While most of us were able to laugh over the anal bleaching jokes in Bridesmaids, a recent Indian television ad for “vaginal lightening” is causing a lot of controversy, as it plays head games not only with a woman’s view of her own body, but our issues of race and beauty.
We already know we essentially alter ourselves based on our own perception and our culture’s perception of beauty. We also know that we all want what we don’t have: African Americans lighten their skin and thin their noses; flat-assed, white girls wear butt pads or even get surgical bootie enhancements.
Growing up, I frequently got perms for my super-straight hair. I remember walking to school in the incessant Pittsburgh rain with the hood of my slicker up, practically asphyxiating myself from the perm stink. Meanwhile, my best friend would lean over an ironing board while her sister ironed her naturally curly hair straight. They would know they were done when her hair started to smell.
But vaginal lightening, brightening and tightening, labial surgery, vaginal rejuvenation, and anal bleaching, go well beyond straight hair vs. curls.
I have no choice but to talk about pubes here. When I “came of age,” we Nair’d the outer edges, just enough so no curly hairs would pop out of our bathing suits. Now, people trim and wax and get electrolysis and wear less hair there. A friend of mine who is a gynecologist says she would guess fewer than 5 percent of her patients go au natural. Pube grooming has become the norm.
While I’m the first to shout “fallacy” at slippery slope arguments (I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cry when I think of Pat Robertson’s comment on ducks in the context of gay marriage), I do worry that this lightening, tightening, snipping, lasering and re-inventing will become as mainstream as the disappearance of pubic hair.
And while men are open about manscaping and it’s become the norm for them, I’m concerned that there’s so much focus on the vagina itself. I’m concerned for young women and their self-perception. I know an 18-year-old who got a tattoo of a butterfly right there and another who got a piercing of Swarovski crystals, and I was just told about another young woman who has the word “respect” tattooed across the top of her pelvic area.
I have a lot of questions: Does this banner of “respect” indicate that she respects herself, or is it a mandate to the viewer? Are all these women who vajazzle or otherwise alter their natural appearance taking an ownership that we should be excited about, or simply acquiescing to some new cultural pressure to beautify their va-jay-jay’s in order to make them more appealing? Since when did we have to dress it up?
Let’s not forget that all of this—from going bare down there to bleaching the Netherlands—is directly related to the proliferation of pornography, so the question remains the same: exploitation or celebration?
The HuffPo post started me on a whole area of research that will require me to clear my Internet cache as soon as I’m done writing this. While the Indian TV ad is causing rage among many Indian women because of the larger racial and sexist statements the product makes, women of all colors have been getting genital lightening offered as a laser-based treatment in cosmetic surgery centers for years now. As the popularity of anal bleaching increased, so did the availability of products one could also use on the vulva. Salon owners claim they can barely keep the do-it-yourself products on their shelves.
Even labial plastic surgeons admit that 1) women come in asking to look like particular porn stars, and 2) most of them don’t need the surgery.
As can be expected, proponents of anything must be met with opponents, and that is where the New View Campaign comes in. Their mission is to challenge “the medicalization of sex.” They are fighting the good fight with an annual event they call “Vulvanomics,” which is meant to “challenge female genital cosmetic surgery.”
What can I say other than: Who. Knew.
Did you know there’s a Kegel exercise panty called the PantyO? “A Kegel exercise extension (approximately one inch in height) is sewn into the crotch of the panty. When wearing the panty, the extension is inserted vaginally and provides a “focus” point for you while performing your Kegel exercises while squeezing on the extension.”
I could not make this up.
I also couldn’t make up words like va-toos, but if you have a va, you can get one, in henna, or spray-on ink if you like a lot of color. Don’t worry, if you only get naked with the lights off, there are glow-in-the dark “private” tattoos as well.
Are you bored with your normal full-on Brazilian? Are you feeling too naked after all? Do not despair: Just sign up for the Foxy Lady or Carnivale embellishments. After you have all of your pubes removed, have fur or feathers applied! But of course!
Do the people who wax off and then buy “playful” Merkins know they were originally worn by prostitutes to cover STDs—and would that change their minds?
All of this is going on, and we are worried about tanning salons? We are worried about tanning salons, aren’t we?
I need to clear my Internet cache and take a shower. I am truly concerned about what’s next. I don’t know if I sound innocent or old when I say that I thought our genitalia were OK as is. I don’t mean to be flip, about any of this; I truly am concerned about what’s next. In fact, think of my rant this way: that nervous giggling people do when they don’t know what to say.