July 2, 2008

Selling Women Unsupported Health Messages and Insecurity about Their Vaginas

An article in today’s New York Times describes a “medical spa” in Manhattan described as the first facility “dedicated to strengthening and grooming a woman’s genital area.”

The facility’s own website refers to its services as addressing “feminine fitness.” The physician running the “spa” stated, “If you can vote and you have a vagina, you should do these. It’s the dental floss of feminine fitness.”

To be clear, “feminine fitness” is a made-up phrase with no standard medical meaning, and the definition of physical fitness in general can be variable and subjective. Never mind that, though – I’m still hung up on “if you can vote and you have a vagina.”

Dr. Romanzi, the founder of the facility, was no doubt trying to suggest that regular pelvic exercises (such as Kegels) served a preventive, health-preserving purpose, although this may not actually be the case. I did a quick search of the medical literature for any evidence of long-term benefits or protective effects of pelvic floor muscle training, and did not turn up any relevant studies of the topic. There does seem to be some support for pelvic floor muscle training related in improving symptoms of urinary incontinence, but as one physician interviewed for the article stated, “If this is being recommended to women who have no symptoms, then there are no medical organizations or literature that support that that is necessary.”

Indeed, the “spa” also offers other services such as labiaplasty and “wrinkle reduction” – referring to them as “rejuvenation” – that have little to do with actual health. Perhaps appropriately, the article was published in the “Fashion” section of the paper’s website, rather than in “Health.”

This one little facility in the big city probably shouldn’t garner so much attention, but the unsupported selling to women of this as a “health” issue – not to mention the implications about what is acceptable for women’s bodies – really bothers me. The Times reporter seems to get the issue just right – “The advent of the pelvic spa, however, takes body fixation to a new level, furthering the idea that there is no female body part that cannot be tightened, plumped, trimmed or pruned.”


11 Responses to “Selling Women Unsupported Health Messages and Insecurity about Their Vaginas”

  1. Nona Nita Says:

    Like it’s not bad enough that the doctors are forcing women to have babies exactly on thier due dates, softening cervixes that nature hasn’t decided to soften yet…etc. but now they are going to sculpt thier vaginas? Another outrage! I hope the young women of today don’t fall for it!

  2. Jessica A Bruno Says:

    Saw the exactly article in todays NYTimes because my parents subscribe to it.

    To me this is very interestin and tell you the truth hope this backfires on that doctor. Its not even worth it in the end. Please don’t even get me started with the rest of my issues on this or etc.

  3. rose Says:

    Although I really hate the idea of “furthering the idea that there is no female body part that cannot be tightened, plumped, trimmed or pruned,” I think this “spa” may not be all bad, especially the part about encouraging everyone to do exercises. I’ve heard that in France these are routine therapy for all women who have vaginal births- apparently part of free health care coverage provided by the state. It is thought that the exercises really are effective in reducing the risk of incontinence later in life. This is also something I have heard many older women say.

  4. Rachel Says:

    Rose, that’s the thing – there is some evidence that when women are pregnant or having urinary incontinence issues, these exercises may help. There doesn’t seem to be any strong evidence that the exercises are necessary or effective as a life-long preventive measure, or that it’s necessary to go to a “spa” repeatedly to do them correctly.

  5. HIlary Says:

    Ha! Yeah, I heard about this.

    I happen to be a fan of Kegel’s. One benefit I need to look up, to see if it is documented, but can apply to almost every woman is enhanced orgasm.

    Unfortunately, I wish having this article in the Style section instead of health was indicative of the worthlessness of the other so called treatments, health wise. But, the NYT puts most women’s articles, regardless of their seriousness, in the style section.

  6. Deb Says:

    Yesterday afternoon, my 18 year old daughter came to me to ask me what was wrong with her vagina – because it doesn’t look ‘normal’ to her boyfriend. The ‘abnormality’ that had her concerned is something that is regularly airbrushed out of porn photos – sebaceous glands which just happen to be a little more noticeable in some women than in others. What bothered me the most about the whole incident is the fact that her barometer of ‘normal’ is shaped by boys whose main experience with female genitalia is airbrushed photos in glam-porn magazines. Labiaplasty for prettier vaginas? Can we find one more way to make our daughters feel more insecure about themselves?

  7. Roger Leff Says:

    If one man’s opinion is worth much, I share the views of the other comments that this is more nonsense designed to assault women’s images of themselves so “solutions” can be peddled, but at this point I would argue that women are their own worst enemy. It is worth pointing out that the Dr. Romanzi, above, is Lauri Romanzi. Would anyone like to guess how many articles on where to get a good Brazilian have been written in women’s magazines recently? The women in Sex and the City, rather than defend pubic hair, ridiculed it. Trust me ladies, I am with you completely on this, but the time has come to stop blaming Playboy and start blaming Cosmopolitan.

  8. Margie Says:

    I have to agree with Roger on the point that those womens’ magazines are ridiculous. They are boring, insipid, and insulting to women.

  9. Deb Says:

    There’s a vicious cycle at work, Roger. Girls want boys to like them. Just like boys are sold by pretty girls in bikinis lounging over the hoods of expensive cars (both with the appropriate wax job), girls are sold by being told that boys like pretty girls in bikinis – which means that if you want a boy to like you, you’d better look like the pretty waxed girl draped over the hood of the car. Those girls’ and womens’ magazines make their biggest money from the advertisers who know that insecurity sells – so they sell insecurity, which feeds the idea of what is attractive and normal and drives sales up which reinforces the idea that a pretty waxed girl in a bikini sells… see where I’m going?

  10. Roger Says:

    How do we break the cycle, Deb? Any suggestions?

  11. Margie Says:

    Women need to stop buying into the bullshit. Stop reading those insipid magazines, and read something that feeds your mind instead of your insecurities ie: Ms, Bust, Bitch, Utne Reader, Health. I graduated from HS in the mid 80′s and spent the 90′s as a riot girl/hippie grunge girl. I am so glad that I am not in my twenties today. The clothes and make-up that I see is horrible. When I see young ladies today dressed to go out, I can hardly tell the difference between club goers and hookers. Coming home from the beach on the Long Island Railroad on a Sat evening, the young men were more impressive than the young women, which is a sad comment.

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