You look fine. You really do. All of you.

// 6 July 2010

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It is no longer enough to hate your breasts, face, stomach, legs, nose, ears and lips enough to get them sliced and diced or injected with poison. It’s no longer enough to have society tell you that your body is so very unacceptable that you should risk your life having major surgery in order to make it fit patriarchal ‘rules’ about thinness, pertness, tightness, hairlessness and perfection.

Now, you have to apply the same thinking to your vagina. Are the muscles stretched? Are your labia too big – or too small? Is your mons pubis too big – or too small? Ditto clitoris. Well, you can have those cut up too.

That article actually says,

So, if you or your partner is not satisfied with your vagina, a rejuvenation procedure can work wonders.

Your partner? If s/he is not happy with your vagina, that is entirely their problem! And is not ever a good reason for you to have it chopped up. In fact, if they are criticising your vulva or vagina, they certainly don’t deserve you.

Amy Clare’s review of a Channel 4 programme about ‘designer vaginas’ is worth reading.

I have had surgery twice this year, and the fear and pain associated with them made me think a lot about, and seriously question, why people would put themselves through that voluntarily. Just how strong are society’s pressures, that they cause women to go through massive pain and lots of health risks, to get a smoother face or less saggy boobs?

When a woman chooses to have cosmetic surgery, I feel sad. Until we live in a society where what we look like is not used to oppress us, I question how much free choice we ever really have to make these decisions.

Comments From You

Nicky // Posted 6 July 2010 at 10:54 am

I completely agree. In fact, just last night I rewrote the lyrics to ‘I Could Be Happy’ by the 80s band Altered Images about this topic, mentioning vaginalplasty in the last verse. I am a feminist musician who is trying to highlight these issues concerning the pressures women are under to conform to an ‘ideal’ (i.e. ridiculous) image – and it just makes us all unhappy with ourselves and harbours insecurity which then leads to jealousy towards our fellow kin. Please check out my lyrics on the Facebook website under FLIPSIDE BRIDE fan pages. Thank you :-)

Jilly // Posted 6 July 2010 at 11:02 am

So who is to say a woman’s clitoris or labia are too big or too small? As you say, Philippa, if your partner isn’t happy with your appearance that is their problem, not yours! I can just imagine what the reaction would be if a woman said to a man that his ‘equipment’ wasn’t up to standard and he should have an operation to correct it!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 6 July 2010 at 11:11 am

Clearly there is no ‘free and informed choice’ when so many women believe their ‘vaginas’ are innately faulty and in desperate need of ‘repair.’

The much vaunted claim that women can now ‘choose’ to alter their bodies neatly diverts attention away from the fact all women do not live in a world wherein we are able to ‘freely choose’ but instead we are subject to intense socio-economic pressure to conform to the male-centric myth of the supposedly ideal female body.

Given that any criticism of how the cosmetic, beauty, advertising and media industries constantly misrepresent women and portray us as a ‘one size fits all’ is always missing from mainstream media. Articles critcising the male-centric belief of what supposedly is the ideal female body are rare and when they are published are immediately subjected to intense criticism and claims the author is a ‘man-hater.’ Or the commentators immediately proclaim that old, old diversionary tactic ‘but men too are turned into sexualised objects.’ Always the focus has to be on men as if they alone are the holders of wisdom and knowledge.

The ‘male gaze’ is big business for the cosmetic, beauty, media and advertising industries and these industries have deliberately co-opted the phrase ‘a woman can choose’ and are using it to their advantage wherein yes woman can ‘choose’ to have their bodies mutilated but it is not a ‘free and informed choice.’ Instead all women and girls are bombarded by messages that all we need do to achieve the male-centric notion of the ideal body is to purchase this product or have expensive and totally unnecessary surgery in order to turn ourselves into the mythical ideal female body which of course accords with the male-centric gaze.

