Plastic Surgery: Has It Finally Gone Too Far?

The relative mainstreaming of the sex industry along with popular culture and its objectification of women in many forms, such as in advertisements, have led to a perpetually increased sense of pressure among many women to obtain seamlessly sexualized and almost airbrushed bodies. The movement towards this idealized physique began with the now socially approved breast augmentations, liposuctions, rhinoplasties, and so on. Yet the road to achieving this perfect body has taken a turn below the belt, and the new craze is for women to alter the shape of their labias to create a more aesthetically pleasing look.

The new trend for women to shape the size of their labias is a practice that virtually serves no purpose and fosters negative social obligations for females. The practice essentially takes away from the notion that every woman is beautiful in her own way by comparing each woman to her neighbor, and classifying genitals on an “abnormal” or “normal” scale. The Second Wave Feminism urged women to take out their hand mirrors and embark on self discovery and celebration.

However, women were now beginning to look for imperfections and defects, such as large labias, and were seeking possible ways of fixing these imperfections. The surgical procedure, called a labiaplasty, involves trimming away labial tissue, and sometimes injecting fat from another part of the body into labia that have been deemed excessively droopy. In contrast to the tightening operation known as “vaginal rejuvenation,” labiaplasty is merely cosmetic in purpose and claims to have no impact on sensation (Davis, 2002).

Labiaplasties not only medicalize and pathologize the differences in women’s genitals by using words such as “normal” and “abnormal,” the procedure also thrives off the insecurities of women, supports homogeneity among women rather than heterogeneity, increases health risks as a result of surgery complications (both physiological and psychological), and is set up to serve the patriarchal form of thinking our society exhibits while disempowering women in the health and social arenas.

Early reports of the procedure documented the correction of labial hypertrophy caused by congenital malformation, exogenous hormones, myelodysplasia, and manual stretching of the labia with weights, a practice of the Khoikhoi tribe in south-western Africa. In 1984, Hodgekinson and Hait were the first to discuss this procedure performed for purely aesthetic reasons, and since then the surgery has become an increasingly popular and is increasing in demand (Goldstein, 2007, p. 2).

A valid point to ponder, however, is how can our society be so hypocritical? In Africa the cultural tradition of female genital cutting is compared to barbaric mutilation by Americans, but here in the U. S. labiaplasties, which are essentially of the same nature as they both involve invasively modifying the female genitalia, is seen as cosmetic enhancement. Why has this procedure become such a common practice? Similar to the way teenagers idolizes and imitate celebrities, some women are viewing and seeking to imitate porn stars.

In Women’s ENews, Los Angeles gynecologist Dr. David Matlock said “I can’t even tell you how many pages and pages of pornographic material women have brought me and said ‘I want to look like this,” (Kobrin, 2004). Many feminist critics have pointed out men’s sexual obsession with young women by observing the websites promoting “barely legal babes” and “teenage sluts,” (Scheeres, 2000, p. 75). This reason leads back to women comparing themselves to one another rather than embracing their differences.

There is no single or “normal” look when it comes to the vagina. In fact, there is a broad spectrum of shapes, sizes, and skin colors, all of which are one-hundred percent normal. “Many women dislike the large protuberant appearance of their labia minora. This may cause severe embarrassment with a sexual partner or loss of self-esteem, and in some cases pain and discomfort,” reads the tagline of an advertisement for the procedure, which in this case is referred to as “Labiaplasty: Large Labia Reduction & Beautification (Labiaplasty).

” The fact that the surgery is referred to as a beautification procedure reveals how our society, and the porn industry, has set impossible and unrealistic standards of beauty for women which they are painstaking striving to achieve. The ad implies that large labias are shameful and if you have one, you should get a labiaplasty otherwise you will never have high self esteem or be appreciated by your sexual partner. Ads like this illustrate that the aesthetic reasons for which many women opt for the procedure are largely being driven by societal evolution regarding sexual habits, wants, and expectations.

This is the primary reason driving the market for genital surgery. However, labiaplasties may shape vulvas to look more feminine, but they do not take away from the initial sexual and reproductive ability of the organ. Alternatively, women should embrace the features they were born with and focus on the desirable aspects of labia instead of breeding the negative ones. Men instill feelings of insecurity in women to have such procedures performed. It is important to understand whom these women are going under the knife for, themselves, or their sexual partner? After all, are men getting surgery to increase the size and look of their penis for women?

Dr. Gary Alter, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon and urologist whose resume includes everything from facial implants to sex changes, says that men routinely tag along to consultations, leaning over his shoulder as he inspects their partners to suggest changes (Scheeres, 2000). Not only does this show the negative connotations of social construction for women, but it allows men to make decisions for women presented indirectly, even health decisions. In this sense, it is not only society that psychologically tampers with the image of women, but men as well.

