaved their vulvas – I much prefer these delicate petals TOTALLY al-naturale!)
Natural Labia RULE!
— The Curator