Towards a Clean Slit: How Medicine and Notions of Normality Are Shaping Female Genital Aesthetics

Cult Health Sex. 2013;15(7):774-87. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2013.780639. Epub 2013 May 8.


In the West, a specific ideal has emerged for female genitalia. The ideal is one of absence, a clean slit that can be attained through the removal of pubic hair and, increasingly, through female genital cosmetic surgery. This ideal is largely created in the media, which generates contradictory messages for women. The popular press, backed by medical opinion, explicitly acknowledges that a wide range of variation is normal--female genitals vary in appearance 'about as much as snowflakes'--but by showing only altered minimalist clean slits, it carries an implicit message that women should be worried if their genitals do not match up to this exacting ideal. Consequently, some women feel their genitals are not satisfactory and choose surgery. Using biomedicine to fix normal body parts in order to fashion desirable femininity, releases medicine from its rigid scientific underpinnings exposing it as an increasingly cultural and commercial pursuit.

MeSH terms

  • Beauty Culture
  • Body Image / psychology*
  • Esthetics / psychology*
  • Female
  • Femininity
  • Hair Removal / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Reconstructive Surgical Procedures / psychology*
  • Vulva / anatomy & histology*
  • Vulva / surgery
  • Women / psychology