Furthermore ‘designer vaginas’ is the same as female genital mutilation which many westerners decry as a violation of women’s and girls’ rights to their bodies. Both ‘designer vaginas’ and FGM are about male control of women’s and girls’ bodies as well as their sexuality.

Not forgetting of course men are the ones primarily coercing/viewing female potential partners and/or existing partners as not ‘meeting the male-centric standard.’ Note in the article quoted it is not about the woman viewing her body as hers but meeting the required standard her male partner demands/expects.

There is another ‘little’ (sic) problem and that is the mainstreaming of porn reinforces male-centric myths concerning the female body. Woe betide any woman/girl whose body does not match the female porn actress’s body which is consistently portrayed in porn as shorn of all public hair (childlike of course because male consumers do not want to relate to an adult woman) since these men having consumed porn believe the women in these films are accurate portrayals of all women.

In other words men’s hatred and contempt for women shows no sign of abating and this is why we are bombarded with claims that women’s/girls’ bodies are innately faulty and in need of utterly unnecessary and expensive ‘repair.’

Who benefits? Why the cosmetic surgeons, the beauty, advertisting and media industries as well as neatly ensuring that whilst women/girls are worrying about their bodies other important social issues such as how women are constantly subjected to misogyny and denied the status of being human.

Women for centuries have been subjected to intense male hatred and contempt because unlike men we are not supposedly human and unlike men we are a ‘mess’ of irrational emotions, spiralling from ‘hysterical outbursts’ to claims we are being oppressed.

Now male supremacy has suceeded not only in telling women we are the ones responsible for all of mankind’s (isc) ills and misfortunes but also our bodies are innately ‘faulty’ and in desperate need of repair. What next I wonder? Women’s feet are broken because their toes do not meet the male-defined standard, our breasts are too small; female sexuality is in desperate need of that mythical little pink pill because we have female sexual dysfunction; our vaginas are not ‘beautiful’ enough for the male gaze; our body hair is ugly and must be removed. Oh I could go on about the innately supposedly faulty female body.

One question who benefits? Why men of course and not forgetting the male-dominated cosmetic industry, the beauty, cosmetic, advertising and media industries all benefit because they are earning huge profits at the expense of selling the misogynistic myth to women and girls that our bodies do not meet the required male standard.

It’s a win win for our male supremacist society and lose, lose for all women.

angercanbepower // Posted 6 July 2010 at 11:38 am

I like body modification. I have lots of piercings. I want tattoos (but am a bit scared). I think sites like bmezine.com are cool.

I agree with the thrust of your post, that society puts ridiculous pressure on people, especially women, to conform to a physical ideal that for most is impossible. But there will never be a society which doesn’t claim that some physical features are more attractive than others – so I’m certainly not waiting for one before I do what I want to my body.

Kristin // Posted 6 July 2010 at 12:14 pm

Philippa, exactly. A few years ago I had to have three operations in a week because of a car accident. Surgery is a big, big thing, and I too could not imagine that anyone would go through it unless it was to save life and/or limb.

The media keeps going on about boob jobs and the things you mention above, but what they choose to ignore is that there are actually more breast reductions than enhancements done, because a lot of women find having large breasts uncomfortable, for lots of reasons.

I once read that boob jobs started in World War II, when doctors injected silicone into the breasts of some Philippino women because American soldiers wanted them to have bigger busts.

