Labia Pride

courageous cunts

The Labia pride movement is a feminist activist movement that attempts to raise awareness for the normal anatomical appearance of the female vulva and defy a perceived growing trend towards cosmetic genital surgery (labiaplasty, also known as ‘designer vagina’). It is supported by several independent feminist groups and based on diverse channels of communication such as cyberfeminism, protest marches and advocating boycotts against physicians and clinics that make use of deceptive advertising.

The London-based feminist group UK feminista organized a protest march through London’s Harley Street, that is known for its high density of upscale medical providers, in late 2011. More than 320 women paraded the street, with slogans like: ‘Keep your mits off our bits!’, ‘There’s nothing finer than my vagina!’, and ‘Harley Street puts my chuff in a huff.’

According to Kat Banyard, Director of UK Feminista: ‘Muff March is about speaking back to a pornified culture which is pressuring women to go under the surgeon’s knife and get a ‘designer vagina.’ We also want to shine a spotlight on the cosmetic surgeons who ruthlessly mine women’s bodies to extract maximum profit.[…] Now pornography is exposing women to the toxic myth that there is one ‘right’ way for their labia to look. It’s time to fight back.’ However, the event has been criticized for putting too much emphasis on pornography as a root cause of the problem.

The growing demand for labiaplasty surgery is sometimes attributed to the idea that many women, as well as men, have unrealistic expectations regarding genital appearance. Almost all explicit depictions of female genitalia that people are confronted with are produced by the adult industry. These media are usually produced in a commercial context and primarily address male customers. Therefore, these depictions of female genitalia are oftentimes ‘beautified’ to suit commercial need (or in some countries for legal reasons, either by the selection of models with a certain anatomy or by photoshopping the images. In practice, this means smoothing out irregularities and ‘digitally shortening’ the labia minora.

Gay rights activist Madeleine Davies writes: ‘A whole generation of young women who have grown up with ready access to the Internet are learning about their bodies and sexuality through this medium…Often the first and only way girls get to have a good look at other girls’ naked genitals is through pornography, [which gives] a false view of what real women look like.’ Several feminist groups, such as the ‘Large Labia Project’ or ‘Courageous Cunts’ try to oppose the influence that pornography has on anatomic expectations. By encouraging women to release images of their vulvas and post photo submissions of anonymous vulvas on their websites, they want to establish a sphere for women to get realistic impressions of normal vulvas.

However, the campaign itself has been criticized. By giving the false impression that protruding labia are the anatomical norm and small inner labia are the adaptation to beauty standards, it ignores the fact that many women have naturally small labia: ‘In an effort to make ‘real women’ feel better about themselves, some labia proud ladies are taking shots at girls whose labia actually look like the imaginary ‘Barbie’ ideal. Turns out, some girls are actually born like that. Labia, like boobs or entire bodies, come in all shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Shaming one to make another type feel better is bad news. Think of it in terms of thin women who are often shamed or shunned in support of body image advocacy for larger girls.’

‘New View’ is a New York City based, grassroots network of feminists, social scientists and health care providers. In a self-description, ‘New View’ ‘is opposed to the growth of the unregulated and unmonitored genital cosmetic surgery industry that is medicalizing women’s sexuality and creating new risks, norms and insecurities.’ The group initiated several events with the aim of empowering women and raising awareness for the topic. These include workshops to ‘to celebrate the role of art in activism and to kick off a campus-based movement to celebrate genital diversity,’ ‘flash activism’ in front of surgeon’s offices, conferences (e.g. ‘Framing the Vulva’), and street demonstrations.

One Comment to “Labia Pride”

  1. I agree. There is no such thing as an ugly pussy. Women don’t need more inhibition and self-consciousness in their lives.

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