body image · clothing · fashion

Further thoughts on camel toe, Barbie crotch, and the quest for tidy bodies

https://i0.wp.com/www.ebsqart.com/Art/Robbins-Gallery/Mixed-Media-Acrylics-Wood/43283/650/650/Barbie-Doll-Crotch.jpg
Barbie Doll Crotch
– by Robbin-Art
http://www.ebsqart.com/Art-of-the-Day/Doll-Art/39/Barbie-Doll-Crotch/43283/

Just to be clear, I’m not pro-camel toe (whatever that would mean, I’m not quite sure) and I think it’s perfectly consistent to be a feminist and not want to show off the contours of your private parts to the world.

What concerns me about ‘camel toe’ though are three different, but connected, phenomena.

First is the tendency to name unruly body bits such as muffin top, thunder thighs, and camel toe. I’m worried here about body shame and body policing. We give names to these ‘problem areas’ of the female body and then they take on lives of their own. Of course, then others sell us things to solve the problem and the ‘solution’ further advertises the problem and down the spiral goes.

Second is the tendency to hone in on one standard  as to what certain body parts should look like and then everything outside that single norm is wrong and flawed. I mentioned in  my first post on camel toe that it’s the Barbie crotch as ideal that concerns me–smooth, hairless, flat, and plastic.  Few women have a perfectly flat vulva. The size of labia are connected to other ways we vary- age, weight, and then partly normal variation in anatomy. It’s interesting to note that Barbie also a thigh gap.

Third, it’s already the case that the majority of women say they are put off exercising  by the way they look in fitted sports clothing . “67% of women say they wear baggy clothing when exercising in order to hide their figure.” See No way am I wearing that! Body conscious clothing as a barrier to entry to women’s sports.  Adding camel toe to the list of things we worry about can’t be helping this problem.

I also fear that there might be a connection between the concern over camel toe and unruly, protruding labia and the recent trend to labial cosmetic surgery.

“In 2007 the British Medical Journal reported that labioplasty procedures (the surgical procedure that cuts the labia to reduce its size – um, ouch) in the UK had doubled in a five year period. The study authors made a direct link to the rise in surgery to the rise in the availability of pornographic imagery. They were quoted as saying “Patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat with no protrusion beyond the labia majora… Some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from advertisements or pornography that may have been digitally altered.””A frank discussion about vaginas

The article goes to express concern that the photos of female genitalia in adult magazines are heavily ‘airbrushed’ to make them even neater and tidier. Again, this language of “neat and tidy.”

You can read more in the Guardian, Labiaplasty surgery increase blamed on pornography: Doctors blame internet porn boom as more women seek ‘designer vaginas’ through genital surgery

Cosmetic surgery clinics says sports and sports clothing play a role in a woman’s decision to seek surgery.

“The number one reason for a labiaplasty is the desire to reduce pain or discomfort experienced while wearing tight clothing (such as jeans or yoga pants) or playing sports (especially bike riding or horseback riding) or engaging in other physical activities.

The second most common reason for labiaplasty is shame or embarrassment about the way their genitals look and the desire to change their appearance. It can make a huge difference in a woman’s life to feel better about the way her body looks.

Other times, women want to increase sexual function– a reduction of the labia or clitoral hood can provide greater exposure of the clitoris, allowing for increased stimulation.

Occasionally, a woman’s labia are damaged during childbirth, and the procedure is restorative.” http://www.beclinic.com/en/labiaplasty

Admittedly cosmetic surgery is costly, the risks are high, and so you might opt instead to control your unruly labia with an anti-camel toe shield.

Here’s Les at xojane writing, You Should Fear The Barbie Crotch

“This anti-camel-toe shield isn’t just good for a laugh. It’s also an illustration of how industry can manufacture and then fulfill a need by making you insecure about your body.

Regretsy turned up this anti-camel-toe product, the Smooth Groove, a sort of vaginal shoehorn that you stick inside your pants to avoid embarrassing ride-up. It’s super-ridiculous and hilarious, especially the ad, which doesn’t use the phrase “the heartbreak of camel toe” but might as well.
“Even the women who hadn’t experienced camel toe themselves… knew of someone who had.” Gosh, could that be because we all have LABIA?

The instant Barbie crotch is a completely absurd product, and I don’t expect it to show up in Walgreen’s any time soon. But it’s not just good for a laugh; it’s also an illustration of how industry can manufacture and then fulfill a need by making you insecure about your body. So many products — wrinkle creams, body shapers, depilatories, hair extensions — are just Barbie crotches in disguise.”

Okay, suppose you decide against surgery and against the shield. You’re going to live with your body as is. Don’t worry you can still have the perfect Barbie crotch in the form of a necklace.

Artist Allie Pohl, has created a jewellery range displaying her views on the female idealised form. Pohl states: ‘I strive to express the absurdities, conflicts and hypocrisies society presents about ‘ideal’ women’ – and indeed she does… in the form of a certain iconic doll’s nether region. See The Ideal Woman and Barbie’s crotch, 

More reading:

  • And finally, if you want to get a sense of the range of normal have a look at the 101 vaginas project. (Contains photos of vaginas, obviously, so follow this link somewhere that’s an okay thing to be looking at.)
  • There’s also a Canadian book Vulva 101 with similar aims and aspirations.

