Designer vagina, breast implants, butt lift... FGM? You may say, "What are you on about, Leyla?"
I promise you, it's not about FGM... okay, it sort of is. What else did you expect from me?
Did you know that FGM type 1 was practiced in the UK till the 1960s? The term used to describe it then was 'clitoridectomy'.
In 1865 an English gynaecologist believed that the irritation of the clitoris was unnatural and it caused epilepsy, hysteria and mania, and worked "to remove [it] whenever he had the opportunity of doing so".
I thought not having orgasms could cause mental health issues, but that's just me!
You may be thinking, "Leyla, why is this relevant now?" Give me couple of minutes to explain. For many years I've been wondering whether any cosmetic alteration to a woman's body is a conscious choice. Some may say women who attend Harley Street clinics obviously have a choice; "Come on Leyla, they paid for it, no one dragged them or pressured them".
You may find it hard to believe, but many girls who have undergone FGM asked to be cut. No, I haven't lost it....hear me through.
Imagine that as a child you're told you're dirty because you have a clitoris. Imagine you're told that anything you touch will be considered dirty, that other children won't play with you. I'll never forget my first day at school in Somalia. A little girl from my class asked me, "Leyla did you have Gudniin?" (FGM in Somali) I answered yes. She pointed at the girls waiting on the other side of the playground. "Girls she can now play with us". At that moment I felt I belonged. That was the moment I thought, maybe FGM isn't bad after all, at least I'm not dirty now. If I hadn't gone through it, I would have been ostracised. I would have been all alone. It's no wonder girls can be so scared of the stigma, that they're willing to ask to be cut.
So how does cosmetic surgery fit into this context?
Well, imagine you're a young girl in the UK. Imagine you hate your body because it looks nothing like "it's meant to look like". Nothing like the pictures of the perfect models and pop stars you see in supermarkets, on the TV, on the newspaper someone's left on the bus... Imagine they call you 'flat tits' from across the school yard. Imagine obsessing over whether your 'camel toe' can be seen through your jeans. Is that more familiar?
Not the same you say? Then why are there girls with normal genitals asking to be cut on the NHS?
With my anti FGM campaigning work I speak to a lot of young people from all backgrounds, and for the past 11 years I've been hearing young white English girls discussing breast implants and labiaplasty, also known as 'designer vagina'. These are procedures where you can have your labias "trimmed or tucked." There is no research on the long term health consequences on the sexual, physical and emotional health of women because that would upset the very powerful cosmetic surgery lobby. Even if a young girl is turned away from surgery on the NHS, who's to say she can't have it done privately? There is barely any regulation applying to Harley street clinics.
This leads me to the power of language and the power it has on our society.
If an African girl wanted FGM we would be outraged, and rightly so. Why would we cut girls to control their sexuality and satisfy men? We can all agree on this. Yet when a girl from a non-FGM practicing community wants to be cut, trimmed or tucked we're told it's her choice. Aren't both examples of cultural coercion? Are we saying one happens to adults and the other to children? To some extend, that's true. But there are nine-year old girls, accompanied by their mothers, asking for cosmetic surgery on the NHS. Girls with normal genitals. Confused? Me too.
Did you know that the UK FGM bill forbids me, as an adult, to have any procedure done on my genitals, while any white British woman can walk into a clinic and casually cut hers? Still confused? Me too.
What I'm saying is that as a society we're putting pressure on our girls from a very young age to alter their bodies. Whether we like to admit it or not, FGM, designer vagina, breast implants or butt lifts are carried out to satisfy men. That's my belief and you're welcome to disagree with me. I still had to get it out there.
I hope you all tuned in to my TEDx Talk on Saturday (7 December). Here's the link for more information: http://www.ted.com/tedx/events/9194
By the way, did you sign my petition? By signing you can potentially save a girl from FGM.