Across the globe, there are millions of women at risk every year for female genital mutilation also called female genital cutting, female circumcision, or, in the United States, a hymenoplasty, labiaplasty, or “vaginal rejuvenation”. According to the World Health Organization, female genital mutilation includes all procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons (WHO, 2010). The cultural differences between the millions of girls living with FGM and the women in the United States electing to have plastic surgery are vast. But I would like use the similarities between cosmetic surgery and FGM to demonstrate the continuing subtle, extremely violent control over women’s bodies that exists even in the most “developed” countries.
In Egypt, the country with the highest rates of FGM, the practice has been outlawed since 1996. But it is social norms that keep the practice in place and a majority of women continue to obtain the surgery illegally for their daughters. Young girls undergo the procedure in an attempt make them acceptable to the patriarchy. They are cut open, nipped, tucked, and adjusted to fit a culturally set standard of what is attractive. Sound familiar? 85% of the FGM procedures in Egypt are Type I and Type II, usually performed under sanitary conditions. In these procedures, the hood of the clitoris is removed (Type I) or part or all of the clitoris and/or labia minora are removed ( Type II). A labiaplasty is the removal of all or part of the labia minora and sometimes majora.
Cosmetic surgery, especially procedures involving women’s genitalia, is a form of gender violence. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, almost 950,000 women underwent cosmetic surgery in 2008 in the U.S., the most popular being breast augmentation. Women go through these procedures by choice in order to conform to a standard of beauty and attractiveness. Bigger breast and designer vaginas. The recovery time for a vaginal rejuvenation is 6-10 weeks. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has come out against all cosmetic vaginal surgeries, saying that there is not enough evidence to support the safety of the procedures and there is no medical reason to perform them. As with all cosmetic surgeries, these carry the risk of complications and death.
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“Reclaiming Your Femininity: A Woman’s Guide to Vaginal Rejuvination & Labiaplasty (http://vaginal-surgery.info/blog.html) is one of many sites supporting vaginal rejuvenation and other similar surgeries that fit WHO’s definition of female genital mutilation. In fact, in response to articles speaking out against the surgery, from patients and doctors alike, the website tells women “don’t let these articles keep you from following your heart”. The website claims that this surgery is a procedure provided FOR women, not an act of violence against them. The site encourages women to follow their hearts, or more accurately, their feelings of inadequacy about the appearance of their vaginas.
From Cairo to Los Angeles, women live in communities where men dictate how a women’s body should look. So next time you think that global women’s health takes place half-way around the world, look around you. Because there is a violent, patriarchal system in place right here in the United States that has women paying to put their health and lives at risk and “follow their hearts” right into the operating room.