Aside from media influences coming from nude models and porn stars which focus on appearance, many women feel embarrassed in the bedroom and feel increased pressure from their boyfriends, husbands, or partners to get the surgery done. Many times, after having a child, females become embarrassed in the bedroom with their boyfriends or husbands due to the stretched look of their vulva. Feeling like they do not fit in with the general population of women, they receive labiaplasties. However, did it ever occur to those considering labiaplasties that there are people out there who actually find the extra skin attractive?

In fact, one man writes a response to an online column about the concerns of a woman, who calls herself “Jagger Lips”, regarding the length of her labia. He writes, “I prefer long labia. I find that they lend themselves more readily to being tugged, stretched, nibbled, etc. I’ve never seen the subject of optimal labia length debated anywhere, so I can’t really say for sure, but my sexual tastes in all other respects are so mainstream that I would find it hard to believe that my preference in this one regard is all that unusual” (Savage, 2000).

Additionally, in some parts of Africa, long labia are desirable and weights are often tied in order to stretch them out. In Japan, large labias are also considered attractive, and is often compared to the appearance of a “winged butterfly. ” It is a shame, however, that in most cultures, like that of ours, the ideal look “down there” resembles that of a twelve year old girl’s, and that there exists surgical procedure that allows women to achieve this pre-pubescent look (Scheeres, 2000).

Occasionally, there are the women who opt for the procedure due to discomfort or pain (usually from having the excess skin drag inward during sexual intercourse) from their enlarged labias. However, according Dr. Mary Gatter, medical director of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and a gynecologist for twenty years, admits she’s only seen three women whose labia were long enough to cause physical discomfort. She quotes,” There is a large variation of what’s normal” (Scheeres, 2000). This illustrates that a majority of these surgeries are indeed done for appearance rather than actual medical reasons.

Unfortunately, what many fail to realize is that there are several complications that occur as a result of this procedure. “Anytime you make an incision, nerves are cut. For that reason, you can have decreased sensitivity,” says Malcolm Lesavoy, who teaches plastic surgery at UCLA. “I would caution anyone against having genital surgeries for cosmetic reasons. I think they’re fraught with dangers. God made us in such a way that things function pretty well left alone,” he warns (Scheeres, 2000). Risks associated with labiaplasty include changes in sensation, changes in pigmentation, or asymmetry.

Also, in order for a surgeon to benefit the patient by performing labiaplasty, the patient must get the functional and cosmetic results that she expects. Thus, the surgeon must know the proper surgical techniques and have enough experience with the procedure to adequately reassure a prospective patient that her results will meet with her expectation. However, as most gynecologists have not been taught this procedure in their residency training, it is imperative that the surgeon have adequate hands-on training under direct supervision before performing the surgery on his or her own.

Clearly, if a surgeon has not had sufficient training in this procedure, he or she would be acting in a non-beneficent and unethical manner by performing the procedure (Goldstein, 2007). This lack of training could result in serious health risks for the patient. Doctors fail to perceive that labiaplasties have negative physical side effects as well as major mental side effects on women. Such mental impacts affect their self-image and role in society, which lead to particular habits affecting their bodies physically, in return.

Like many other medically related procedures, labiaplasties hold risks, which can lead to death, however, these are made clear to the patient. Knowing fully so, if the patient continues to have the surgery, one may argue that it is the patients’ personal fault. However, this poses the larger problem that exists in the medical world today. Physicians fail to step out of technical terms when deciding whether a labiaplasty is a good thing or not by neglecting to see the bigger affect it may have not only on society, but on health surgeries and trends to come, as well as the way women are viewed in civilization.

The conclusions reached by the seven doctors set a precedent for future female related health taboos. One has to ask what cosmetic procedure is to come next and when they will learn to decipher what is wrong from what is right as well as what is truly beneficial. It is safe to argue that patients are only making decisions to have the labiaplasty due to the patriarchal forces they face in a plethora of forms. Feminist scholar Sheila Jeffreys claims in her book, Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West, that labiaplasties are “harmful cultural practices” which are dangerous to a woman’s physical and emotional health.

She exclaims that females like the idea due to the “patriarchal structures that influence decisions” (2005). She encourages that women make authentic choices for themselves based on their own judgment and disregarding all external influences. For example, she recalls the choice to stop dyeing her hair, which was an authentic choice. In authentic choices, women hold a sense of power and control they instilled in themselves, opposed to power held internally but influenced by outside forces and out of their control.

