In yet more news about the stupidity of vaginal plastic surgery, a British report finds that women who undergo the procedure may experience some of the same problems in childbirth as those who suffered female genital mutilation.
The BBC writeup of the report — which was originally published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology — should be required reading for anyone considering cosmetic surgery to their reproductive organas. The BBC says some women seek such surgery because "they are embarrassed in front of a sexual partner," but the reports authors argue that this embarrassment is really caused by ads that promote a "homogenised, pre-pubescent genital appearance" (a claim borne out by the fact that some genital plastic surgeons employ PR firms to get the word out about their, um, services). They also say that any discomfort caused by protruding labia may be psychological rather than physical, and could be treated with therapy instead of surgery. This recommendation isn't without its annoying aspects — after all, women have been told their problems are all in their head for a long time. However, it seems reasonable that women who are convinced their labia are weird would be more likely to experience pain, and that a first step might be helping them understand that when it comes to female genitals, there's a wide range of normal.
The real kicker of the report, though, is its examination of the risks involved in labioplasty. The authors mention a potential loss of sexual sensation, which we've heard before. But they also say that the procedure may cause some of the same childbirth problems as female genital mutilation does, including bleeding and tearing in labor, and even the death of the infant. Anyone eating breakfast might want to skip this part, but a commenter on a an earlier post shared some first-hand experience with the problem:
[I]n nursing school I helped out at the delivery of a woman who'd had labiaplasty several years before, and holy shit. It sort of, um, shredded. One of the most horrific things I've seen in my career. It took them a really long time to sew everything back together, and I have a feeling she would have happily gone back to some slightly asymmetric or (gasp!) flappy labia if she could have.
Beyond the gross-out factor, what's upsetting about this news is how closely it links plastic surgery to forms of ritual violence done to woman's body. Some cosmetic procedures — such as female circumcision reversal, or sex changes for those who want them — can improve people's quality of life. But in many cases plastic surgery can be simply another form of misogynist mutilation, based on the notion that there's something inherently wrong with a woman's body that only slicing and cutting can fix. It's disturbing that we've come to a point where women will pay £3,000 (about $5,000) for what is essentially mortification of the flesh — and their most intimate flesh at that.
British plastic surgeons are contesting the report with ultra-persuasive arguments like this one:
Lads' mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look. We live in times where we are much more open about our bodies - and changing them - and labioplasty is simply a part of this.
But Professor Philip Steer, editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, says,
Commercial images and social pressures often serve to distort public perceptions about what is physically normal. Healthy messaging about the normal variation in female genitalia, as well as body shape and size more generally, is needed and important.
New Warning On 'Perfect Vaginas' [BBC]
"Designer Vagina" Surgery May Be Unsafe, Say Experts [Times Online]