Plastic Surgery = Female Genital Mutilation?

Amie Newman

Is there a difference between female genital mutilation as a cultural practice in the Middle East and certain cosmetic surgery in the United States?

Marie Clare has an interesting interview with Marge Berer, editor of the reproductive health publication, Reproductive Health Matters, in which Berer admits she would like to see cosmetic surgery for women banned.

In the interview, Berer makes the link between the newest form of cosmetic surgery in this country for women – labiaplasty – and the cultural/religious tradition of female genital mutilation (FGM) in countries throughout Africa and the Middle East. 

Why are women in this country opting for surgery on their genitals?

Berer says, "We’re talking about women feeling sexually inadequate and seeing this
as a way to beautify themselves-or at least that’s how it’s being sold
to them. I find the whole thing unethical on the part of the doctors."

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You may be asking yourself at this point how Berer can make the connection between FGM, a practice forced upon young girls and young women, and voluntary cosmetic surgery? According to Berer, the focus shouldn’t be on the "voluntary" nature but on the reasons why women feel they need this kind of surgery.

Societal pressure makes mothers and grandmothers in other cultures put their daughters through FGM, and I believe societal pressure here of a different kind is making young women think they should have their labia cut off. The irony is that at a time when a woman’s right to express her sexuality has never been greater, young women are choosing to be mutilated. And some advertising genius called it "cosmetic surgery" to sell it to them. 

And it is not unreasonable for women’s rights and health advocates in this country to question the impetus for why female genital mutilation in a faraway land consumes our attention and outrage, while girls as young as 11, 12 and 13 years old in our own country are mutilating their own bodies in deference to societal beauty standards.  Is there a difference? 

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