Art of Woman

Labiaplasty

Last night I watched “Hungry Beast” on ABC TV. This program, presented by plucky young people, picks out interesting and controversial snippets of news and themes. To quote from their website, “ It covers everything from the silly, to the serious, to somewhere in between; always from a different perspective.” Last night was an article about labiaplasty. You may view this online on the following web address. I am writing this link out in longhand, separately because the clip contains images of genitals and talks about genital surgery. These images are rated as M15+ and if such material offends you, do not click on the link;
http://hungrybeast.abc.net.au/stories/labiaplasty

There were two aspects to the report;
  1. the censorship laws that allowed full frontal nudity only if labia are not visible
  2. the increase in the number of real women having plastic surgery to cut off their perfectly normal, healthy labia.

The censorship laws are accommodated by some magazine editors by manipulating photographs of women and trimming their labia digitally within Photoshop. The women models remained healthy and intact, but of course the image is a construction, not a true representation.

Unfortunately the publishing of these altered images gives the public the impression that labia are not normally visible. Normal women are seeing their genitalia as ugly and in need of modification. The plastic surgeon called it “surgical improvement”! Of course he would, it helps his business to call it improvement. I am horrified by this. Surely labiaplasty is genital mutilation. All surgery carries risk, infection, poor workmanship, healing problems, scarring, loss of sensation, even death from complications. This is a lot of risk for something that is not even a true representation of women and is totally unnecessary.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect the population from damaging sexuality, not promoting genital mutilation!

There is also a possible connection with pedophilia. Sexually immature girls have small labia that are not visible from the outside - “a single crease” to quote the Photoshop artist. When a woman reaches puberty, she grows breasts and labia. These are normal secondary sexual characteristics of womanhood. The censorship laws are requiring adult women to look like little girls! If men become habituated to these images, it is a small step to finding under age girls themselves sexually arousing and desirable.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect under age girls, not turn them into objects of desire!

Our culture already sexualises under age girls to a great extent causing enormous suffering to women. This is one more example. You can read more about the sexualisation of girls in, “Getting Real” edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, published by Spinifex, 2009.

Child nudity

On 6-7 February, The Weekend Australian published a Getty Images photograph on page 17 (editorial, 4 Feb 2010, #964628761 by Mario Tama), from earthquake ravaged Haiti. The picture featured four children in a tent city constructed as temporary shelter for the homeless. Two of the children were nude.

I have written about different types of nudity before (10/07/2008). Child nudity has been discussed a lot recently in Australia especially in relation to art. The discussion centres on the idea that if a child naked and is under 16, which is the age of consent, then, by definition, the nudity is pedophilia. As stated in The Independent, 8 July 2008, “But for Ms Johnston, and like-minded people, all nude images of children are sexual and should be banned.” I disagree with this simplistic explanation. I am not excusing pedophilia. Sexual exploitation is a serious crime and can have serious developmental consequences for growing children. However it would be sad to be so afraid of sexual exploitation that artists and journalists are not permitted to explore other meanings. Nudity has many meanings and purposes.

If children are told that their body is shameful and they need to be embarrassed every time they have their clothes removed, then later when they are adults, sexual relationships may become difficult. When shame is imposed upon children without also an obvious respect for the human body, they loose respect for their own bodies and become uncomfortably self-conscious and may develop body image problems. This is a loss of innocence.

In fact, nude photography can enhance a person’s body image and can be a healing tool. Ellen Fisher Turk has been photographing young women with eating disorders for some fifteen years. Fisher Turk’s therapeutic photographs show the young women’s bodies in a new light and they begin to see themselves as beautiful. It is a healing process.

In The Weekend Australian the children’s nakedness expresses vulnerability and loss. Their nakedness emphasises that they have lost everything. There is no hint of eroticising the children. They are photographed in a documentary style. The photographer has a high viewpoint as if he/she is much taller than the children emphasising that the children are small. The children’s lack of clothing is not contrived nor staged, it is simply how they are. They really have lost everything. These children truly are innocent and the photographer has captured their innocence and vulnerability with great skill and respect.

Types of Nudity

As an art photographer who also photographs nudes, I have been following the debate about photographing children in the nude with interest.
Nudity has many meanings and purposes. Sexuality is only one meaning of nudity.

1. Nudity can represent innocence. Cupids for hundreds of years have been depicted as nude children. Many cultures around the world allow children to run around nude until they become adults. They are considered cute and sweet because of this innocence.

2. Nudity can represent freedom. Many beaches in Australia in the summer have nude children happily playing, some have specific areas for nudes. During my childhood, there were many times the neighbourhood children went 'skinny dipping' in our local creek. This was experienced as a great sense of freedom. The parents were not worried and none of the children felt threatened by the nudity.

