WARNING: Content contains words and themes that may offend. Do not read if you are slightly prudish or easily offended.
A few nights ago I was up late baking scones for Anzac Day celebrations and found myself watching a documentary on vaginas. No, I am not kidding. It was made by an English woman who was appalled by the rise (up 300 percent in 2 years in the UK) in cosmetic surgery to the most sensitive part of the female anatomy.
Apparently women, and girls as young as 16, were responding to pictorials in magazines that portray these 'bits' as tidy, neat and almost invisible to the eye, found they were not identical to the pictures so they set about changing that. Several were taken to a sculptor who does plaster casts of women's genitals (don't ask) and they were shown the 40 already done. What they found was that everyone is different and the pictures we see are not actually realistic or 'normal'. Many changed their mind about having the surgery but a few did not. Going through the process with them and hearing about the teasing they received before the op from sisters and friends was truly heartbreaking and made me wonder about men and their own need to fit in physically.
A bit of light research later and I have the answer. Apparently men are lining up for procedures as bizarre as pec implants and fake 6 packs, not to mention the extensions, enlargements and other 'essential' surgery on their nether regions.
While I found the documentary fascinating, it was not the subject matter that stayed on my mind later on (thank goodness) but rather it was the fact that women and men are finding their own bodies appalling and strange. To feel like your own body is alien to you must be an awful thing to go through. This is not the same as those who undergo gender re-assignment because they feel they were born the wrong sex, this is about what we consider to be beautiful and the unrelenting pressure to conform.
Almost all of these women featured felt embarrassed and ashamed. Those are feelings, not facts. Once shown that most women are different they were astounded. Their view was that they were the only one who looked different and everyone else must surely look like the pictures. It seems that with the advent of a more liberal society we have neglected one facet in our children's education. Body image.
While sex education is necessary and justified, body image in relation to the parts of you not readily visible, and those which are, should not be part of sex ed. It is not at all sexual in nature to question your appearance. None of these women were getting the procedure because of a man, or for a man. A completely different method of teaching is required for this. One which focuses on encouraging children to celebrate their differences and be empowered in that knowledge. I am not a teacher and have no ready answers for how it could be achieved but it is absolutely essential that this subject matter be taught. Teenagers also need to see women and men having these procedures, the pain they go through afterwards and the long process to recovery so that they are not unrealistic in their views of cosmetic surgery. If the pubic area is too much for schools I think the same results can be achieved watching breast augmentations and pec implant procedures.
When we have teenagers paying out large amounts of cash to have someone mutilate their bodies we all need to take a good look at the 'why' and find a way to get them to question these procedures or better still to not consider them at all.