What Lies Beneath

So as most of you will probably realize, I am writing this blog as part of project that will ultimately earn me (she wrote, fingers crossed) a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies from Queen’s University. Because I have access to them, I have been consulting academic journals as part of my research. Some of them are medical journals — and though they aren’t the sort of thing I would normally be drawn to, they’ve been providing all sorts of interesting fodder for conversation.

I recently came upon a journal article called “Brazilian bikini wax and the designer vagina”, by Mike Fitzpatrick, in the British Journal of General Practice. Though the article is dated December 2007, it’s chock-full of tasty stuff still utterly relevant for consideration here.

The article draws a connection between the “remarkable disappearance of female body hair over recent years” and the increased demand for labial surgery (also called labiaplasty). The procedure usually involves reducing the labia majora and labia minora. As Fitzpatrick cites research indicating that “our patients uniformly wanted their vulvas to be flat with no protrusion beyond the labia majora, similar to the prepubescent aesthetic featured in advertisements.”

The article goes on to describe women bringing along ‘pornographic photographs to illustrate the desired appearance’ when they come for their consultation.

The author also cites a Guardian article by Kira Cochrane (which couldn’t get my hands on, regretfully) that draws a parallel between “the trend for pubic hair removal and the growing demand for the surgical procedure known as the ‘designer vagina’.”

Fitzpatrick seems to agree with Cochrane’s thesis, writing that he has seen the number of cosmetic labial surgeries more than double in the last five years (meaning 2002-2007, I presume), writing “I can confirm that demand appears to be growing.”

It’s not difficult to presume that pubic hair removal and the increase of labial surgery are related: after all, it’s harder to hate (and thus want to change) something you can’t see. If everything is out in the open, it’s a lot easier to find ways to compare what you’ve got with what you see around you.

A recent article in the Guardian by Rowenna Davis (Feb 27, 2011) draws a connection between the proliferation of porn among young people, and the rise of labiaplasty surgery in the U.K. It seems like an entirely plausible theory. Here’s the complete article:


I still find it frightening that women would subject their most intimate bits to voluntary surgery. As Davis writes, “experts say the risks of labiaplasty include permanent scarring, infections, bleeding and irritation, as well as increased or decreased sensitivity if nerves get caught in the operation.” Yikes!

So that, naturally, leads to this question: WHO are women doing this for?

It’s that question that lead to this most excellent film, The Perfect Vagina. Made by Heather Leach and Lisa Rogers in 2008 for Channel 4 in the U.K., it takes an engrossing look at the practice and is well worth a watch (it’s nearly an hour long, though, so be sure to book yourself enough time):



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