Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On Designer Vaginas and Media Influence

Labiaplasty is on the rise.  Who knew?

There's an article in the Guardian in which Daisy Buchanan argues that we can't blame porn for this rush towards plastic surgery to pretty-up our lady bits because it's everywhere; in mainstream music videos we can see about as much as porn shows.

I'm not sure what bands Buchanan follows, but I haven't see much in the way of actual labias in my regular, mainstream video-watching, nor in any of the movies I watch - and I watch a lot of movies.  Even Miley Cyrus doesn't actually show her junk.  So, if men are complaining enough for women to save up cash and courage to go through with this, then clearly porn is to blame for this significant cultural shift.  But I do agree with Buchanan that we're seeing a whole lot more skin these days, and I wonder if labias are next.

We had our commencement last Friday.  For the first time since I've been a teacher, we had all the grads in gowns and caps.  The tassels on their mortarboards were moved from left to right with some effort as our principal stands a head below many of the grads.  They threw their caps at one point, which was fun even though the whole thing felt largely American.  But, as far as I can tell, the primary reason for the gowns and caps was to cover up the girls who might think an appropriate dress to walk on a stage several feet above an audience is short enough for their underwear to show just a bit.  A few don't yet grasp the difference between club-classy and acceptable convocation wear.   And if teachers make suggestions about dress length, we're largely ignored.  They're done listening to us at this point, and why would they take fashion advice from us when we're all so old.

It makes people uncomfortable to see a little too much of a person's body in a public place, particularly during a formal event.  That's nothing new, nor anything that will likely ever change.  But what does change dramatically is how much can be revealed before someone feels inclined to look away.  There was a time in which a little ankle was used to elicit a response.*  So it is a concern that we're hitting a point at the opposite end of the scale in mainstream media in which all but nipples and pubes (and labias) are public fodder.

It will be interesting to see if it all naturally swings back towards greater discretion as young women recognize that a little mystery can be very alluring, or if various media continue to blow our barriers wide open, so to speak.  Or will it all just hover here, teetering on the brink of full exposure forever?

But I have a larger concern about the women getting labiaplasty - beyond those that have physical issues that need tending to for functionality reasons.  The idea that there are some people that focus their time, money, and attention on perfecting their genitalia for aesthetic or erotic reasons is troubling.  It's worse, it seems to me, than getting a boob job because it's that much more personal.  For all that pain, only an intimate partner will ever know about it.

This 5 min. video shows how one fashion designer affected breast size expectations around an entire country, but because the vulva is so hidden, you'd think it'd be safer from media influences.    

Are personal relationships being threatened by these insidious ideals of perfection?  Are women so fearful of losing a partner that they'll go to these extremes to keep the kind of person who wants them to go to these extremes?  Because one of my prime pieces of dating advice is, "Don't sleep with anyone if you wouldn't feel comfortable having them see you naked without sucking in your gut."  There are logical extensions to other bits of the body as well.

Or have I framed it all in the wrong direction?  Are women doing this to themselves, comparing with one another and feeling like they come up short (or too long perhaps) regardless what a supportive partner might say?

There's a study in today's N.Y. Times about when and why women hate on other women.  If a woman is dressed provocatively, then, as soon as she walks away, other women will make disparaging remarks about her.  If a woman is dressed in business attire and looks great, women in the room will start to feel badly about their own looks, and that hit to the self-esteem increases if there's an attractive man in the same room as a beautiful, well-dressed woman.  The article suggests female aggression towards one another is all about a survival instinct to get rid of competition.  But when we know we can't win, we don't even try.  We just trudge away.

Or we call a plastic surgeon to level out the playing field.

Surely we of the big brain can get beyond animal instincts and recognize that there are plenty of men out there (just about as many as there are of us, even), that they don't typically expect that media-driven ideal bombarding us all, and that, most importantly, there are plenty of things to do in life that don't necessitate having a mate in the first place.  Maybe if women can stop viewing men as a scarce resources, then perhaps all the slut-shaming will decrease and the self-loathing along with it.  And if those music videos and mainstream films are such a bad influence that they make you want to alter your body, just turn them off. Check out some Renaissance paintings instead.

But it's tricky, this one.

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*I stopped writing part way through looking for that scene of The Wrong Box in which Nanette Newman flashes a shocking bit of ankle.  I couldn't find just that scene on YouTube, but I got completely sucked into watching the entire movie again.  Classic.  

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