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.
body image · clothing · fashion

The day I discovered the dreaded camel toe

Okay so I live in a bit of a cave. It’s a happy cave filled with friends, family, and other assorted human and non human loved ones who largely share my attitudes to a whole bunch of important stuff. (Except maybe the cat. The cat might be an anti-feminist infiltrator. You can never tell with cats.)

That’s either because we talked one another into these views or they’ve been socialized into them (hi teens!) or they’re part of the price of admission to the cave. But the downside of living in a happy cave is that it can be a bit of an echo chamber with the same shared ideas rattling around.

That’s my long way of explaining how it was I came to know about camel toe so late in the game. And in this case, I’ve got to say I’m not sure either the world or me is any better for the knowledge. It just makes me grumpy.

First, what is it with these turns of phrase to describe women’s ‘flawed’ body bits? Camel toes, back fat, dinner plate arms, muffin tops, ‘turn off the headlights’? What? Just stop it please. Loathe your own body if you want but end it with the labels.

Until a story complaining about Lulelemon’s ‘no more camel toe’ ad crossed my Facebook newsfeed, I had no idea this was an issue. At first I didn’t get the ad since I didn’t see the problem they were talking about as a problem. And the name made no sense to me.

I was forced to Google the phrase. (My advice: don’t. Celebrity camel toe tumblrs? It’s a sad world.)

Wikipedia tells me this: “Camel toe is a slang term that refers to the outline of a human female’s labia majora, as seen through tightly fitting clothes. Due to a combination of anatomical factors and the snugness of the fabric covering it, the crotch andpudendal cleft may take on a resemblance to theforefoot of a camel.”

There you have it.

My question: Why do we care?

It matters to women who lead physically active lives since it’s fitted sports clothing which causes women who care the most grief. I started to wonder if the dreaded camel toe was part of the story about what made running skirts so popular. (Read about running skirts and sexism here.) Bike shorts are safe (phew! ) since the chamois crotch padding covers up that part of women’s bodies.

But why does it matter in the first place? Why is it even an issue?

Here’s some musings:

Partly I think it’s connected to nervousness about weight and disgust about fat. (Chubby there is bad because chubby everywhere is bad, now your labia can be too fat along with everything else.)

Partly it’s about moving to one homogenous body type. Soon we’ll all look like Barbie, with a hairless, featureless, flat public region.

Partly it’s because there should be no reminders that women’s bodies are at all sexual. No visible labia goes along with no visible nipples. (Read about nipple phobia here.)

And of course it’s about selling us things. Create a problem, some new body insecurity and then market a solution.

This makes the most sense to me since I didn’t know what camel toe was until Lululemon came along with the solution. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. Like the visible panty lines of my youth (pre thong, I bought special underwear designed to minimize VPL about which I only became aware after an ad campaign for said underwear mentioned the problem) and visible nipples now (saw special bandaid like stickers in a store just today, to wear on your nipples, under clothing and to avoid visible nipples), it’s one more thing women have to check on the way out the door. Body policing and the internalized panopticon continues.

It’s hard not see it as part of an ever increasing trend of high maintenance self care. Not just shaving, now waxing, labial cosmetic surgery and beauty standards for body bits that in the past we could happily ignore.

I look at photos from my high school days. All tight jeans and camel toes everywhere. Who knew?