Mutilated // Posted 6 July 2010 at 12:38 pm

I’m a frequent poster on this site, but have chosen a different name just for this post as it really is a sensitive issue. After my third child was born, I was lying on my back waiting for a midwife to stitch me back up. I’d had a sudden and emergency high forceps intervention, without episiotomy which thank goodness saved the life of my child who had stopped breathing. The midwife was quietly preparing the equipment for the stitching. I remarked to her that it was odd, as I could see the early morning sun shining through the maternity room window, but I could hear the drip drip drip of rain on the windowsill. “No”, she says, “that’s your vagina bleeding into the bucket”. So she stitched me up. Only she started too low so it gapes, and she didn’t match the sides. So I have a skin flap the size and shape of a large wart at my anus. I’ve thought about having it neatened up. But I’m a sexual abuse surviver, it’s a cosmetic operation, I don’t have a partner blah blah blah. It doesn’t blight my life, I have to say, but all the same, in a beauty contest for vaginas mine wouldn’t win. (I know, I know, the beauty contest thing is a joke, honest). To cap it all, I had an apparently recognised and frequently treated problem of farting whenever I walked, especially up and down stairs, for three months post partum, which an understanding GP helped me with and which in the end didn’t need operating on. I don’t blame the medics, including the midwife. It must be hard to sew when you can’t stem the blood, and hard to match up something so badly torn.

But it does mean that – in conjunction with recovery from child birth, abuse, other accident – I wouldn’t judge someone who wanted vaginal cosmetic surgery.

Please all value your comfort above your appearance.

Lauren // Posted 6 July 2010 at 2:48 pm

Sing it, Jennifer.

coldharbour // Posted 6 July 2010 at 3:44 pm

@Jennifer Drew re: “the male-centric myth ”

I think the biggest myth is that men have some stereotypical standard of what a vagina should look like, what the mainstream patriarchal media portray men as desiring and what they desire in practice are usually two completely different things altogether. I think diversity in sexual tastes is always going to be invisibilized by the mainstream media due to prejudice an a sexually conservative society that stigmatizes men and woman that find other men and woman attractive that do not conform to the stereotypical norms of what is considered attractive. Lots of younger men purchase erotica/pornography involving woman in their fifties and older, I’m sure most of them might not want to admit it in front of their mates due to peer pressure ( when anyone who doesn’t worship Cheryl Cole is some kind of freak) but they do indeed exist in number. I obviously agree with Jennifer about woman being made to feel inferior about they way they look, however to think the capitalist media follow this line out of desire to propagate some democratic collectively agreed idea about what the majority of men think is totally absurd, it is the capitalist media that try and force these ideas on men not the other way around, I think this is what Noam Chomsky calls ‘manufactured consent’. There is only one winner, and I can assure it’s not the mugs handing over a fiver for a steaming pile of garbage that is supposed to pass for a ‘interest magazine’.

Hannah // Posted 6 July 2010 at 4:24 pm

Great post Jennifer! I don’t have much to add to that, except a little personal note.

The Guardian ran an article about this a few months ago, maybe last year, and it seems to be getting an increasing amount of press as it becomes a bigger phenomenon. What I find really interesting is the feedback between the two, and the problems that even awareness-raising articles can create – I’d never once thought about the aesthetics of my vagina, beyond the usual stuff about hair, until I read the article I mentioned on the Guardian, which was in fact critical of the rise in surgery. Since then I’ve deliberately avoided reading about it in case that triggers another body complex – I’ve got enough of those to deal with already! Clearly as feminists we can’t just ignore the proliferation of these attitudes, but then, just by talking about it we’re making some people think ‘they’re right, my labia ARE different sizes!’

This is probably a well-worn point and I don’t think there’s really much we can do to change our discourse around the topic. I think I just find it especially interesting because this is the first time I’ve noticed the symbiotic relation between the media and the surgeons unfolding so clearly.

Hannah // Posted 6 July 2010 at 4:33 pm

Also, Philippa, I very much agree with this:

“Your partner? If s/he is not happy with your vagina, that is entirely their problem!”

It makes me really sad that someone would go to such extreme lengths as to have surgery to please their partner. On a broader level, reading this also makes me wonder how much more evidence we need to prove the corrosive influence of porn on society and personal relationships. I’m so sick of people making the argument that images don’t affect behaviour!

aimee // Posted 6 July 2010 at 5:20 pm

Mutilated – thanks for sharing your story. I can see your point, but I think your situation is different from someone who just thinks they look ‘wrong’… I mean… obviously you don’t look wrong but it’s not how you were to begin with, so to speak. Of course i’d never judge awoman for her choices anyway, but I might be prompted to think abo0ut the situation and environment which might cause her to feel that way about herself in te first place.

