Name: Samuel Jackson
Student No: N7516622
Tutor: Michelle Cornford
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Artefact


Centrefold is a term coined by the iconic founder of Playboy, Hugh Hefner, and refers to an image spread across both pages in the centre of a magazine (Bogaert & Turkovich, 1993). The Centrefold is a single piece of paper and is designed so it can be removed from the magazine and used as a poster (Bogaert & Turkovich, 1993). This image of Marilyn Monroe was the first ever centrefold, It was published in the first edition of Playboy magazine in 1953 (Brownsell, 2003). It is without a doubt the most famous centrefold of all time and the driving factor behind the initial success of the Playboy brand (Brownsell, 2003). It has been chosen as an artefact to represent the soft porn industry.

Public health issue


The pornography industry has brought about a number of social and cultural changes to our lives, both positive and negative. This article will be delving into some of the negative changes to society that soft porn magazines have created. We will be exploring how the emergence of the soft porn industry has driven women to seek cosmetic surgical procedures to change the appearance of their vulvas. We will also discuss Australia’s involvement in the censorship of pornography and what effect this has had. We will relate this to the social construct of beauty and its history.

Literature Review


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One of the effects the soft porn industry has had on Australia is the rise in popularity of labiaplasty. Labiaplasty is a cosmetic surgical procedure where the labia minora, the inner lips of the vulva, are trimmed so that they no longer protrude outside the labia majora, the outer lips of the vulva (Goldstein & Romanzi, 2007). You may have heard of this procedure before under the moniker “designer vaginas.” Over recent years this surgery has had a surge in popularity in Australia as more and more young women are electing to have the procedure (Bourke, 2009). Last year 1565 Australian women had labiaplasty this is a four-fold increase over the figures from 2001 and the trend is expected not only to continue, but to grow even faster over the coming years (Bourke, 2009).

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Labiaplasty procedures cost on average $4000 to $6000 and are often covered by Medicare as the procedure can be performed for medical reasons (Jenkins, 2006). Excessively pendulous inner labia can create problems during intercourse and can also rub on the underwear (Miklos & Moore, 2008). This causes some women lots of discomfort and also leads to an increased chance of infection (Miklos & Moore, 2008). However the latest surveys suggest that 80% of Australian women who have undergone the procedure have done so for purely cosmetic reasons (Miklos & Moore, 2008). Many women feel that external labia minora are abnormal and feel ashamed about the appearance of their vulva (Jenkins, 2006). Yet gynaecologists state that the appearance of women’s genitalia are as varied as that of women’s faces (Jenkins, 2006). Statistically women with external labia minora are just as normal as women with hidden labia minora (Jenkins, 2006).

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The great wall of vagina an artwork by British artist Jamie McCartney is made from the casts of 400 vulvas. It is an excellent example of the huge variation that exists between the genitalia of different women and shows that there is no single “normal” vulva. So where has this idea of the perfect pussy with no visible labia minora come from? One of the main driving factors behind this phenomenon in Australia is actually censorship (Drysdale, 2010). Soft porn magazines that can be bought at service stations and newsagents have either a 15+ or 18+ rating (Drysdale, 2010). In Queensland it is illegal to sell 18+ magazines outside of sex shops, and in most other states newsagent and service station chains wont sell the 18+ versions. Meaning that we only have readily available access to the 15+ unrestricted soft porn magazines (Drysdale, 2010).

