Labia! (NSFW)

Summer is here, and labia are once again coming (see what I did there?) to the fore. Most women's swimsuits require at least cursory attention to grooming so one's pubes don't stray out in public. Most women's swimsuits also inspire self-reflection and/or self-loathing on the part of the wearer. While scrutinizing one's own bikini line for stray or grey hair, for example, a woman's eye might notice her own imperfect body, a state which Society equates with Personal Failing.   

The unwashed Western feminine masses, in all of our glorious diversity, are inundated with images of imaginary, photoshopped standards of body perfection. These are subjective, unattainable standards of beauty to which we are supposed to aspire or risk being unfuckable. It's easy to imagine that the farther we fall from the arbitrary ideal, the uglier we are, even if that's not objectively true. Anecdotally, I think women have trouble separating how we look from our value as human beings, so insecurity about how we look feeds into insecurity about who we are.

Rather than appreciating our diversity and quirkiness, many of us go to great lengths to meet societal expectations. We do things like color our grey hair, go on extreme diets, use contouring and other time-consuming makeup techniques to hide our age and other flaws, and pursue plastic surgery to fix our physical shortcomings. I strongly suspect that in many cases, these behaviors are driven by increasingly homogenous, uber-skinny, body-hairless, ageless (did I mention unrealistic?) cultural standards of beauty rather than self-directed empowerment. 

The Onion hilariously satirizes the way in which we are flooded with unrealistic ideals:

“Nowadays I can’t even leave the house without seeing an ad featuring properly proportioned women of statistically normal weights,” said San Diego–based civil engineer Spencer DeLane, adding that some of the models’ bodies are “startlingly average.” “Sometimes I don’t even want to go online or turn on the television because I know I’ll see a regular, healthy-looking woman. Don’t these advertisers understand how deeply depressing that is for me?”
“It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to other men like me,” he continued. “Having to live with society’s expectations that I accept women just the way they are takes an enormous toll.”

Preach it Onion!

The intersection of culture and epidemiology is absolutely fascinating. A few years ago I researched and wrote about what I think is an especially troubling plastic surgery trend among women: labiaplasty. That is, plastic surgery to make one's labia conform to an arbitrary aesthetic norm. These women are not porn stars or labia models. These are regular women who feel uncomfortable with the way their labia look. To themselves and their sexual partners. From that article:

Australian pornographers are required to censor the amount of female genital detail they publish.  They can show full frontal nudity, but they have to obscure the reality.  Imagine drawing a line on an unclothed Barbie to represent the cleft of the labia majora, and you get the idea. Graphic designers photoshop out any protruding structures, like the clitoral hood or labia minora.  
Australian women, informed by the photoshopped "ideal," are seeking labiaplasty surgery in increasing numbers.  Seriously.  They are having their labia minora surgically reduced or removed to look like the photoshopped artificial vulvae they see in pornography.  
I have previously written about prettying up the female genitalia.  I do not believe that female genitalia require modification beyond grooming, hygiene, and corrective surgery for injury or disease.  It's unfortunate that women aren't more familiar with the wide scope of "normal" female genital variants.  It's unfortunate that the social parameters of beauty are so narrow.  When I re-read my previous post, I was reminded of our complex relationship with hidden estrus:
Humans evolved hidden estrus. This means that females don't exhibit obvious biological signs of fertility (or its attendant sexual receptivity), and this keeps the males guessing about the best time to mate (assuming the goal is to produce offspring). Hidden estrus may have fostered pair bonding and other monogamous mating patterns, increasing the odds that the male was the biological father of the offspring. I saw one source that claims that while human males initiate sexual intercourse throughout a woman's cycle, females tend to initiate more frequently during ovulation. This makes perfect sense in the hidden estrus paradigm.  
Engorged labia minora can be an indicator of arousal and sexual receptivity.  Photoshopping that out of porn seems counterintuitive to me, but it does make a certain kind of sense in a twisted patriarchal misogynistic way.  It conceals the existence of women's sexuality except as objects for men to use.  It really is another form of female genital mutilation. 

Granted, many women probably don't see other women's labia outside of pornography. With the idea that exposure to diverse body types makes us all more accepting of diverse body types, here is the Labia Library via Jezebel. As someone whose labia are fairly standard, I had no idea there is so much fantastic variety! Human variation never ceases to awe and amaze me.