Kristin // Posted 6 July 2010 at 6:02 pm

”Mutilated”, I am so sorry! That is terrible. It must have been awful for you. I didn’t know midwives were allowed to do that kind of procedure, I thought it had to be a doctor.

Of course no one would judge you if you wanted vaginal cosmetic surgery! Thank you for telling about your experience, it has taught me something. I have remembered something else re. my post above, namely that cosmetic surgery also evolved in the second world war to treat disfigured, scarred, burned airmen and other members of the armed forces. So of course it can be a good thing. And also treating babies with cleft palates, etc. Or anyone who has got some kind of disfigurement that is ruining their life. That’s not vanity, no way.

All the best to you and I”m sorry if anything I wrote might have seemed insensitive. I should think more. I will in future.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 6 July 2010 at 6:09 pm

Thanks, all, for interesting comments! And Mutilated, thank you for sharing your story. It made me think too. In the original post I had wondered about saying that it felt like a different issue if someone wanted, say, a breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, and in the same way, your situation feels different too. After some kind of injury or trauma to any area of the body, it is certainly understandable to want to return it to how it used to be. Like others, I doubt anybody would judge you for that.

EmilyBites // Posted 6 July 2010 at 9:32 pm

I can’t think of anything worse than elective cosmetic surgery ANYWHERE, especially my vulva or vagina. I’ve had two surgeries which left me with long operating scars and large areas of numb skin and flesh on leg and arm, and I cannot imagine risking any sort of nerve damage in my favourite places! Being poked on scar tissue feels to me like being knocked in the funny bone – twisting fizzing burning cold ouch. That’s not how I describe sex.

Luckily for me I don’t feel this specific pressure, but I totally understand it because like any woman saturated with porno media, I often disconnect my body from myself and look at it as though it were an object separate from me.

Mutilated // Posted 7 July 2010 at 8:51 am

Thanks to all of you for your nice messages. Please, no apologies were necessary and I was sharing something with you as I suspect many of you won’t have gone through childbirth yet and don’t hear about these things or know that they are normal and not that big a deal in the scheme of things.

Yes, in response to the question, it is generally midwives who do the stitches after an episiotomy (or a tear you might get if you don’t have an episiotomy). I am not blaming her at all – she did what was medically within her competence at the time. And I emphasise that whilst it could happen to anyone it was a medical emergency to use forceps without an episiotomy, and actually not a normal medical protocol, but the baby’s heart had stopped, and that mattered more than ripping my vagina to get to him.

And in general I agree with the general tone of the thread that cosmetic surgery women feel pressurised to have because of some idealised image society has of them is sad because they shouldn’t be made to feel that way. And I’d also prefer the NHS with their finite budget to fund drugs for cancer patients than to do non-reparative cosmetic surgery. Anyone who uses NHS money to fund a vanity operation should feel truly guilty.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 7 July 2010 at 10:32 am

But what about the complexities of real life? What if you have had four children and the muscles in your stomach sag despite exercise and diet, and you have no confidence in you appearance- should you still feel guilty about surgery? What about if you have lost serious amounts of weight and have unsightly flaps of skin- should you feel guilty about asking for surgery? What happens if you have grown up in a patriarchal culture which has made you feel self-conscious about your breasts, so that you won’t wear certain clothes, go swimming or go certain places- should you feel guilty about surgery?

I agree that surgery is a huge deal and that women shouldn’t feel pressurised to have unnecessary surgeries- but they do. And, why do we get to be the gatekeepers on what is ok/ feminist surgery and what is not? Why isn’t surgery after masectomy any less about vanity than if you don’t have any breasts in the first place? Why is vaginal reconstruction ok if you have physical scars, but not if your scars are emotional? What happens if you are transgendered and having surgery to fix a physically health body?