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The problem is that the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification has imposed very strict regulations on unrestricted soft porn magazines (Drysdale, 2010). One clause from the guidelines states, “Realistic Depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis (Drysdale, 2010).” In order to pass classification the industry has adopted a process they have termed healing to a single crease (Drysdale, 2010). Healing to a single crease is the process where vulvas are photoshopped to remove the labia minora because they are considered too detailed (Drysdale, 2010). The classification board suggests that the magazines are using the guidelines as an excuse and that the magazine’s real motivation behind the photoshopping is too suit the tastes of their readership (Drysdale, 2010). The magazine industry refutes this claim saying that they would show the labia minora if they were allowed too. Indeed in the 18+ versions of the magazines the same photos as the 15+ versions can be seen with labia minora still intact (Drysdale, 2010).
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The majority of the population will see many more vulvas in images and videos than they will in real life. Without any knowledge of the censorship issues they assume the magazine’s unrealistic depictions of the female body are what women should look like. Not only have women seen these unrealistic depictions and thought they were abnormal. They have been judged by men who perceive external labia minora to be abnormal because of their constant exposure to unrealistic depictions of female genitalia (Drysdale, 2010).

The rise in popularity of labiaplasty is a public health issue that must be addressed for a number of reasons. While complication rates have been very low thanks to the quality of surgeons in Australia, as with any surgery there are inherent risks for the women undergoing the procedure (Goldstein & Romanzi, 2007). Women seeking labiaplasty for purely cosmetic reasons are placing strain on an already overstretched healthcare system as the procedure is covered by medicare. This whole issue is also the cause of many phycological problems. As mentioned earlier some women feel ashamed of the appearance of their vulva and this certainly leads to low self esteem and depression (Drysdale, 2010). Mental health is often an area that is overlooked as cardiovascular diseases and cancer are placed in the spotlight.

Now that the perception of the ideal vulva has been placed in our society’s consciousness it would be very hard to try and rectify this situation (Calabrese, Rima, & Schick, 2011). However to start to find a solution we must attack the problem at its source which is the censorship of soft porn magazines. The guidelines need to be changed to be brought in line with the zeitgeist. With the pervasiveness of internet pornography 15 year olds no longer buy soft porn magazines (Flood, 2007). So the idea that the classification board has that they are protecting young boys from seeing detailed genitalia is completely irrelevant (Flood, 2007). Right now all the classification board have succeeded in doing is creating a rise in the popularity of labiaplasty. By creating a generation who has an unrealistic perception of what a vulva should look like (Drysdale, 2010).



Cultural and social analysis


The basis for these health problems is the perception of beauty. Beauty is a social construct and as such changes with the times (Calabrese, et al., 2011). Evidence from the palaeolithic era of human history shows a completely different idea of beauty (Youmans, 2005). Overweight and hairy women were seen to be the most attractive in their culture (Youmans, 2005). This is because a overweight woman was seen a trophy for a man, a way of boasting that he was a good hunter and could provide his wife with more food than she needed (Youmans, 2005). Overweight women were also regarded as being more fertile (Youmans, 2005). Over time as we developed cities and farming practices the hunter became obsolete and the ideas of beauty changed (Youmans, 2005). It is clear from renaissance art that their ideal of beauty was what many people would consider as chubby in our day and age (Janson, 1999). It is also interesting to note that none of the paintings or sculptures from this era contain depictions of the labia minora (Janson, 1999). In fact most of the paintings do not not even show the vaginal slit. This is due to the sexual oppression rampart in the era an artist could be killed for creating vulgar imagery (Janson, 1999).

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The idea of beauty now has been massively influenced by the media and its depictions of skinny models and photoshopped actors (Moeran, 2010). This phenomenon has received a lot of attention lately and there are even government schemes being developed to help address the issue as it has created many problems in the community such as; bulimia, anorexia, and mental health problems stemming from low self esteem (Moeran, 2010). There is a clear parallel between this issue and the issue of labiaplasty and unrealistic depictions of female genitalia. However this issue does not receive any attention from our government.

