‘Designer Vaginas': The Representation of Female Genitals on Canadian Cosmetic Surgeons' Websites
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This thesis critically examines the online marketing tactics of 10 (English language) Canadian cosmetic surgery clinics’ websites that offer Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (FGCS), specifically, labiaplasty (labial reduction) and vaginoplasty (vaginal tightening). Drawing on a qualitative Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis (MCDA) and a feminist-informed social constructionist framework (Lazar, 2007), I examine how FGCS discourses reiterate and reinforce heteronormative sexual scripts for women, and impose restrictive models of femininity through the pathologization of genital diversity and the appropriation of postfeminist and neoliberal discourses of individual choice and empowerment. I explore feminist analyses of the links between FGCS and contemporary Western women’s postfeminist subjectivity, and the reconfiguration of women’s sexual agency, to better understand what these contemporary shifts may mean for women’s sexual anxiety and expression. My analysis highlights several discourses that organize the online marketing material of Canadian FGCS websites, including: the pathologization of genital diversity; restrictive models of femininity; heteronormative sexual scripts; neoliberal and post-feminist rhetorics of individual choice and empowerment; and psychological and sexual transformation. Overall, these discourses undermine acceptance of women’s genital diversity, legitimize the FGCS industry and frame FGCS as the only viable solution to alleviate women’s genital and sexual distress despite the lack of evidence regarding the long-term benefits and risks of these procedures, and the recommendations against FGCS by professional medical organizations.