Why is having surgery to alter your body different from tatoos, piercings, make-up, hair-dye, waxing- all of which have been discussed on the Fword as having given women a sense of control over their own bodies- and even celebrated.

Surely, what you do to your own body is ultimately your choice? And, while there is a place to critique the need and pressure to have certain surgeries, I don’t think we should blame the women who have them or make them feel guilty about their choices?

Rachel H-G // Posted 7 July 2010 at 3:33 pm

I think that Coldharbour has a point. I have no idea whether my vulva is big, small or whatever in comparison to others, and none of my (male) partners appear to have had any preference either. They all seemed happy that it was there, and that it contained all their favourite bits (possibly TMI – won’t go further).

I’m not sure who really benefits from the “standardisation”, for want of a better word, of female downstairs appearance, other than plastic surgeons. I know porn has something to do with it, but I don’t know how this whole thing started. It’s depressing.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 7 July 2010 at 5:13 pm

Feminist Avatar, I never said, and certainly do not believe, that women should feel guilty about having cosmetic surgery. I don’t blame women who have surgery for it at all. I blame the society we live in that makes us think that our bodies can even be ‘unsightly’.

angercanbepower // Posted 7 July 2010 at 6:50 pm

I blame the society we live in that makes us think that our bodies can even be ‘unsightly’.

But Philippa, why? Some bodies look better than others. This means some bodies must look worse than others.

You can quibble about what “better” means, and obviously it’s subjective, but I don’t see how you can disagree with this.

Do you disapprove of people who try to improve how their appearance through make-up? Haircuts? Exercise? Diets? What about tattoos, piercings, scarification? When does body modification suddenly become not feminist anymore?

The whole of society is screaming at the top of its voice about what we should do or not do with our bodies. Can’t a feminist blog just tell us we can do what we like (without patronising us that our desires are little more than a sad product of patriarchy)?

Philippa Willitts // Posted 7 July 2010 at 7:00 pm

angercanbepower – I’ve already said, I don’t disapprove. It just makes me sad that we feel we have to undergo life-threatening major surgery to get a bigger cup size.

Sheila // Posted 7 July 2010 at 11:10 pm

@Feminist Avatar

The difference between tattoos, piercings, hair-dyeing and waxing is that you can’t get them on the NHS. If women paid for cosmetic surgery which was non reparative (including trans-gender and emotional issues in reparative) then I wouldn’t have a problem with it except in general to worry that they were being pressurised into it by society’s “idealised” view of the female body. But elective non-reparative cosmetic surgery which IN ANY WAY – including GP referral time, treatment for post-operative infections and complications – costs the NHS money that it could be spending saving the lives of women with breast cancer is a drain on our hard paid for resource and I don’t agree with it.

Troon // Posted 8 July 2010 at 1:32 am

If you compare this to compare this to the penis ads coming though your inbox every day its notable that they promise men exceptionality. This works by instead by defining ‘normality’ as the goal, and then defining it using wholly exceptional norms.

This, to me, makes it very different from simple self-perceived ‘unsightliness’. Much that has been mentioned here in terms of ‘not blaming anyone’ or ‘how is this different to…’ is what both men and women choose to do to their bodies as a way of making them exceptional, of splitting the mind-body crap by taking control of their physicality to express who they feel they are. Other cases are about ‘normality’ as defined by an individual, often in reference to their past bodies or just because they are genuinely aware of an acute difference between them and others.

But crap such as this ad is about selling a vision of what is exceptional as normality, and thus creating a need which doesn’t exist. And it’s surely only women who are put under this sort of pressure?