Even if the laws concerning the censorship of soft porn magazines are eventually repealed, the ideal of a vulva without visible labia minor has entered the collective conscious of Australian society. This Manufactured ideal has influenced other sections of the pornography industry. They are now choosing more and more to use models who have no visible labia minora as it is what the viewing public has now come to expect (Pratt, 1986). Pornography often reflects the ideals of beauty from the time it was made and to some extent it also influenced the ideals of beauty (Pratt, 1986). An excellent demonstration of this is the move from female porn stars having large bushes of pubic hair in the 70’s to the pornography of today where it is expected that the female porn stars will have shaved genitals (Pratt, 1986). This is also increasingly the case for men too as “man-scaping” becomes more popular in the community (Pratt, 1986). As we can see from history the social construct of beauty changes over time due to numerous different factors, porn will continue to change with it and so will peoples perceptions of sexuality and the body.

Analysis of the artefact and my own learning reflections


I believe the centrefold picture of Marilyn Monroe is a good representation of the soft porn industry. Playboy magazine is synonymous with soft porn, and it has become an integral part of pop culture in the western world. The images of young boys hiding stashes of playboy magazines under their beds in films and television are very illustrative of the point that a generation of people learned about the female body and sexuality from the pictures in soft porn magazines. Personally I have learnt a lot from my research on the topic of labiaplasty and its causes. I was aware of labiaplasty but had never stopped to think about why women would undergo the procedure. I have discovered a lot about the history of women in art and pornography and how these depictions are related to social and cultural factors of the time such as censorship and the social construct of beauty. This new insight has allowed me to explore my own views towards pornography, censorship, and surgery. Personally I don’t believe that labiaplasty is the problem. If this procedure helps women feel more confident in themselves then why shouldn’t they do it. However I do have concerns about why these women feel they need to have this surgery in the first place. I believe that censorship of pornography is necessary in a world where there are things such as child pornography. But I also believe laws that force people to change the anatomical appearance of women in legal pornography are pointless and have create more harm than good.


References

Bogaert, A. F., & Turkovich, D. A. (1993). A Content Analysis of Playboy Centrefolds from 1953 through 1990: Changes in Explicitness, Objectification, and Model's. Journal of Sex Research, 30(2), 135-139. Retrieved from http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http:search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=9702144239&site=ehost-live.

Bourke, E. (2009). Worries About Rise In “Designer Vagina” Surgery. In ABC National News [Television Broadcast]. Sydney, NSW: ABC Television

Brownsell, A. (2003). Playboy. Marketing, 17-18. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/214941345?accountid=13380

Calabrese, S. K., Rima, B. N., & Schick, V. R. (2011). Evulvalution: the portrayal of women's external genitalia and physique across time and the current Barbie Doll ideals. The Journal of Sex Research, 48(1), 74+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA249309789&v=2.1&u=qut&it=r&p=HRCA&sw=w.

Drysdale, K. (2010). Healing It To A Single Crease. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/tv/hungrybeast/blog/kdrysdale/healing-it-single-crease/

Flood, M. (2007). Exposure to pornography among youth in Australia. Journal of Sociology, 43(1), 45-60. doi:10.1177/1440783307073934

Goldstein, A. T., & Romanzi, L. J. (2007). Surgical Techniques: Z-Plasty Reductional Labiaplasty. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 4(3), 550-553. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2007.00504.x

Janson, C. (1999). Picturing Women in Late Medieval and Renaissance Art. The Sixteenth Century Journal, 30(2), 588-589. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2544779.

Jenkins, R. (2006). Debate over designer vagina surgery. Australian Doctor, 8-8. Retrieved from http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http:search.proquest.com/docview/195141083?accountid=13380.

Miklos, J. R., & Moore, R. D. (2008). Labiaplasty of the Labia Minora: Patients’ Indications for Pursuing Surgery. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5(6), 1492-1495. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00813.x

Moeran, B. (2010). The Portrayal of Beauty in Womens Fashion Magazines. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture, 14(4), 491-510. doi:10.2752/175174110x12792058833933

Pratt, J. (1986). Pornography and Everyday Life. Theory, Culture & Society, 3(1), 65-78. doi:10.1177/0263276486003001006

Youmans, J. M. (2005). History of beauty. Choice, 42(8), 1412-1412. Retrieved from http://gateway.library.qut.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/225774540?accountid=13380.