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.

The Century Project

Recently, during research for my art, I saw the very powerful photography of Frank Cordelle.

Frank Cordelle has created a photography exhibition called “The Century Project”. He has photographed girls and women from birth to 98 years of age. These are women who have faced struggles and problems with their bodies. Their stories, in their own words, accompany the photographs. Some of the stories are confronting, some are angry, some are sad, some are joyful, some are a triumph. All of the stories are intimate person experiences.

Frank has photographed the women in the nude to express their vulnerability and their humanity. Cloths can enhance some parts of the body and hide parts of the body we find difficult for various reasons. Cloths express culture, social status, occupation and wealth. These nude images cut through much cultural clutter and gets past assumptions and prejudices to see the real woman underneath. Sometimes clothes hide things so well that health issues are not address properly and the woman does not even know what is within the normal range for a female for her age.

This project is extremely important. Even healthy women struggle with body image because the media display so many ‘perfect’ images of women’s bodies all around us. When women have health and other body image problems, they can feel that they are inferior somehow. The shame some women feel about their bodies can restrict and limit their lives. For example, many women limit their participation in sports, especially swimming. These limitations are unnecessary, often inconvenient and in some cases even harmful.

The Century Project gives women dignity and a voice. It has changed the lives of some women who have felt alone, disregarded, afraid and ashamed of their struggles. This project has given many women the courage to treat their bodies with respect and inspired some women to get the medical care they deserve.

The Century Project is beautiful and has been shown in 63 colleges around the USA and has been viewed by thousands of people.

You can obtain your own personal copy of the exhibition in a book called “Bodies and Souls”.