Valerie // Posted 8 July 2010 at 7:13 am

I have to admit when I was younger I needed a lot of ego validation and of course the only way (or so I thought) to get that is through the male gaze. What a no win situation that is. I wish I had these blogs when I was younger. Maybe I would have read something and it would have stuck with me. I would have saved myself a lot of heartache and money.

Thanks everyone for talking about this.

childerowland // Posted 8 July 2010 at 9:38 am

A huge difference between a haircut or getting your ears pierced and having surgery is the risk – going under general anaesthetic always carries some level of risk – and the fact that so many women undergo these risks for the sake of an arbitrary aesthetic standard is something that feminists should be concerned about.

Also, tattoos and piercings (in the UK, anyway) are more about decoration than fitting a particular beauty standard. I have no piercings or tattoos and have never felt the slightest bit pressured to have either. I don’t think you can compare tattoos to, say, having your vagina ‘rejuvinated’. As far as I am aware, the reasons for getting a tattoo are generally positive, e.g. ‘I really like that design and think it would look on me’, whereas I imagine the reasons for getting vagina ‘rejuvination’ would be more along the lines of ‘OMG my labia are much bigger than those in that picture, I am a freak, no-one will find me attractive.’ The desire to decorate one’s body is something that will always be around and that’s fine – but it’s when you’re encouraged to believe that there is something *wrong* with you aesthetically and you’re strongly pressured into changing it that there’s a problem.

I have had very expensive laser treatment done on my face to get rid of facial hair. I am much happier now, yes, but it would have been so much better if facial hair on women had been considered acceptable in the first place. It’s important for feminists to draw attention to and criticise beauty standards – far from making me feel guilty or patronised, it helps to remind me that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with how I looked in the first place; it was just society making me feel like there was. I don’t find the ‘Yay, Choice! We can do what we like!’ attitude very helpful when so many women (including myself) undertake these kinds of procedures reluctantly – purely in order to kiss the arse of patriarchy.

saranga // Posted 8 July 2010 at 9:46 am

@Sheila:

You have said that you believe surgery linked to emotional issues counts as reparative surgery, so when do you think it becomes non-reparative? What counts as an emotional issue?

Lindsey // Posted 8 July 2010 at 9:47 am

The difference between piercings and bodymods on one side and cosmetic surgery on the other is that one is aimed to conforming to patriarchal ideals and the other contradicts it.

I don’t blame any woman for whatever she does to her body, we all do what we need to to get by in patriarchal society.

Siobhan // Posted 8 July 2010 at 10:10 am

I agree completely with this article. A partner’s dissatisfaction with your “unaccaptable” vagina is to reason to get it “rejuvinated”. However, in regards to your comment “When a woman chooses to have cosmetic surgery, I feel sad.”, I hope this doesn’t include certain procedures which are considered “cosmetic” but actually do improve quality of life. I had a breast reduction earlier this year and it was the best thing I ever did. I am still fairly young (19) but I wish I could have done it sooner as it has alleviated back, shoulder and neck pain and headaches. I’m sure you weren’t referring to such procedures, more to the ones that do nothing but “improve” your appearance. I just thought I should point it out.

Thanks for the post though. I tried discussing this point with my sister just before, but she seemed to think it’s a fine reason to get surgery if your partner thinks you should. Forget that it’s your body and you may not even be with that person in a few years…I agree, I find it sad too.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 8 July 2010 at 10:39 am

Hi Siobhan,

No, I wouldn’t include things like breast reductions to reduce back pain etc. As someone with very large boobs myself I can truly understand that associated pain and difficulties!

saranga // Posted 8 July 2010 at 10:50 am

@Lindsey:

“The difference between piercings and bodymods on one side and cosmetic surgery on the other is that one is aimed to conforming to patriarchal ideals and the other contradicts it.”

