In Pursuit of the “Designer Vagina”

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Meghan GOSSE, Dalhousie University, Canada
This study provides insight into reasons women undergo female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) despite a lack of reliable information on the potential risks and long-term outcomes. Additionally, this project examines how FGCS is marketed and presented on cosmetic surgery clinic websites. The images of female genitals portrayed in pornography tend to present a very specific and homogenous image of strictly groomed genitals, with labia sometimes altered through surgical means into “normal” lengths. This increasingly specific and visible genital ideal results in more women wanting to, and feeling pressure to, alter their genitals in order to conform to a specific idea of female genital “normality."

Data was collected online between July 2014 and September 2014 and consisted of a comparative study using qualitative content media analysis to examine 30 posts on Canadian and American based online FGCS discussion boards, and 30 surgeons’ websites promoting FGCS.

Results show that the motives women describe for undergoing FGCS mirror the motives presented on the surgeons’ websites. Clinic websites and women’s posts present appearance and physical issues as the two most common rationales for surgery, followed by physical discomfort and sexual issues. Furthermore, I found that women’s genitals were divided into “right” and “wrong” or “normal” and “abnormal” genitals through the active processes of medicalization as well as the pathologization of female genital diversity through the promotion of one ideal genital aesthetic. Finally, I found that surgeons’ websites advertise FGCS as a “low-risk” procedure, which acts as a reasonable solution for correcting an “abnormal” body part, and which women are increasingly becoming aware of in large part due to emerging normative standards of the vulva. Although genital distress is not a new phenomenon, women’s genitals are now firmly a part of the self-surveillance and improvement imperatives of cosmetic surgery culture.