Monday, June 1, 2009


This PostSecret is incredibly depressing...

...but predictable. I often wonder why in a culture where beauty standard are so rigid and so central, we don't give more thought to the wreckage that's churned out by the system. In this case, because a single, relatively small body part doesn't conform to the rigid standard, this person deprives herself of sexual contact and intimacy. Of course, rather then work to change the standard and the imagery that reinforces it, we simply offer new medicalized ways to "fix" the problem, and bring in a new source of income for one sector of the industry, thus enforcing the idea that it is a problem. Over the last few years, the rates at which patients are pursuing labiaplasty surgery has been increasing exponentially. According to one website
Women get labiaplasty for different reasons. In my experience, the number one reason for a labiaplasty is the desire to reduce pain or discomfort experienced while wearing tight clothing (such as jeans or yoga pants) or playing sports (especially bike riding or horseback riding) or engaging in other physical activities. The second most common reason for labiaplasty is shame or embarrassment about the way their genitals look and the desire to change their appearance. Other times, women want to increase sexual function-- a reduction of the labia or clitoral hood can provide greater exposure of the clitoris, allowing for increased stimulation. Occasionally, a woman's labia are damaged during childbirth, and the procedure is restorative.

I don't doubt for a minute that many women with larger labia do experience discomfort. But from what I've seen in internet discussions of the procedure, I would bet that many women pursue the surgery because of the terribly negative body image that accompanies large labia, while reporting that they want the surgery to reduce discomfort, as this is the more socially acceptable explanation. It's depressingly ironic that they live in a culture that both shames them for not conforming to a random and harsh body ideal while also shaming them for pursuing surgery for aesthetic reasons.


  1. Melanie6/01/2009

    So much depressing news today...

  2. Yoshimi6/01/2009

    I'm really surprised that discomfort ranked higher than shame. I have big labia, and while I'm no longer embarrassed by them it can be uncomfortable in really tight jeans. So I bought looser jeans. Surgery never even occurred to me as an option. To me, that seems like an extension of the need to conform to beauty standards. Like, the imperative to wear tight, sexy clothes is so strong some women would slice off bits of themselves to be able to fulfill that need.
    I'm sorry if my comment has seemed kind of dismissive of women who choose surgery. I don't want to pretend that I know what's best for them. But I do think it's sad that women are forced to make these decisions.

  3. Yoshimi,

    I think it's sad too, and I thought the same thing when I read the post - why don't they just buy more comfortable clothing?

  4. I thought this one was terribly sad too. Sometimes Postsecret can be such a downer - but so real. And I agree that the immediate response of cutting the body to fit the standard instead of adjusting the standard to fit the whole range of body shapes that exist in reality is such a sad reflection of our cultural mindset. Great post!

  5. Anonymous6/03/2009

    Yooshimi said "I think it's sad that women are forced to make these decisions." Women are not forced to make this decision at all. They choose to have the surgery for what ever reason just as women chose to have bigger boobs are a straighter nose. There is no difference. It makes them feel better. But again, there is no forcing for anyone to make a decision about any cosmetic procedure. Just saying...

  6. Anonymous,

    It's true that nobody is putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to march to the clinic for surgery. But aren't there other ways of "forcing" people into unpleasant decisions? Do you honestly think it's possible for people to be so totally impervious to their culture? I have to admit that to me this is as an incredibly naive view of human psychology and social dynamics. If you live in a culture where having a particular physical feature makes you unattractive to the point of being viewed as a huge turnoff as well as the butt of many jokes, you are sort of "forced" into making a choice. There are many ways to force someone into doing something, and the fact that nobody is physically forcing them into this decision is simply a red herring.