Sunday, 13 June 2010

Labiaplasty and racism

I hope you'll take some time to read my page 'What is a Hottentot Apron?'. This tells the story of Saartjie Baartman and her compatriots, who were reviled by white Europeans for being way too lippy; and way too happy about it.

Anyone would be horrified reading Saartjie's story. Like the history of phrenology it reveals the horrible lengths Europeans have gone to to fabricate a scientific rationale for their prejudice. But I have an extra reason to empathise, because we are genital sisters, Saartjie and I.

The fact that I am a white European and the possessor of a 'hottentot apron', has inspired me to try to right some wrongs and in honour of Saartjie and her sisters to turn hatred into celebration.

We've become accustomed to hearing the term 'hypertrophic labia' and think it's a genuine medical diagnosis. The reality is it isn't. The term appears to have gained currency in the 16th century as a way to categorise certain women as not just physically abnormal, but also sexually and racially deviant (see this article which explains it all much more eloquently than I can)

And yet... have you ever seen this misognyist history represented in any programmes/articles about labiaplasty? I'd bet not, I certainly haven't. Putting this in context remember that labiaplasty is a type IIa female genital mutilation which doctors are forbidden even to promote, because it is harmful and rooted in the desire to suppress female sexuality.

Dontcha love white folks' hypocrisy!? Here are some quotes from doctors practising in Britain, as an illustration that the ghost of past prejudice stalks our surgeries, operating theatres (and television studios):

"They have these things's terribly embarrassing....they need to be made normal" - Dalia Nield

"Let's do the standing up test....[on viewing the labia while the patient is standing] ... they're sticking right down and normally you wouldn't get that appearance" Pixie McKenna.

[Labiaplasty] "leaves behind an elegant looking labia". Douglas McGeorge. He added, [just to remind us what we're for]: "Lads' mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look."

"for women with serious hypertrophy - when the tissue is dark and hangs down - there is a simple way to deal with it." Angelica Kavouni. [what exactly is it you find so medically problematic about dark skin Angelica? Do tell...?]

I'm going to keep collecting these quotes, and will be putting them in my next letter to the General Medical Council and the British Medical Association about this subject. Please do send me more examples as you find them.


  1. Keep up the good work !

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  2. My gf has long labia and I think they look hot. I don't think they should be cut off and I'm against male circumcision too.

  3. You're misspelling her name.


  4. Thanks anonymous for the tip, I had seen it spelled both ways but I've now changed it.

  5. Maybe it's true that most women are vain, but I think it's normal. In California, there are some women who undergo labiaplasty and other beauty enhancement. Usually, the labia reshapes after giving birth, biking, hormonal change, etc.

  6. Jennifer it's hard to see what point you're trying to make. Have I talked about vanity? Why would circumcising/excising a woman's sensual parts be a 'beauty enhancement'? Labia are gorgeous - men love looking at them - not to mention the sensations she gets when he plays with them, tugging or sucking. Doesn't sensual feeling matter in California?

    I'm interested to have your medical reference for the claim that labia 'usually' reshape in the instances you describe. I know this can happen but I'm not clear it does in a majority of cases.

    If you believe that labiaplasty is being undertaken because the labia have changed I think you're wrong - the anecdotal evidence is clear that it's quite young women seeking this, and I think it's reasonable to presume most are like me large from birth, as a genetic feature. Just like some people have a full mouth or a roman nose.

  7. I find this really fascinating. I never knew that there was a difference between races - I thought it was just a random genetic variation, which seems a silly assumption now I put it like that.

    I don't remember my mother's labia being long and I don't think my daughter's are (she's 6 so I don't look nowadays). While I'm a very white European with an English father, I have some markers of African blood, which we have NO idea where it has come from - possibly an illicit unrecorded union, as we can trace the family tree back a long way. I have straight hair but with the occasional kinked hair that my hairdresser has pointed out to me. I have discolouration on one of the whites of my eyes, usually only found in African people. I am tall and large boned. I never imagined that my long labia might also be a marker of African ancestry.

    Any self-conscious thoughts have been all my own - where I live, no one comments on long labia or long foreskin. It seems to be a characteristic of USA, Middle Eastern & Malaysian culture that these things are considered dirty or unattractive and that children should have their genitalia trimmed. These ideas are foreign to me.

  8. Thanks for your comments Amy, it's interesting to hear your story and I'm glad you find the idea of labiaplasty foreign! I should point out that the idea that some African ethnic groups have larger inner labia is anecdotal and complicated by the practice of manual stretching.

    It has been used to try to justify FGM - one Egyptian cleric, defending female cutting in Egypt claimed that Egyptian women had more prominent vulval parts than their sisters in neighbouring regions and so needed to be reduced... more on this soon. Thanks very much for reading.

  9. Well this was interesting. I can't imagine people being worried about vulva's and labia's being a point of critique enough to have surgery on. I think it's sick. But women's bodies are always getting picked over for criticism and held to a fashion standard set by (IMO) gay men who hate the true female body anyway. That's why they prefer tiny little pelvis, itty bitty skinny legs, broad shoulders, skin so tight it looks like it hurts, etc. I guess they want labia now too to look like it's been cut off and replaced by a cartoon. Good God. Leave us alone, FFS. The plastic surgery people will always want money so anything they can make people believe.... The problem is women not being content with their own bodies.
    Don't you love white folks hypocrisy? No, I am white. Unfortunately whites are the last group it's ok to bash. Everyone else is a saint, right? Nooo.... whites were the first to go round the world and of course these things were foreign to them. When I was in Africa the people were fascinated by things about me and if they could they might have written down some anecdotes that may not have been flattering. My blue eyes were "scary" and they frightened some children who had to look away. Is that flattering? Stop the black African worship and you might get some more fans here...

  10. I want to know how much on average a Labiaplasty costs? Also what are your thoughts on women getting vaginal plastic surgery?

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