The BBC article New warning on ‘perfect vaginas’ immediately brought to mind the debate surrounding female genital cutting (FGC, also known at female genital mutilation or female circumcision). The article presents two opposing ideas:
1) that the labioplasty (female genital operation – read genital cutting- offered under general anesthesia in Britain) is a safe, minor procedure with no negative side effects
2) that it could possible damage sexual function and cause problems during childbirth – the comparison with female
Conceptions of the ‘ideal vagina’ reflect the societal beliefs, values and customs . This latest craze – labioplasty – as reported by the BBC is a manifestation of the insecurities women feel about their sexual organs, perpetuated by the media, men and other women.
The most disturbing quote in this article comes from Douglas McGeorge, past president of the the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. McGeorge rejects comparisons with FGC and argues that labioplasty is “[e]ssentially…just about removing a bit of loose flesh, leaving behind an elegant-looking labia with minimum scarring.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, where many societies practice various forms of FGC, the practice is the target of human rights and women’s rights campaigns. The labioplasty, for which women pay up to 3, 000 British pounds, cannot be compared to infibulation, excision or clitoridectomy, however the other forms of FCG are comparable. There is of course an important distinction between parents choosing FGC for their young daughters and adult women deciding for themselves that they wish to be cut.
There is however a double standard in the way in which these discussions are framed: in sub-Saharan Africa any type of FGC is an abominable ‘ritual’ practice, where as in high income countries women can ‘freely’ pay thousands for the procedure called labioplasty, which, it is argued, may or may not be harmful to their health.
And then of course there is the debate about male circumcision…