What's All The Hoo Ha?

I was reading an article in the Chicago Tribune Magazine this morning (I know, it's Tuesday already) about a woman, originally from the Chicago area, who has helped women in Senegal end the practice of female circumcision. It was, as you might expect, an uplifting story of women, empowered with knowledge, banding together to stop the mutilation of their daughters.

This wasn't the first time I had heard about female circumcision. I think I first read about it in a social science textbook when I was in seventh grade, though it may have been earlier. I remember there was a little blurb about a young African girl who couldn't wait to be circumcised, because it was a rite of passage. We discussed rites of passage in class and I asked how, exactly, a girl was circumcised. I mean, I knew about male circumcision, though, to be honest, that was a bit of a mystery to me as well. I knew that it was done in hospitals, assumed anesthesia was used, and, since it was done on babies, assumed it wasn't so bad because the person being circumcised wouldn't remember the procedure. My question was never answered. As I grew older and found out more details about what the procedure entailed, I came to view female circumcision as a barbaric, misogynistic practice. I'll admit, I haven't really thought about the genital mutilation of girls in awhile (the hot topic on parenting discussion boards being whether or not to circumcise our infant sons).

So I was sitting there this morning, talking to Julian about his new CD of songs with his name in them (Thanks, Abigail and Olivia!), drinking my pomegranate green tea and read that one of the reasons that female genital cutting is aesthetic, female genitals being seen as ugly. Which struck me as interesting because this is the same reason given for labiaplasty.

I find it odd and ironic that we are telling African women that genital mutilation is barbaric and backward whilst surgeons in our own country are telling women that their vaginas need modification. Because, if you read the women's magazines, labiaplasty is the hot new trend in cosmetic surgery.

So I did some google searching and read some plastic surgeons websites. One site asserted that "Feeling good about how you look often builds self-confidence and self-esteem."

Oh really? You think having that surgically altered will improve someone's self-esteem? I am not suggesting the results of cosmetic surgery wouldn't improve one's self- esteem, just pointing out that unless one is a contortionist, a mirror and some privacy will be necessary to see the changes this procedure delivers. I mean, ordinarily, I would say that if there is a complex one can have about one's body, I have it. I am like the Energizer Bunny of body dysmorphia. I am too short. My nose is a source of dissatisfaction and the dark circles under my eyes seem impervious to concealer. Don't even ask me about saddlebags and cellulite unless you want a long treatise on how much worse mine is than everyone else's. However, in spite of my ability to analyze and agonize over nearly every square inch of my body, I can honestly say that I have never felt particularly self-conscious about the patch between my legs. Oh, yes, I get bikini waxes and worry that I am hairier than other women, but as far as my actual genitals are concerned, it never occurred to me that I should worry. I mean, yeah, my genitals are ugly, but so are everyone else's, which is why I never understood the success of Hustler. And while I am all for being neurotic about ugly parts of my body, it doesn't seem like one's labial folds would be an area that gets a lot of exposure. I have very little reason to go checking around down there myself and, with the exception of Julian's birth, I have had little reason to suspect it is on display for an audience. While I am sure that my gynecologist and Fred have opinions on the topic, I can't see investing thousands of dollars on surgery which may result in nerve damage if they are the only two people who will see the results. I am sympathetic to someone's desire to improve themselves via cosmetic surgery, but wouldn't it make more sense to invest that money in liposuction or a nose job? Who is so perfect that the only area of their body that "needs work" are their labial folds?

So why are so many women in the developed world choosing this procedure? (By so many, I mean any women outside the porn industry.) Is this the logical result of the increase in pornographic images we see on a regular basis? Isn't communicating the message that a woman's genitals should be modified to conform to a predetermined standard of beauty, even if it results in scar tissue and nerve damage, another way that women's sexuality is suffocated and denied? How can we tell women in developing nations to say no to a misogynistic practice intended to control their sexuality when similar practices are performed here?

The thing that makes me most distressed are the before and after pictures (WARNING! GRAPHIC CONTENT!). I mean, yeah, they do look different and rosier afterwards, but considering the part of the body we are talking about, I can't really say they look better. I may feel differently about this if I were a lesbian, but I doubt it. It isn't an attractive part of the body to begin with, so anyone lucky enough to find one's self down there should shut up and be grateful.


Anonymous said…
I can't find one thing in your post to disagree with, so I'll just be grateful that I didn't look at the pictures. Nice title, btw.

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