I have a problem. A good friend of mine drunkenly confided in me recently that she's planning on getting a labiaplasty. She told me she hasn't discussed this with anyone and she has already arranged a consultation which I think she will have had by now. She said it was for aesthetic reasons rather than comfort or anything and mentioned that a guy she slept with had made some comments that made her feel very self conscious. I'm not judging her at all and if it will make her happy then I guess she should do it, I realise that it's 100% her choice but I just feel sad that she feels she has to do this. It's a lot of money and while she's not going to bankrupt herself over it, she's young and doesn't have it to burn. And obviously there are all sorts of risks involved. We looked up a lot of photos of pussies online and I got her to show me which she'd compare hers to and it certainly isn't anything out of the ordinary, her entire concern is probably based on about 1cm of skin. I really don't want her to do it but I realise it's not about me, I just want to support her in making an informed decision but I'm not sure how best to do this.
OK first of all fuuuuuuuuuuck that fool that made comments about your friend’s pussy.
A hex on him: may he go temporarily mute the next time he wishes to disparage a woman’s labia.
For readers who may not know, labiaplasty is a surgical procedure that alters the labia minora-- those are the inner lips of the vulva that are connected to the clitoral hood. Many trans women undergo labiaplasty as a part of their gender confirmation, if they choose to go down the surgical road. For cis women, labiaplasty is performed to reshape or reduce the size of the labia. Sometimes this is performed after childbirth. Other times, as is the case in this letter, women undergo labiaplasty because they feel self- conscious about or uncomfortable with the size of their labia and want it to be smaller.
The procedure is controversial, to say the least. Some people feel that the rise in labiaplasty is due to our porn-influenced culture that sells women an impossible beauty standard and then profits off of their resulting low self-esteem and internalized self- hatred.
Body modification is a complicated topic. On the one hand, when women & femmes want to change their bodies or faces for “aesthetic reasons,” it can seem like they got “got” by the patriarchy, and that they’ll be chasing the IRL FaceTune down the rabbit hole for the rest of their lives: implants become talismans, seeped in iodine and false hopes and shoved under the muscle; 1cm of reviled skin is burned and sacrificed on the sanitized altar of a bloodthirsty, patriarchal god. And for what? What is waiting on the other side?
Is it possible to awaken from anesthesia bandaged but cured of self- hatred?
On the other hand, we’ve only got one chance at life in this body. Shouldn’t it be the body that makes you feel most like yourself? Most confident? Most appealing? In some ways, body modification allows its practitioners to leverage cultural expectations to their advantage.
Beauty is its own kind of capital. You’ve got to work the system to win.
Labiaplasty is an extreme version of body modification. It is a private choice, not a public one, and therefore feels more wrapped up with shame or intimate wounding than say, a nose job.
But I would urge you to consider: we are all involved in body mod, in one way or the other. Have you ever used acne cream? Body mod. Do you have pierced ears? Body mod. Have you ever gone to a gym? Body mod. Do you sit all day long at a computer? Body mod.
The ethical boundaries of body modification are murky-- where does self-care end and self-loathing begin?
At the end of the day, good feminists know that a womyn’s decisions regarding her own body are to be respected. Period. Even if a womyn is choosing to do something with her body that you judge to be inherently anti-feminist, it’s still most feminist to support a womyn’s right to choose what’s right for her body.
Your concern for her is totally legitimate and coming from a good place. So many women hate their bodies and most especially their pussies due to covert messaging from culture, and overt messaging from horrible assholes like that one dude your friend slept with. Obviously you l-u-v and appreciate your fren and you want her to feel about herself how you feel when you look at her: accepting.
But, her body is her body.
So, what can you do? The best way to approach this is how you would approach any friend who is making any decision you might not necessarily agree with: with support and good boundaries. If she senses that your emotions are too heavily tied into this decision-- her decision-- she may feel invaded and stop confiding in you.
So take a deep breath and remind yourself: this is not actually your problem.
She clearly wants your input, but you can release the burden of responsibility for her actions.
If you want to offer her your perspective, start with having a sober conversation. Tell her that you trust her and care about her.
Tell her the truth: that you are worried she is operating out of shame, rather than out of self- love.
Really listen to what she has to say. She doesn’t have to prove anything to you or build a case. Do your best to make that clear during the conversation. Demonstrate that you are not judging by respecting her boundaries and not starting an argument. Reassure her that every labia is different (y’all take a look at thelabialibrary.org), but don’t diminish her concern about “1 cm of skin.”
It may not feel that significant to you, but it’s definitely significant to her.
In terms of analyzing risk against reward, cosmetic labiaplasty comes with some pretty shitty risks, including nerve damage. Offer her an ear to discuss the potentiality of those risks and offer to help her come up with a list of questions she can take back to the doctor.
I would drop the money thing. It’s nice that you care, but if the cost of the procedure isn’t already a concern for her, it’s not going to become one, however irresponsible that seems to you. Money tends to make people defensive; it isn’t really your jurisdiction or the main concern here.
You are the friend she decided to confide in, albeit drunkenly, so be there to listen. Maybe she floated this one over to you because she wants to be stopped from following through on the surgery. Maybe not. Feel it out. Do what feels right.