April 24, 2011

Women's Genitals Infantilized


What does it say about our culture's approach to the female body and sexuality when portraying her naturally protruding inner lips is judged offensive while featuring the labia as if still prepubescent is okay?

As the above video from Australian ABC's news show Hungry Beast documents, women's labia minora are today perceived too offensive to be seen even in soft porn. Therefore they are censored; photoshopped out by graphic designers to show only "discreet genital detail." At the same time, a growing number of women are requesting labiaplasty to have their labia minora trimmed down.

For as the plastic surgeon interviewed comments, women often don't get to see a normal range of genitals, so they think they look abnormal.

In 2008 the medical group Surgicare (UK) saw a threefold increase in labiaplasty over the previous year, and inquiries rose sevenfold in three years. Most women asking for the surgery were in their late teens or early 20s, though as young as 10 or 11. In almost all cases, requests came from women with completely healthy vulvas, but seeking more “attractive” genitals. (Show Off Books)

Explains Karen Gravelle to maturing girls:  

In young girls, the inner lips are small and not very noticeable, but in puberty, they begin to grow rapidly. Different girls develop differently shaped inner lips. But whatever kind you have, they will be darker and more wrinkled than the inner lips you had as a child. In many women, the inner lips actually grow bigger than they outer lips and stick out from between the outer lips.  (The Period Book, 15-16)

Amazing You!
Unfortunately not all sex pedagogical books catering to youth are descriptive about girls' changing labia the way those by for instance Karen Gravelle and Lynda Madaras are. And books aimed to teach younger children about their bodies and sexuality (e.g. Belly Buttons are Navels and What's the Big Secret) often don't address the labia, or if they do, as in Amazing you!, they do so with alienating graphics.

What's the Big Secret?
"Imagery has the power to define reality," writes Wrenna Robertson, editor of I'll Show You Mine, a photo study of sixty women's unaltered genitals published in defiance of the media's unrealistic images of women's vulvae. Which is why I have sought recourse to this book when searching for quality material to help me support my toddler daughter in nurturing a positive relationship with her female body. Presenting an amazing array of vulvae, I have looked at the book with her to illustrate differently shaped, sized, and colored labia, both inner and outer, the clitoris in the pictures where it is clearly visible to her too, the area of the opening to the urethra, and the opening to the vagina. It has been an empowering learning experience for her as well as me.

I'll Show You Mine


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