Human Exceptionalism

Doctors Should Refuse to “Cosmetically” Mutiliate Women’s Genitalia

This is pretty shocking.  Apparently, some women have moved beyond piercing, tattoos, and extreme waxing to seeking “cosmetic surgery” that removes the outer part the genitalia to increase sexual allure.  From an LA Times column,”Pornification of Private Parts: A New Body Dysmorophic Disorder?”:

Say hello to today’s latest form of body dysmorphic disorder. And the predatory plastic surgeons (and at least one gynecologist) who’re all too happy to prey on women’s insecurities. That’s right. Some women are going a step beyond removing hair to removing actual flesh. On Saturday, protesters marched on Harley Street in London to call attention to the increase in cosmetic genital surgery, notably labiaplasty — an elective procedure that trims or removes a woman’s labia so she may look more like Barbie. One of the participating activists called it “a creative protest against the pornified culture driving women under the knife to get a ‘designer vagina.’ ” In the Guardian, she took a stand against the industry, which, in the U.S., is worth millions:

We don’t buy the neoliberal rhetoric that insists this issue is not political because women “freely choose” to get procedures like this done. The cosmetic surgery industry ruthlessly stokes women’s appearance insecurities and mines their bodies to extract maximum profits. Accountability, monitoring, and auditing are not words this industry is used to.

What’s especially disturbing, writes Viv Groskop in another post in the Guardian’s women’s blog, is the latest demographic of interested would-be participants: Self-conscious teenage girls. A recent Daily Mail article concurs. The question is why young women are suddenly so concerned about this aspect of themselves. Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, an obstetrician and gynecologist at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, has a theory. She told ABC News“For every single thing that’s normal about a woman’s body, there’s a man trying to change it […] The last frontier was the vagina.”

Unlike bikini waxing and the like that are not permanent–which the article discusses but I don’t want us to–having surgery to remove the labia is mutilation that can’t be undone. And I do think it is different than, say, rhinoplasty–although I am not a fan of cosmetic surgery generally since I think it wastes medical resources and risks lives for relatively trivial (usually) reasons. In contrast, this surgery doesn’t merely change appearance, but removes protective function, and for what?   (No, it’s not the same as circumcision, which itself can be protective, but please, let’s not get into that fight again on this post.)

I am not saying it should be illegal in adults–but then again, maybe it should. I do think it should be unethical, to the point that any physician who does it for non therapeutic purposes should be barred from professional associations and the like. Doctors should stick to the maxim, “do no harm.” And I don’t think this phenomenon is driven by heterosexual men, who, believe me, like women just the way they are.

There is something else going on that makes me queasy, having to do with hedonism and the coup de culture.  In fact, I think the article’s title is spot on about this potentially being a new body dysmorphic disorder. I am reminded of anerexia, perhaps even Body Integrity Identity Disorder, a terrible mental illness in which the sufferer is obsessed with becoming an amputee.  Those maladies shouldn’t be accommodated by doctors either, but treated by mental health professionals.

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