3. Nudity can represent our common humanity. Nudity takes away the trappings of culture, status and employment. There is a common humanity to a group of people in the nude. Many "naturist" clubs experience this and enjoy a sense of community. A link to social nudism.

4. Nudity can represent caring. A great deal of child care involves nudity, for example, bathing, toilet training, getting dressed. When people are old or become an invalid, again nudity is a part of caring. None of us should withhold care because we are afraid of nudity.

5. Nudity can be healing and wholeness. A complete physical examination from a Doctor requires nudity, also many procedures, imaging and operations. Some of the healing arts require nudity or partial nudity, at times, for example, a massage, or acupuncture. Healing can be greatly impaired if society and individuals become too afraid of nudity. Imagine trying to give birth with cloths on! Yet that is what happened for centuries in many cultures, potentially endangering both mother and child. Doctors themselves must study nude photography in medical text books. It is impossible to show examples of medical conditions covered by clothing.

6. Nudity as activism, political statement, social comment or dramatic humour. Sometimes people use nudity to articulate their views in a dramatic way. Animal rights, tree-hugging hippies, streakers, women's rights etc.

If we as a culture say that it is always unacceptable to show a child in the nude, then this gives a very negative view of the body to children. They grow up fearing their bodies. They grow up hiding their bodies and not really knowing what is usual or unusual and what needs checking.
I am concerned at the moral panic about nudity in Australia at the moment. I am referring to the recent case of a six year old girl on the cover of Art Monthly magazine. This moral panic is likely to curb free speech and creativity in Australia. There are many more artistic and symbolic ways to view nudity that enhance human experience. Artistic creativity should be encouraged in society, it expands our thinking and enriches our lives.

God has made our bodies in a very beautiful way and we should be able to look at our bodies without thinking about sex all the time. 

The Gruen Transfer - feminine hygiene

The advertising of women's sanitary products was featured recently on "The Gruen Transfer" on ABC TV, episode 6, 2/7/2008.  It is sub-titled: feminine hygiene; the things with strings and the things with wings! The commentary is lively, making fun of the language used to advertise these products. There are a lot of euphemisms and symbolism around this issue. No-one is willing to be frank on public TV. Some of the ads play on embarrassment, double meanings and timing give the advertising humour.

It was unfortunate that the panel consisted of only one woman and four men! The men, to their credit, do show a lively interest. I love the suggestion that tampons should come wrapped within a kinder surprise!

I wanted to see a young woman's opinion. The advertisements are aimed at young women, and it would have been interesting to know how young women react to these issues. Are there different attitudes with the different generations? Are young women more free and open, or are they trying to hide all the evidence of menstruation as past generations did? How does menstruation fit in with their lives? Do they have different needs and expectations of the products because of their different stories, adventures and experiences?
I did enjoy the humour and suggest you check it out on http://www.abc.net.au/tv/gruentransfer/download.htm

Older age sexuality

In "The Canberra Times" today, page B5, Virginia Haussegger wrote an article about older women showing cleavages - or not. She makes the observation that older women do not usually show their cleavages. When they do, they are often criticised. It seems women over 40 are not supposed to be sexy!

Virginia Haussagger links women's display of sexual power as a measure of her confidence. That is until she becomes about 40. Why should society be afraid and affronted with female sexuality when that female is past her fertility? What is so threatening about older female sexual power?

Many older women seem to be happy to become immersed in their grandchildren or enjoying a quiet life on their own. However, there are also a significant number of older women (and men) who do not fit this mold and simply refuse to give up their sexuality simply because they are considered by others to be too old.

Take my mother for example. She fell in love at 70 and got married at 71! Yes married. A full wedding. Bride's maids, flower girl, minister, lots of guests and yummy food. The works. Their marriage is an obviously affectionate one and it has given both of them a whole new lease of life. They still hug and enjoy each other's company more than ten years on. I congratulate them.

My family is not the only example of older age sexuality. "The Canberra Times" today, on page B11 under "Adult services" there is an advertisement, "GROANING GRANNY Sixty+." Then a mobile phone number and rates charged.

I wonder what she talks about!!!! I'm glad that she is bold enough to be sexy in her sixties and even advertise the fact! Many older folk have good health and feel just like the rest of us inside. It is terrible loss that older sexuality is so ignored. Many aged care homes do not have double beds for example, or even double rooms. Yet human touch and contact, especially hugs are very soothing and healing. The comfort of a loved and special person can literally mean the difference between life and death when older people are suffering isolation and stress. I would like to encourage any loving relationship, no matter how old the participants are.