Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hot Cosmo Piece Screws Nasty Men!

Why do some women pay to let scummy men get into their pants?

I've been bemoaning the death of the free press a lot lately. With Internet competition, newspapers just don't have the resources to support good investigative journalism much anymore. So imagine my surprise when, on the check-out line of my grocery store yesterday, I discovered that the free press is alive and well in the form of . . . Cosmo?

"VAGINAS UNDER ATTACK," screams the cover of the July issue: "Don't Let Greedy Gyno Talk You Into This Horrible Mistake." So I'm going to forgive Cosmo the mistake of capitalizing a preposition in a title. Because Molly Triffin's on-the-ground reporting for Cosmo has the potential to save scores of young women from unnecessary pain, scarring, and loss of sexual function.

Inside the magazine, Triffin's story gets the title "WARNING: These Doctors May Be Dangerous to Your Vagina." Again, I'm going to forgive Cosmo, this time for using the word "vagina" to talk mostly about vulvas. Why? Because Triffin kicks ass. She bothered to go for herself to the International Society of Cosmetogynecology's Global Symposium on Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery.

And what did she see there?

A room full of male gynecologists talking about how to rake in barrels of money by cutting down women's vulvas to make them "prettier." Triffin makes sure her readers get her feminist point about why they should be suspicious of the massive gender imbalance in "cosmetogynecology": male docs, female patients, making women's vulvas pretty for . . . men.

Triffin even quotes these flies on the rump of medicine in all their greedy, misogynist glory:
"Two incisions, 15 minutes, and I cash the check."

Another, showing himself performing a labiaplasty: "Those are my dirty, golden fingers."
Yuck. And what's grosser still is that these docs apparently acknowledged at the conference that the women coming to them have a warped view of what counts as normal, because they've been looking at porn that features women's genitals stripped (ripped) of all hair and then "fixed" either by surgery or airbrushing. Yet one Dr. Adam Ostrzenski is quoted as saying, "If a woman thinks she looks abnormal and wants the surgery, you should do surgery on her."

Heaven forbid you actually try to educate her and save her labia minora. Nah, why bother when you can make some fast bucks, and convince yourself that this nip and rip "save[s] relationships" and improves women's psychological health?

These doctors aren't bothering with independently-monitored, long-term outcome studies that would actually lead to informed consent. Which raises the question of exactly why they are allowed to keep their licenses. I mean, how greedy and obsessed with cosmetics do you have to become before it counts as a fundamental violation of medical ethics? Does the profession have no lower limit, so long as a doctor keeps holding up the trump card of patient "autonomy"?

I should note this is not the first media coverage of labiaplasty. Mireya Navarro had an excellent piece on it a while back in the New York Times. But I'm thrilled to see Triffin catching these guys in their natural habitat (Florida) and also warning a particularly vulnerable audience. (Vulnerable because of . . . well, let's face it, because of the appearance-obsessed, man-obsessed crap Cosmo also publishes.)

Around the time Navarro called me, while she was working on her story, I did a little digging online myself to see what docs selling this practice were saying on their websites. I could not believe this stuff counted as acceptable advertising. I wrote to the office of one, saying that I was interested in labiaplasty. (True, technically.) I asked about the complication rates: how many women had subsequent problems, and what were the types and the percentages? A representative wrote me back assuring me that they had NO problems and suggested I call to make an appointment. I wrote back to ask if they said on their informed consent forms that there were no risks. Never heard from them again.

My favorite part of Triffin's story were a couple of sanity-inducing quotes from Ian Kerner: "Most men don't pick up on minutiae [of labia size . . . ] They're just excited to have access to the area. It all looks normal to them." Say it, brother.

Maybe you don't have any sympathy for women stupid enough to undergo these procedures. But even if you don't, consider this: The trend towards these kinds of unreasonable genital norms are inevitably going to have an impact on little girls born with atypical genitals. If surgeons honestly believe even women with typical genitals "need" surgery to be made "desirable," what's to protect the girls born with big clits?

Sometimes I have the voice of Mr. Rogers singing in my head: "Boys are fancy on the outside. Girls are fancy on the inside." And I want to yell at the grave of dear old Fred, "Girls are fancy on the outside, too! And we should leave them that way." Even in the neighborhood that is 90210.