10 thoughts on “Further thoughts on camel toe, Barbie crotch, and the quest for tidy bodies

  1. Hi Sam,
    It seems to me that you have a strong sense of something that is wrong with expressions like “camel toe” and you are trying hard to express the underlying reasons for it.
    Regarding the use of expressions like “camel toe”, as I earlier said, I think it definitely an expression coined by men. Men – athletic men in particular, are often juvenile and often thoughtless in making up such expressions. They may be really funny sometimes but if the result of their comments is to truly shame women, I agree that such comments should not be made. Men are harder on other men – much harder, than they are on women, just by the way.
    Regarding the “one” standard, yeah, for sure. Women are to look like Barbie and men like Thor. This one definitely does affect women alot more than it does men. However, I’m somewhat unsure about whether supermodels wouldn’t ever experience camel toe in certain types of tight-fitting clothing. In other words, it never occurred to me that camel toe was something only some women might be capable of exhibiting, and that the capacity not to exhibit camel toe in any type of clothing was some form of goal. So I’m unsure about the cnnection to “camel toe” here. Is the capacity to never exhibit camel toe in any form of clothing an actual goal or image of perfection? I mean – would a Barbie doll ever be manufactured with big hairy labia and sold to young girls? Again, I’m just unsure about this.
    Lastly – tight fitting clothing. I would not have even dreamed of wearing fitted workout gear when I was too heavy. And I admit that when I see some very chubby short women wearing hip-hugging skinny jeans and tight tops exposing their mid-sections, I can’t help but think they look quite ridiculous. I too would not have worn fitted gym clothes when I was too heavy, because even in loose clothing, I saw people somewhat smiling rudely or almost laughing at me. I will never forget when a young couple were somewhat laughing in derision at the sight of me on a stationary bike. It didn’t deter me from working out at all, but it certainly was not a pleasurable experience. I am very fit now and I wear fitted gym clothes, but I would never laugh or jeer at another – knowing exactly what it’s like on the other side (and it’s not really in my personality to do so to begin with). So on this latter subject, I understand what you’re getting at – but there would still be no way I’d wear fitted clothing were I to become too heavy again. Just —wouldn’t—-happen. But my question is – and excuse me for my ignorance here (because I honestly get the feeling like the answer might be obvious except to a dumb man like me) why do women have to wear tight-fitting clothing just to go to gym?

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    1. … why do women have to wear tight-fitting clothing just to go to gym?

      For me, at least — because this is the clothing that best lets me do what I go there to do. My two main forms of exercise are yoga and running.

      With yoga, there are a number of positions my body goes into where looser pants slide around, creating bulk and catching on body parts as I continue to move. This is particularly an issue in inversions, where pants or shorts slide back down toward my head in a way that is both physically uncomfortable and has the potential to reveal my underwear and — depending on the pants and the pose — some portion of my pubic hair.

      With running, I wear running tights or shorts because looser fabrics get caught between my thighs as I go. Not only does this have the potential to create camel toe anyway as the fabric tugs along my groin, but it has the potential to be extremely painful as well.

      Tl;DR — I’m not willing to sacrifice my comfort or movement at the expense of anyone who might happen to be looking at my crotch. 😉

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  2. I guess the other smaller issue I’m having with some of your more recent blogs concerns sexuality. I realize that whenever women want to look and feel sexy, they may be running many dangers – from a feminist perspective. I’m just wondering though – in this feminist persepctive on things, is there absolutely any room at all for looking and feeling sexy – or wanting to look and feel sexy? Is this not possible without “body policing”? I wear fitted gym clothes now. I like to wear them. Is this wrong on any level?

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    1. Looking and feeling sexy is a positive thing. What each person finds sexy is intensely personal and variable. What’s not positive is that society sets the framework for what “sexy” is and then expects women to fit into it (hopefully they’ll spend lots of money in this pursuit, too!) Every year there’s a new “problem area” and a variety of products to fix it.

      As far as gym clothes… I’m just going to be blunt and say I don’t care about what other think of my body at the gym. I’m not there for them. Instead of approaching it as the fault of the person being ridiculed, why not accept that ridiculing people at the gym (or in general) is a an assholeish thing to do and combat that? You’ve had that uncomfortable experience, why not call out folks who are nasty to other people at the gym?

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  3. I never really thought of “calling out” such assholes, or even appraoching them when they were ridiculing me. In the gym setting anyway, it is not as overt as it would be with just a group of guys on a playing field. It is usually just sneering and “talking behind your back” type stuff. So it’s more difficult to call out people over it. That said, there is one female personal trainer at one of my gyms who is fantastic. She is just so confident, so respectful and so no-nonsense. She told off a guy about something he did wrong (I’m not sure what it was actually) and he just gave her sneering dismissive looks and rolled his eyes. She without blinking just said in a a completely audible but non-threatening even tone: “And there’s no need to roll your eyes about this.” Maybe I should use her as a role model in this regard. (By the way, I never once considered that it was anyone’s fault that they were being ridiculed, or that it was my fault I was being ridiculed. I too now dress the way I dress, for me – not for anyone else! But I have to admit that I on some level care if I’m being looked at negatively – even if only by assholes.)

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  4. Just saw it. To me, a little bit funny in some ways. Mostly banal. But I can see how women could find it offensive in some ways. Men would never find it offensive, though, because the truth is if ever there were women in some exercise class there to just check us out, we’d like it.

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