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Why designer vaginas do not empower women

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Women's demand for plastic surgery for improving the appearance of their genitals in Brazil has risen by 80% in recent years. Plastic surgeons have seen increasing requests for labiaplasty that slims or plumps the labia. According to the International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (SAPS), Brazil had the highest demand for the surgery in the world, with 23,155 of the procedures in 2016 in comparison to the United States with 13,266 procedures despite having 55% more people.

Labiaplasty developed in the 1970s for removing excess tissue that caused pain but has since improved and developed with the purpose of perfecting genitals. It has grown in popularity with celebrities such as US reality TV star Khloe Kardashian, who along with the other Kardashians are famous for the plastic procedures they have undergone.

However, the demand for genital surgery in Brazil is more than a result of influential celebrities. Brazil is known for its obsession with perfect female bodies, and the growing demand for surgery reflects the influence of pornography for women regarding their appearance. The debate comes as to whether it is a form of female empowerment or appreciation completely on appearance. Empowerment, in this case, maybe sceptical when it is only coming through a woman's appearance as it suggests what aspect of themselves are valued the most. 

Lina Triana, a Colombian Plastic Surgeon who has performed the procedure believes that it is a source of empowerment, stating that "Latin women live in a macho culture: he is the one who rules in the office, in the home, in the sex life. Now as women... we are leading at home and in jobs and we want to lead in our sex lives." She emphasised the attitude of importance for the procedure with "Even in a bad economy, this is something that we need." The Brazillian economy has worsened with it shrinking more than 7 percent in 2016, the worst downturn in a generation. 

While plastic surgeons believe this is a form of female empowerment, many believe it is a reflection on the engulfing pressure for perfection in women's appearance. Triana's emphasis that a perfect vagina is "something that we need" seems to say that the highest value for a woman is through her sex and that women are embedded with the view that beauty and acceptance come from beautiful genitals. In the growing force of female empowerment across the world, the biggest aim is to break the view of women being valued entirely for their bodies and sex, which is the very attitude that has caused the drastic demand for labiaplasty.

It is arguably not fair to condemn any of these women for choosing to have the surgery, as part of female empowerment is the freedom to do what makes you happy such as altering your appearance.

The issue should not lie with the individual women, but in the social attitudes that caused the view that this surgery is not a pleasure but an importance.

Some may leave feeling empowered, but in this case, empowerment comes from altering their appearance in a way that emphasises that their main purpose as a woman is through sex.

33-year-old Fernanda from Sao Paulo who had the surgery, said she was prompted after her husband said "wow, it looks like a hanging bag... I've never seen anything like that." Choosing to undergo surgery that would please your partner after they insult you about it is not a decent source of empowerment. Instead, it reflects a patriarchal society in which men have control over how their women look and expect them to be perfect for them. A society which clearly exists from the great demand for surgery and the valued importance that women have a perfect vagina. While many women can view it as empowerment from the confidence that it creates, it still radiates from a society that oppresses women as sexual objects and leaving this as the only area in which they are able to empower themselves. 

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