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Monday, 8 October 2007

I am not a fan of beauty standards for vaginas.

Marty Klein, a sex therapist, writes a forthright and often very likeable blog on the politics of sex at Sexual Intelligence. His latest post, however, seems to me to miss an important point:

Unfortunately, a rising chorus of so-called feminists and gender theorists are dissing women who make the “wrong” choices about these things. Claiming they know women better than they know themselves, they decry women who shave, wax, implant, bleach, pierce, or otherwise change their sexual bodies.

These body-modification fascists say all those activities are a response to “cultural pressure” (especially from selfish, obsessed, insecure boyfriends and husbands), and that no adult woman could possibly decide to do these things on her own. They say that any woman who pierces her labia or gets breast implants has been “manipulated.” Oh, you know women—unable to think for themselves. Unable to think, period.

Well, I’m tired of it.


Klein is attacking the most extreme form of feminist distrust of body modification. I think he's correct, as far as it goes, to say that some women do make these choices for their own good reasons and for their own enjoyment. But that's not the point. I'm not going to decry the choices of individual women. Try to be confident in your own body, and then have fun with it however you like. The real issue here isn't individual choices, though. It's overall beauty standards. And I am not a fan of beauty standards for vaginas. Full stop (that means 'period', if you're American).

I am not a body-hating kind of girl. When my mother, a couple of centimetres shorter and a few kilos lighter than me, says that she needs to lose weight, I collect up the sense she taught me, remember that I have a BMI of twenty, and believe it neither of her nor of me. When I read in a magazine that "cellulite is a problem that affects many women, causing unsightly bumps on the upper thighs", I chuckle at the thought of what the writer of the article would say about my stretch marks, left over from when my bum had its growth spurt, and then reflect that I actually rather like my barely-visible tiger stripes, souvenirs from of the year I got a waist. When I went to the mall on a horrible rainy day in my grandfather's baggy old anorak that makes me look twice as big as I am, and a couple of pimply awkward scarecrows of teenage boys started making pig noises at me, I walked on by and paid no attention. And I have hairy armpits. They're not very hairy. You wouldn't mistake them for a man's armpits. But the hair is there, and it's easily visible if I raise my arms. I even have the gall to wear sleeveless tops when I go out dancing.

I am not a body-hating kind of girl, but if we're going to have beauty standards on my vulva, then I despair for myself. Here, of all places, I feel vulnerable. Face it, my vulva is fundamentally messy. I can make it clean (for all of two minutes if cervical fluid counts as 'dirty', which it probably shouldn't), but tidyness just isn't an option. And I don't want some beautician or cosmetic surgeon out to make a buck to make me feel like I ought to try to change that. I want to be able to like it the way it is.

7 comments:

Alon Levy said...

Honestly, I don't know... at the risk of being cliché, let me say that anyone who thinks less of you because of your hairy armpits doesn't deserve your attention. As long as you don't lose a job or get perceived as unprofessional for it, it's just an asshole detector.

As for what feminists say about it, it's not quite what Klein says. The major feminist bloggers' official line is that it's fine to get a mascara or wax as long as you feel guilty about it. The feminists I know outside the blogosphere tend not to give a damn either way.

Lynet said...

Actually, nobody ever comments on my armpits. I suspect I don't associate with too many assholes :-)

Kelly Gorski said...

I don't know about you, Ms. Hateshervulva, but I plan to get into vodeling (that's short for "vagina modeling" for all you people who aren't "in the viz").

I'll be modeling the new clit kilt, the Louis Vuitton leather labia apparel, Calvin Klein's cervix sweater, and Versace's new fragrance "Vaginanimal" in the next issue of Cosmo if you care to pick up a copy.

If you dare...

Lynet said...

Bwahahahaha!

Lynet said...

Actually, you've got a point, there, Kelly. Altering the appearance of your vulva could sometimes be a fun declaration of pride in it. I guess this is yet another case where focusing on the actual act misses the point -- it's the meaning you give it that counts.

jonathan said...

What's funny... not funny, I don't know what to call it... is the conceit that some magazines or cosmeticians try to sell that the attractiveness/unattractiveness of female genitalia matters to men.

I've never heard a story of a man who's cut short a "date" once the woman's unattractive vulva came into view...

Kelly Gorski said...

Oh Jonathan! Then you haven't seen mine!

Wait until I get my "vulv" shots printed.