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Unruly Labia: Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery and the Production of Normality


Unruly Labia: Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery and the Production of Normality exposes a new site of disciplinary power, surveillance, and the production of whiteness, heteronormativity, and an ideal cis-female body. Female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS) encompasses a variety of procedures including labiaplasty, vaginal “rejuvenation,” clitoral hood reductions, and G-spot amplification. My dissertation offers a way of understanding these discourses and practices as they are embedded in a neoliberal transactional world that provides a way for people with vaginas and vulvas to arrive at a normative understanding of themselves. It provides qualitative, interpretive, and intersectional analysis, revealing norms, logics, and aesthetic expectations at play on California FGCS websites. A multipronged methodology using content, discourse, and semiotic analysis was used to analyze 126 online websites that discuss FGCS and representations of “ideal” vaginas and vulvas (news/magazines [20]; porn [18]; health/lifestyle blogs [42]; spa/medi-spa or FGCS provider websites [47]). Qualitative content analysis was used to trace patterns of meaning production across sites. This dissertation troubles naturalized connections made between genitalia and gender identity and argues that the strength of these symbolic links is violent, dangerous, and detrimental to both those who fall inside and outside of U.S. bodily norms. A unique contribution of this work is its focus on historical and contemporary formulations of gendered, racialized, and classed physical features of the vagina and vulva as “excessive,” “hypersexual,” or “dysfunctional.” Critically, I track histories of coloniality and visuality as a prerequisite to understanding the discourses and popularity of FGCS. Definitions of “hypertrophy” are both racist and sexist in that they were produced within a larger colonial history of labial signification that pathologized normal variations in the human vulva. These significations continue to be embedded in medical and popular discourse and their impact carries forward to the present moment. My analysis of the norms and discourses present on the FGCS websites sheds new light on these surgeries as not only the site of heteronormativity and racialization but also capitalist relations in the process of selling vaginal or vulvar ideal types, sex, sexuality and “a new me.”

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