Pornography Contributes to Body Hatred

January 24, 2012

Words by: Eavan Mckay

Cosmetic gynecology is one of the fastest growing areas of surgery. Figures out in 2010 reveal that 65% of these surgeries are in labial reduction, the rest in tightening and reshaping. The majority of these surgeries are conducted privately but increasingly women are also able to receive labia reduction surgery on the NHS, if a doctor can consent that the size of their labia is causing them serious psychological distress.

At private clinics – of which there are a large number in the US and a fast growing number in the UK – clients (not patients because this is cash in hand) can choose from the procedures including ‘vaginal rejuvenation’ (tightening), ‘hymenoplasty’ (revirgination) and possibly the most scary of all, clitoral ‘unhooding’, presumably because it is so difficult to find, HA!

Labiaplasty operations in the UK are rapidly increasing. The surgery is generally intended to make labia smaller or more asymmetrical. Dr Sarah Creighton, who works as a consultant gynecologist at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women’s Health in London, says that although in extremely rare cases unusual hormonal conditions can cause clitoral or labia abnormalities – thus cause discomfort – almost all the women seeking surgery do not have a medical under-lying condition. Dr Creighton warns that regardless of this sometimes labiaplasties are conducted on the NHS because it is very hard for a GP to refuse a woman a gynecological referral if she argues her insecurities are psychologically damaging.  

Due to the increasing number of women undergoing these operations in the UK a King’s University study has attempted to find out more about the motivations of women seeking these procedures. Professor Linda Cardozo, a gynaecologist, said that the preliminary findings show that while women do go to the NHS seeking help with functional problems, such as discomfort during sex, those who turn to private surgery were mainly seeking cosmetic surgery. Cardozo also expressed concerns that private providers could be acting irresponsibly by operating on vulnerable women in need of psychological care. Dr Veal, a consultant psychiatrist in cognitive behavior therapy and a partner in the King’s University research, expressed worry that a large proportion of women seeking surgery, most of whom are under 30, do so on the mistaken impression that it might solve psychological problems such as body dimorphic disorder. Clearly a better alternative would be counseling.

So, the real question here is why is this happening? Dr Veal suspects that ‘this is due to the increasing sexualisation of society – it’s the last part of the body to be changed’. Pornography does surely have a lot to answer for in terms of pressurising women to measure themselves up against an unattainable ideal. The ideal these women want is not to be able to see their labia minora at all; this is the image of much pornography, many female porn stars have gone through surgery or have naturally small labia. Creighton makes an interesting point that because of shaving, Brazilians and fashions in underwear, this part of the body is more visible now. Further adding to the problem is that everyone is increasingly exposed to the image of a ‘perfect’ body and so women feel pressured to look a certain way. Certainly it is very worrying that a homogenized, pre-pubescent genital appearance is becoming more and more the norm.

In addition to this there are the risks of surgery in an unregulated market outside the NHS. Although many cosmetic surgeons are relaxed about these surgeries they are cashing in on, believing – or at least claiming to believe –  they are helping women feel better about themselves, there are in fact high risks of prolonged bleeding, permanent scarring and infection.
This is a phenomenon that the porn industry – as well as other forms of media – is at least in part, responsible for. Private providers are in turn acting irresponsibly by preying on vulnerable women in need of psychological care. There may be an argument that says women have the right to empower themselves to change the appearance of their labia if they feel it would increase their confidence. In response to this I would say that in the long run I don’t think all of these women will gain confidence and that natural variation is just how we are (like the size of our eyes, ears or noses!). If a woman is unable to embrace her own natural variation then this is body hatred and ultimately no amount of cosmetic surgery will help them.

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