I disagree that piercings and other bodymods always contradict patriarchal culture. There is an alternative subculture which appears to not conform to the patriarchy, (whether it does or not is a whole different discussion) but a lot of people with bodymods are ‘mainstream’ and wouldn’t consider themselves as part of the subculture. Some people think nostril piercings (for example) are hot, so some people will get their nostril pierced to be more attractive. I’m not sure how this is different to any other change you make to your body to appear more desirable.

Sheila // Posted 8 July 2010 at 12:36 pm

@saranga

I’m not a clinician so I’m not sure I’d be the one to exercise the judgement on what is emotional or not in every case, but obvious cases are where someone is a CSA survivor and feels their treatment would improve their mental health, whereas if someone without a medical history for issues which can affect their mental health comes into the doctor’s surgery and says she thinks her labia are too big, I’d like the doctor to tell her she can go to the private clinic down the road if she really wants to, but that very few people have labia that are medically off radar in terms of size. How the hell do you know? How many labia have you all been looking at? I would leave the decision to experts at the end of the day, and whilst doctors may be fallible at least they’re more expert than me at assessing real motives for operations.

@Siobhan, yes, I’m with you. Breast reduction is more easily clinically identified as necessary than breast augmentation.

Mutilated // Posted 8 July 2010 at 2:42 pm

Sorry for multiple postings, but something was bothering me about the thread and I suddenly realise what. The title is “you look fine”. It’s all about looks. We are falling into a trap of thinking that it’s all about looks and then thinking that we’re feminists if we say it doesn’t matter what it looks like. When it comes to discussion on surgery for breast reduction for example that’s not because breasts LOOK too big, but because they ARE too big – they hurt your back and your neck, make breathing hard at night, etc. That’s what makes breast reduction OK. What on earth are we doing wondering what our vaginas look like provided that they feel alright. If vaginas FEEL medically wrong, then have the matter treated, but if they LOOK aesthetically a bit lobsided and badly designed – then frankly, you’re normal.

Lindsey // Posted 8 July 2010 at 4:37 pm

@saranga

Yeah you’re right, there are socially approved body modifications. Such as ear piercing for women, which is so common as to almost be expected.

saranga // Posted 8 July 2010 at 4:40 pm

@Sheila: I think what i was getting at (altho not stating it) is that where does unhappiness at your body parts become so severe that it becomes a valid emotional issue. Altho i think you’ve answered my question with respect to that anyway. For me, it’s a difficult issue and I’m not sure where I’d draw the line. Thank you for the response though.

@Mutilated: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Looks vs what the body part actually is. Very good point.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 8 July 2010 at 7:18 pm

Sorry, Phillipa, I was addressing the comment that said that anyone who used the NHS for a ‘vanity op’ should feel truly guilty.

@ Sheila- You can’t get cosmetic surgery on the NHS, unless your unhappiness with your appearance is causing damage to your mental health- although it is true that the NHS will pick up the difference if anything goes wrong. So, the ‘problem’ with cosmetic surgery is not that it is ‘free’- and if we were going down the route of cost, surgery may well be a cheaper option that months or even years of therapy to help people comes to terms with their body- and I doubt many feminists would be upset with women receiving free therapy on the NHS.

Anne Onne // Posted 8 July 2010 at 8:16 pm

A lot of great comments here, I am enjoying reading them and quite thankful that there are quite a few people who get this, and who appreciate the way in which people are being oppressed by something that some people believe is being ’empowering’ to women.

Operations are a major procedure, and despite being often necessary, and technically voluntary, the body responds to surgery like it does to any other serious injury. I’m not against body modification, but I’m against the way that cosmetic surgery is being mainstreamed and presented as an easy, simple, convenient thing to do, something that has become perfectly reasonable to expect of one’s (often female) partner or other people (often women) in general. It’s not easy, even routine, simple procedures take a lot out of you, and surgery ALWAYS bears risks.

I know there are obviously procedures that remove pain and physical discomfort, and there are patients for whom their mental happiness is so affected by their appearance that surgery can help them. I’m certainly not against cosmetic surgery being available, to these people or anyone else.