Although the accounts of feminists, social researchers and analysis of advertisements cultivates encouragement for women, mixing media and advice from health providers would allocate even more justifications for women pondering the idea of surgery. Fabula, a popular feminist magazine, interviewed one of the fathers of labiaplasty, Dr. Gary Alter. He claimed that he developed his technique around the idea of naturalness opposed to other doctors who would cut off extra tissue, creating a very “unnatural suture line” (Greene, 2005).

The better question to ask here is how did Dr. Alter justify this to be a ‘natural act’ just because it looked natural? Simply, this is just one example of how the idea of “naturalness” has evolved; as now, to be natural is not something that is inherited, rather culturally constructed. It is vital that, through this evolution, women mark what is really natural and beautiful to their own bodies. Otherwise, society will push women to change their bodies in ways that could potentially harm them, all to “look and feel sexy.

” When consulting a doctor for the labiaplasty procedure, would there be a different response from a male gynecologist and a female one? Should we as women trust a male doctor to be unbiased in his answers due to the sexual advantage that he would get from a woman, and are male doctors realizing the message they send to women when they are consulted? In the popular online newsletter forum Jezebel, a young woman shared her accounts when she went to a male doctor and a female doctor inquiring her “need” for a labiaplasty.

The male gynecologist’s remarks differed from the females as she describes: While he told me that my vagina didn’t look ‘that bad’ my labia majora could still be improved upon. He recommended vaginal lip lipo, saying that it was unlikely I would ever lose the labia fat through diet and exercise because I’m not ‘grossly overweight’. For my second opinion, I made an appointment with a woman doctor. For this visit, instead of making up some excuse as to why I was displeased with my very normal labia, I decided to just let her take a look and tell me what she thought.

To my pleasant surprise, she was very honest with me about how there wasn’t much she could do, and she also informed me of some very crucial info that the dude doctor failed to relay, regarding damaging the nerves of my clit, should I go through with any surgery to my labia majora (2007). Although one should not generalize all male gynecologists to be as ignorant, it is important to take in account the possible different opinions a woman would get from a male physician and why they may be one way or the other due to the gender gaps that exist in our society.

Through society and the media, women have become increasingly exposed to what is thought to be beautiful. These two institutions along with influential male ideals, have ingrained the idea that a surgery that simply tightens your vulva will allow a woman to boost self-esteem and achieve levels of power through sexual gain by pleasing their man in the bedroom. Lacking solid justifications for the procedure to be medically ethical, health professionals must come to terms with the negative social construction labiaplasties builds for women and become proactive to muting the surgical procedure among women.

By exploring the psychological effect it is has on women, the social obligation it puts upon women, and the health implications that accompany it, women can collectively discover if the reconstructive act is really worth it. References Davis, S. W. (2002). Loose Lips Sink Ships. Feminist Studies, 7-35. Goldstein, A. (2007). Cosmetic Labiaplasty: The Great Ethical Debate. OurGYN: Gynecological News and Information, 2. Greene, F. J. (2005).

From Clitoridectomies to ‘Designer Vaginas’: The Medical Construction of Heteronormative Female Bodies and Sexuality Through Female Genital Cutting. Sexualities, Evolution & Gender, 7, 153-187. Jeffreys, S. (2005). Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West. Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Jezebel. (2007). Pimp My Vadge: A Woman’s Opinion. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from: http://jezebel. com/gossip/clinical-trials/pimp-my-vadge-a-womans-opinion-264835. php Kobrin, S. (2004). More Women Seek Vaginal Plastic Surgery. Women’sENews.

Retrieved November 17, 2008, from: http://www. womensenews. org/article. cfm/dyn/aid/2067/context/cover/ Labiaplasty. (2008). Labiaplasty (large labia reduction) and Vaginoplasty (vaginal rejuvenation). Retrieved November 17, 2008, from: http://www. labiaplastysurgeon. com/ Savage, D. (2000). Go Long. Savage Love Columns. Retrieved November 17, 2008, from: http://www. thestranger. com/seattle/SavageLove? oid=2961 Scheeres, J. (2000). Vulva Goldmine: How Cosmetic Surgeons Snatch Your Money. Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, 11, 70.

The relative mainstreaming of the sex industry along with popular culture and its objectification of women in many forms, such as in advertisements, have led to a perpetually increased sense of pressure among many women to obtain seamlessly sexualized and …

The relative mainstreaming of the sex industry along with popular culture and its objectification of women in many forms, such as in advertisements, have led to a perpetually increased sense of pressure among many women to obtain seamlessly sexualized and …

Abstract The popularity of elective vaginal surgery is on the rise. The impact these procedures have on women, both positive and negative is only just beginning to be researched. The reasons why women claim to “need” such surgeries are to …

Abstract The popularity of elective vaginal surgery is on the rise. The impact these procedures have on women, both positive and negative is only just beginning to be researched. The reasons why women claim to “need” such surgeries are to …

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