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.”