But I can’t help but feel that for most people, it’s only sticking a plaster on a deep wound: that of judging women on appearance over all else, and of expecting them to do anything, no matter how invasive or painful, to conform to our standards.

Even if we did all have cosmetic surgery, the goalposts would just shift. The fact that women are as often reviled for not having the ‘right’ kind of cosmetic surgery, or going too far kind of proves that.

Hannah // Posted 8 July 2010 at 8:36 pm

@Lindsay, I’m wary of taking this off on too much of a tangent, but I find the ear piercing norm interesting. I’ve been bought earrings plenty of times by friends as presents and have found myself struggling to know how to react – admit I don’t have my ears pierced and risk embarrassing the present-buyer, or accept the present and keep quiet? I tend to not say anything. Although the labia case is at the extreme end of body mutilation/modification to conform to social expectations, it is strange when you consider the many painful procedures that are perceived as normal (and I agree with my mum here, who decided that ear piercing is mutilation on a child who can’t consent.)

Ok, you can get back to the proper discussion now. I’m finding the comments on here really fascinating.

Kate // Posted 9 July 2010 at 1:43 am

@Hannah, I’ve had similar experiences. People are usually shocked that I don’t have my ears pierced. One grandmother and one auntie have been on a mission to convince me to get them pierced since I was about 9. I still can’t understand why “because I don’t want to” isn’t an acceptable reason to them. I’m 23 now.

Jen // Posted 9 July 2010 at 2:58 am

Thank you so, so much for posting this. When I began a teenager, I never learned about sexism, and I never thought twice about how “disgusting” my body was. In the past year, I’ve been subject to learning about feminism and how sexism still exists and is very real, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized that my body was mine and not society’s, and how uncomfortable I was with myself. I’m still having awful issues with accepting my body because of this, but reading posts like this and reading what people like you’ve written makes me feel a lot more comfortable. Thank you so much.

Bosphorus // Posted 11 July 2010 at 11:11 am

I’m really surprised that no-one has yet to expicitly bring up the relation might have with trans people’s experiences, expecially trans women. That is, in the case of a trans person engaging in surgeries in order to ease hir gender dysphoria, and decrease the chance of hir being misgendered, even if this makes hir body conform to a gender ‘norm’ surely this is something to be supported?

To re-quote Sally Outen in an article by Penny Red that was previously posted on this site: “It is only natural for a person who strongly wishes to be identified according to her or his felt gender to attempt to provide cues to make the process easy for those who interact with her or him. That person cannot be blamed for the stereotypical nature of the cues that society uses, or if they can be blamed, then every cisgendered person who uses such cues is equally to blame.”

I think that this can hold true for some cis people, too. Which leads me to conclude that we shouldn’t feel sorry for an individual feels empowered to decide what zie wants for hir body so much as feel sad about the rotten parts of social system which circumscribes our actions and from which we can never completely escape.

polly // Posted 11 July 2010 at 4:08 pm

I’ve got crowns on my front teeth. I got them on the NHS (though I still had to pay a hefty contribution) because they were considered to be “medically” necessary. BUT they are also – let’s face it – cosmetic. I would hate to be walking round with a missing front tooth – I’d feel self conscious about my appearance all the time.

There is a case to be made for cosmetic surgery – that it can make people’s lives easier basically, it’s often hard to deviate from the norm too much. Though there are many aspects of my life where I don’t give a flying wotsit about looking conventionally attractive, no one is completely unaware of their appearance.

But the problem is that when cosmetic surgery becomes widespread the ‘norm’ alters. The ‘norm’ for women is now very thin with large breasts – a figure some women have naturally, but is much more commonly acheived with surgery (Ironically most women I know who are thin with very large breasts would rather have smaller breasts. )

The issue isn’t banning cosmetic surgery, so much as outside pressure to conform to an unrealistic ideal.

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