You might not want to hear about my labia.

You might not want to hear about my labia. My iPhone definitely doesn’t want to hear about it (them?); keeps autocorrecting “labia” to “Kanis,” which as we all know is a picturesque town in the Dutch province of Utrecht:


…but that’s not what I’m going to tell you about right now. I’m going to tell you about my labia, if you’re up for that, which of course maybe you’re not. While I received a lovely compliment on it (them?) just the other night, some people, historically, haven’t been up for hearing about my labia and you might be one of them. I don’t know. I can’t make that decision for you.

Anyway! I never really thought much about my labia until earlier this year, when it dawned on me that it’s the sort of labia doctors want to fix; to streamline; to endow with a “comfortable, athletic, petite look.” No matter how much weight I lift or how fast I run, my labia can never be sporty without violent surgical intervention. In order to keep her from being picked last for every team, I could choose to get a “Barbie,” a “clamshell,” a “wedge” or a “hybrid.” (That last one has a “petite hint of a rim around the vaginal opening.” Like a Prius!)

My labia is what I would call “visually striking,” even from noncommittal locker-room distance. It looks capable of independent flight. Come a little closer and it looks like a rakish little face blowing a petulant raspberry, but I didn’t know it was such an outlier until I encountered labiaplasty in the mainstream media. The conversation there is about choice: If a lady chooses to have her ladywings restructured/rejuvenated/beautified/amputated, it’s her choice and we must respect it as we would any other choice, just like the choice to go to graduate school or start an artisanal cupcake business! 

I guess there are more important things to care about besides women with burnable disposable income using it for labia-mutilating purposes. It’s not FGM; it’s not holding a little girl down and excising her clitoris with a shard of broken glass, but the underlying motivations snuggle up pretty closely, yes? Both FGM and labiaplasty:

  • Are performed to conform a woman’s genitals to a specific cultural definition of acceptability.  In Burkina Faso, female genitals in their natural state make a woman sexually insatiable (offensive!) in Los Angeles they make her sexually undesirable (offensive!)
  • Result in an infantilized labia because many men find that appealing (please see also “Brazilian wax”).
  • Are supposed to make a woman look, smell, feel, and be “tidy” or “clean” — in fact, some popular terms for mutilation are synonymous with purification (“tahara” in Egypt and “tahur” in Sudan).
  • Damage the healthy nerve endings of a healthy sexual organ.
  • Are usually elected by women themselves — or mothers and grandmothers in the case of FGM — in response to sociocultural pressure. In the developing world, that has to do with purity and marriageability; for us, it has to do with p0rn. (Simplistic but accurate).

At core, FGM and labiaplasty are are about the proper sexual use of women. Use, not even behavior. Both are a surgical intervention to make women more…well, more of what we’re supposed to be for.

Which is all terribly depressing, so tonight I’m searching the Internet for small pockets of labia pride like the Large Labia Project on tumblr. Naked labia on the internet is problematic — and y’all know how much internet feminists love that word; we need a drinking game for it — but this site could be very enlightening to women whose only exposure to female genitalia has been via p0rn (please, God, may labiaplasty doctors never get one lesbian dollar). I kind of want to start a movement called Leave Your Pussy Alone! (LYPA!)

But I’m torn vis a vis the whole Labia Pride thing because, let’s face it, anything we have to imbue with Pride comes with a not-insignificant amount of Shame; there’s no Pinky Toe Pride although a subset of women are having theirs amputated in order to fit into high-heel stilettos.  They call that “cosmetic surgery,” too. Because it sounds so much better than “mutilation.”

6 thoughts on “You might not want to hear about my labia.

  1. Decades ago feminists looked at cervices. That was to get to know and understand oneself. Since female anatomy was not well understood. The schools taught nothing valuable about this.

    I agree about the pride thing, it’s really a new idea. It involves looking at oneself as an object, I think. From outside. It’s hard to believe that such a big deal (in a negative, policing way) has been made about labia. It’s ridiculous to have to shave as well. All labia are just fine as they are. Plus, leave the hair alone. There is no part of us that the misogynist culture will not put down. Then a labia pride is needed to counteract the shame. It’s maddening. Really.

    We need to see people be able to be proud or ashamed of their actions. Are they good people? Yes. Then be proud of that. Do they have a special skill that they’ve developed through their own efforts and can be proud of? (Painting, writing, etc.) Great! Reason for pride. Or be ashamed if the person has done something shameful. Hurt someone or treated them poorly. Supported misogyny. Be ashamed. change your actions to something you can be proud of.

    Persons, particularly female persons, and the bodies they are born with should just be accepted as fact or perhaps at times with a sense of wonder. This other nonsense is so ridiculous. It’s not what our bodies look like, it’s what we can do with them, and experience with them.

  2. I don’t even know what mine look like.

    (And I was also baffled by the insertion of “athletic” into the string of adjectives describing the Ideal Set of Labia. Like, there’s no muscle in there, is it? I thought it was just skin, subcutaneous fat, erectile tissue and lots and lots of nerve endings. So a woman might be athletic, but her labia will look however they happen to look. To say nothing of the fact that one athletic woman doesn’t necessarily look like another, even in those aspects of her body that *do* change with exercise.)

    “Kanis” is such a weird thing for autocorrect to want to substitute for “labia”! What’s it got against “labile,” for instance?

  3. “Athletic” is ridiculous. The only explanation I can think of for that description is, they’re trying to say that an athletic labia is one that doesn’t get in the way when you’re running or lifting weights; it’s…spare and aerodynamic; all inessentials cut away.


  4. Labiaplasty is a nice way to make activities such as cycling or horseback riding comfortable (and not a bloody mess). Nothing to do with cosmetics. And, for WordWoman – some of us ladies like our men with a bit less hair too. It’s not necessarily misogynist to expect a bit of attention to grooming.

  5. If your labia makes cycling or horseback riding a bloody mess…that’s a medical issue on which I’m not qualified to comment, except to say that I’m all for comfort and sports!

    You’ll find that most of us hanging out here here, uh…well, we have no personal interest in manscaping of any kind 🙂 When it comes to male body hair, we’re Switzerland, amirite ladies? No dog in that there fight.

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