Labiaplasty: cosmetic surgery to trim the inner labia for the purposes of comfort and/or aesthetic.
There is a lot of press surrounding labiaplasty this week as it was highlighted on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on Monday. Namely, that girls as young as 9 are pursuing the procedure and that in 2016, more than 200 girls managed to undergo this procedure on the NHS. (The BBC points out that while none of these was approved for the procedure for cosmetic purposes, girls knew how to exaggerate complaints in order to get the surgery.) Despite this, most labiaplasty operations are performed privately. A nice male plastic surgeon was helpfully on call to defend the procedure, sharing that he had actually met women between the ages of 16 and 21 who had never had boyfriends because they were so embarrassed by their genitalia.
Thank goodness for that white, male, middle aged plastic surgeon pointing out the big issue here - that if a woman between the ages of 16 and 21 has not yet developed the emotional maturity to participate in a relationship, then there is something wrong with her and her best solution involves anaesthesia and a scalpel. Please. Forgive my skepticism if I don't believe Dr. Patriarchy is performing these surgeries because he wants to make a difference.
I would like to think most of us rolled our eyes at Dr. Patriarchy, but what is the takeaway lesson? Undoubtedly, most people following this story will say that we need to teach our daughters that bodies are unique and photographed models (pornography and otherwise) are photoshopped. I'm sure we all agree we need to support our fellow women and teach our daughters to love themselves. But what about our sons?
My husband and I have two boys, aged three and seven months. Whilst they are a bit young for the labiaplasty discussion, I'm serious about the need to address this with them. I do not mean to suggest that all pressure to change the female body comes from males. Quite the contrary, I think women put a lot of pressure on one another. Dr. Patriarchy is, I'm sure, telling the truth: he has encountered girls who are embarrassed of their bodies for fear of not measuring up in the eyes of a potential partner. But these girls, these daughters of parents who need to be educated about this trend...where did they get the idea they won't measure up? From other women? Yes. From TV and social media and glossy airbrushed images? Yes. From boys at school openly discussing women's bodies? Yes. Those parents of daughters aren't the only ones who need to heed this warning. It is unfortunate we live in a world where many men think women's bodies are custom built to their liking - this mentality reaches from men at a barbecue commenting on the other guests to plastic surgeons advising potential patients about labiaplasty to the man sitting in the Oval Office. To combat it, we need to have frank conversations with our boys about realistic bodies. About respect for those bodies. ALL bodies. We need to address the social pressure to disrespect bodies, too. And we need to explain that whilst magazine pictures are consumable items, people are not. If you want to live in a safe, progressive environment, a "boys will be boys" attitude is not going to work. I would be devastated if I had a daughter who wanted labiaplasty. I'd be horrified to know that something my son said within earshot of a girl convinced her she needed corrective surgery.
So read the news. Take to Twitter. Contact your MP. Talk to your daughters. But don't forget to talk to your sons. Labiaplasty is not just a women's issue.