If you’re squeamish about vaginas, you should stop reading now. If cosmetic surgery makes you queasy, you’ve been warned. Because today I just cannot stop myself from writing about the 2nd Global Symposium on Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery to be held September 23-25th in Las Vegas.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking:
“The second cosmetic vaginal surgery conference? And it’s global? Why would you even tell me this?”
I am telling you about this because the cosmetically enhanced vagina—the frankengina—is a cultural artifact so overburdened with significance that it cannot be ignored. I first encountered vaginal cosmetic surgery while writing my book, American Plastic (Beacon, 2010). Vaginal cosmetic surgery includes things like trimming the labia minora so they don’t protrude from the labia majora (labiaplasty), tightening the vaginal canal (vaginoplasty) and even hooding the clitoris. Vaginal cosmetic surgery is the fastest growing category of cosmetic procedures according to statistics collected by the American Society for Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), increasing among their members by 30 percent between 2005 and 2006.
All of this despite the fact that both the AMA and the American Gynecological Society have said such surgery is unnecessary and possibly even dangerous. It can result in scarring, numbness, and even pain during intercourse.
So why is the designer vagina growing so much in popularity that it requires its own conference? The frankengina is the result of a myriad of forces, from commercial medicine to pornography to the size of computer screens.
Part of the driving commercial force behind the frankengina is Dr. David Matlock of Dr. 90210 fame who also helped organize the conference. Matlock’s Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Institute’s Web site informs us that vaginal rejuvenation maybe necessary for the “thirty million American women (who) suffer from symptoms of vaginal relaxation … that may occur as a result of childbirth, aging, or a combination of both.” In other words, any signs of adult womanhood is a problem to be corrected. Fortunately for Matlock and other cosmetic surgeons, the solution costs between $2,000 and $15,000.
Another force behind the cosmetically enhanced vagina is that, thanks to the “pornification” of our culture, we see a lot of vaginas. And yet the vagina in porn has been homogenized, standardized, and airbrushed to within an inch of its life The result is that few of us believe that vaginas look various, but rather that they all look like the v-jay-jays of porn stars. Looking at Playboy centerfolds over the past 50 years, I noticed that not only did the vagina become increasingly visible, but it also became increasingly similar. The porno vagina is hairless like that of a young girl, with the inside lips neatly tucked up inside the outer lips- no signs of sexual maturity or childbirth at all. We adult women have to contend with the childish and highly produced vagina that floats through porn in magazines, in films, and, most importantly, on our computer screens.
And this is my final point. We don’t really see vaginas walking around in our daily lives. Most of us rarely encounter “average” vaginas, but the majority of us “consume,” at least occasionally, vaginas on our computer screens and those vaginas are on figures that are, on average, 4 inches high. So the vagina requires immediate readability in the small space of computer screens in a way it doesn’t in movie theaters or in “face to face” contact. If the vagina has hair and protruding labia, well, what if we misread it as a penis or something else all together?
We want our vaginas to be visible as not just vaginas, but cleaned up and trimmed vaginas—vaginas untouched by the signs of adulthood and yet hypersexualized and commercialized vaginas. What choice do we have but to seek heroic medical intervention to make our messy messy bodies match our even dirtier cultural longings.