Tuesday 27 July 2010

The Rise of the Intimate Nip/Tuck

Lippy girl is out there! I have a mention in the August edition of Red, which reveals that labiaplasties on the National Health Service have more than doubled in two years.

The article quotes gynaecologist Dr Deborah Boyle who says, "labia is not just additional skin that's redundant". Hurrah for doctors who know about female anatomy!! 

Dr Boyle also comments, "it's sensitive, and some people have orgasms which originate in part from the vulva." Again hurrah, but why is this treated as a medical revelation several million years after we first started enjoying our flappy bits...? 

The article also quotes 'Anna', a woman who has undergone labiaplasty because she 'dreaded' sex;  and who is presented as an example of why labiaplasty is a valid choice. Even Dr Boyle comes down for it in the end, implying she sees some strong women who are determined to amputate, some so much that 'they'd consider doing it to themselves'.

I've got some sympathy for the informed choice argument. But Dr Boyle needs a challenge here, in the light of legislation which states labiaplasty may not be performed without medical reason, notwithstanding a woman's desires - or even her threats of DIY. And also because there have been no public sightings of that creature she mentions: the informed assertive women who chooses labiaplasty as a positive option. Show me the evidence!

Anna I'm sorry to say is not the one. 

She begins, quite petulantly, by stating that labiaplasty is not a female circumcision, 'it's just not'. Wrong. The WHO clearly defines removal of the labia minora as a type IIa female genital mutilation (FGM). This surgery forms 8% of FGM in Egypt, where cutting has been dominated by medics since the 1990s or earlier. When finally in 2007 the Egyptian government closed the medical loophole, they banned any "cut of, flattening or modification of any natural part of the female reproductive system". Clearly labiaplasty was in their sights...

Anna's follow up rings equally hollow as a demonstration of knowledge and empowerment. She says that labia are, 'just excess skin that's unsightly'. The first point is not correct, and the second is a scattergun insult. Neither ignorance nor aggression are generally considered hallmarks of empowerment. 

As regards Dr Boyle's position, it should be said that the UK FGM Act 2003 is clear that many women buy into cutting practices (in all their multifarious forms) - Clause 2 explicitly rules out the threat of DIY cutting as a doctor's defence. The Act protects, "any part of .... labia majora, labia minora or clitoris".

However a loophole has been built into our FGM law. It denies women the right to present a belief in 'custom or ritual' as a reason for tissue excision, but fails to legislate against the equally crazy/misogynistic/unscientific Caucasian view that women should just be a neat little hole.... 

As such it seems to have been designed to protect the Western (and mainly white run) labiaplasty industry, rather than female empowerment per se.

The distinctions in the act raise an interesting challenge for doctors. Imagine that the next patient who visits Dr Boyle to demand labial excision is an educated professional of Egyptian origin, and a member of a family in which each generation has undergone automatic excision to be (as she sees it) beautifully smooth, clean and feminine.
Where then for autonomy? 

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 hanging......it'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.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Love Your bits

Thanks to all those who have either commented or sent me private messages of support.

I agree with the correspondent who asks me to make sure I remind women without dangly bits that they are 'perfectly normal too'.

I'm happy to do this - in fact my concerns about framing this campaign in a way which is positive for all natural sizes and shapes is the reason I took so long to start the blog.

I don't want to put anyone down, quite the opposite. My point is simply this: we're made the way we're meant to be, and the genitals in particular are very highly engineered. You tamper with them at your peril.

To allow plastic surgeons to set the agenda on how our bits should look and feel is like putting Morticia Addams in charge of your flower garden.

Another correspondent has reminded me that men - especially in circumcising countries - may feel they have to apologise before taking their boxers off, if they are intact. In the parts of the world where circumcision is not common (ie most places) men may feel a little uncomfortable if their foreskin seems too long, or even too short, or may be embarrassed that they don't have one at all. The message to these men is, don't ever be ashamed of what you've got. Love your bits!

If any individual finds themselves taking their underwear off for someone ungrateful for the present they're being given, the solution is: throw them out and get someone more sensual and less superficial instead.

When I found myself in bed with a man with the longest foreskin I'd ever seen, I was incredibly excited. I considered it the 'king of foreskins' and told him so. Later I had a man with a shortish one he'd injured so it rolled a bit asymetrically as if squinting. I thought this was adorable too. When I had a circumcised man with an incredibly harsh and botched cut, first of all I found this difficult to be positive about. Then I thought how innocent it was and how brave to overcome what had been done to it. So I named it my war hero...

Let's stop making war on genitals though. Please?

Thanks for supporting, and hope you'll keep reading. In my next two posts I'm going to cover the function of the labia, and the link between labiaplasty and phrenology.

Saturday 8 May 2010

This is a blog about lips and about life. It's about how great our bodies are and how important it is to celebrate them, love them, have fun with them.

I want to persuade you - and I hope most of you won't need much persuading - that the labia minora are as beautiful as the petals of a flower - and even more functional.

As for so called 'normality' - there is no normal flower shape or size: I may be a rhodedendron, you a rose, and your best friend a forget-me-not ... we are all beautiful.

I don't want this site to attract porn bunnies, and my guiding principle is that it should be somewhere you might encourage a young daughter to look, if she needs knowledge or reassurance about sex and sexual bits. So while I am going to encourage people to submit images, I'm asking for tasteful/abstract images. Flowers are good, line drawings might be ok, possibly I might accept an arty shot of you with a bow tied on yours ...or a wedding ring.

The theme is celebrate!

And here are 10 of the reasons why I've chosen to blog about women's bits:

1. Because I measure 5 cm (2 inches) at full stretch but I don't feel abnormal - I feel great

2. Because I rode horses and bikes lots as a child and never found it painful or uncomfortable

3. Because I had glorious sex for 20 years before realising anyone had an issue with labia

4. Because I learned that people have an issue with labia from a TV programme

5. Because after that programme I found myself apologising before taking my knickers off

6. Because no woman should ever apologise before taking her knickers off

7. Because men love looking at and playing with labia, perhaps as much as any other part of your body*

8. Because my mother is lippy and her mother was and probably her grandmother and her grandmother's grandmother too

9. Because having this part as a white family links us to our African ancestors, and current day Khoisan sisters

10. Because less isn't always more - in sex more can be more!

And so more of this tomorrow. While I want to make this blog generally positive I do also want to strike back at those who promote and profit from type IIa female circumcision - aka labiaplasty. I'll be asking you to help me by writing complaint letters to medical regulators about plastic surgeons who peddle myths about female genital cutting (and sometimes male).

Thanks for reading!

*The man I apologised to thought I was mad, said I'd answered his prayers by being so large and showed me the pictures he had on his iphone to prove it!