Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)
It’s the Year of the Bunny and I have no idea what that really means except that a bunch of Playboy memorabilia is being auctioned by Christies. Among the items for sale are some original prints of Playboy bunny centrefolds complete with their original mark-up notes. These are the written instructions given by the art director about what must be digitally altered.
The nearly invisible stretchmarks on Brande Roderick’s bum, are circled with the annotation, ‘Kill stretch lines.’
According to art directors, Shauna Sand’s pores were too large
Even though these proofs are from the 90s, before air-brushing became as extreme as it is today, there are still loads of alterations to ‘soften’ nipples, ‘remove stubble’ and ‘thin’ pubic hair as well as remove all stretch marks, blemishes and cellulite.
But what about the vaginas? Oh yes, they have to be air-brushed too. Although I’m not sure if this is enshrined in law like it is in Australia.
The debate around censorship and female body parts in magazines is one that I dealt with at Cosmo, you can read more on that here. In short, the laws in Australia legislate that you MUST air-brush vaginas to ‘heal it to a single crease’ so that no outer parts of the labia are shown, apparently it’s too rude to show what a REAL vagina looks like.
Earlier this year, journalists Kirsten Drysdaleand Ali Russell investigated the link between censorship and the increase in labiaplasty amongst young women and I wanted to share with you Kirsten’s blog post which was first published on Hungry Beast. It’s brilliant.
If I handed you a pencil and paper and asked you to draw a vagina*, odds are you would come up with something like this:
Which is interesting, considering only a small minority of mature females actually have fannies that look like that. Little girls – yes, that’s pretty much what they all look like. But grown women? The vast majority have a least a peep of their ‘inner lips’ showing, even when standing upright with their legs together while sipping Earl Grey from gold-rimmed Royal Doulton and nibbling on homemade shortbread. For many women, it’s more than just a ‘peep’ – some have full-blown dangly blossoms on display. This has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, their state of arousal or whether they’ve borne children (although, so what if it was?). It’s simply the way they are built.
So from a purely statistical standpoint, there’s something fishy about the fact that none of the women in soft porn mags have ‘outies’. Go and see for yourself – flick through Picture, People or Penthouse and see if you can find a single instance of a punani that looks like this:
And it’s not because they’ve chosen to only photograph women with ‘innies’. Many of those models actually have outies in real life, which have been ‘healed to a single crease’ (that’s the charming term used in the magazine industry) with the aid of image editing software. Think of it as ‘digital labiaplasty’.
It’s important to be clear that this is not something magazines do to suit the taste of their readership. Although mainstream pornography is hardly known (or appreciated) for a commitment to realism, in this particular case it’s a different issue. They’re not removing lady bits because people don’t want to see them, in the same way they smooth out cellulite or remove blemishes. They’re removing them because as far as the Classification Board is concerned, the labia minora are too rude for soft porn. It’s as though the censors think you could only possibly see it by spreading your legs or pulling your flaps apart.
If you still don’t believe me – go and pick up a copy of the ‘Unrestricted Category’ (M15+) Penthouse and compare it with Penthouse Max (the ‘Category 1’ R18+ version of the mag). I did this at the recommendation of the Classification Board, and found it a very enlightening little exercise. You’ll see exactly the same girls, from exactly the same photoshoot – and in some cases, exactly the same photographs – which will illustrate very clearly how they’ve been ‘tidied up’ in the softer version.
And they don’t even have to be very ‘messy’ to begin with. Take this example from the February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max:
February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max
Heaven forbid minors – or people in Queensland, where only the Unrestricted category is legal – see what a real vagina can look like!
There’s a clause, you see, in Australia’s Classification Guidelines that concerns how much nudity is acceptable for soft porn. It says:
“Realistic depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis.”
Need I point out the irony in the fact that the way the Board applies this rule results in highly unrealistic depictions of nudity? Or that at a time of fierce debate over whether a person’s physical appearance (regardless of their actual age) should be a factor in deciding whether they could incite paedophilia, the Classification Board is preventing obviously mature pussies (the growth of labia minora happens during puberty) from being shown in soft porn?
And WTF does ‘discreet genital detail’ mean anyway? Well, according to the Board member we spoke to, it’s obvious:
Yeah well I guess genital detail’s that, we can have discreet genital detail in Unrestricted and I guess that means genital, well, detail is pretty straightforward, so discreet means little or no or very little detail or not prominent, so it’s sort of quite clear on what is not allowed, if that makes sense…
No, it doesn’t really.
Well, genital detail. It’s just the detail of the genitals. Like if it’s not specific in our guidelines we use the Macquarie Dictionary meaning for those terms. And genital detail is details of the genitals. So, I guess in Unrestricted you can have discreet genital detail, and whatever that means, you combine that also with a pose, and with everything.
Clear as mud. And highly subjective. One person’s ‘discreet’ could be another’s ‘explicit’. And detail? What exactly constitutes ‘detail’? Can you show pubes? Can you show the clitoris? Can you show the eye of the penis? Can you show the wrinkles of a scrotum? Or can you only show genitals in soft-focus giving a general idea of shape?
The Classification Board’s denial that they are effectively censoring a particular body type is a first class lesson in spin. Have a read of their response to our written enquiry seeking clarification on the rules about nudity in ‘Unrestricted Category’ publications and how they pertain to the depiction of labia minora for yourself:
In considering each classifiable element, including nudity, the Board makes classification decisions based on the impact of individual elements and their cumulative effect. Both the content and treatment of elements contribute to the impact. The Board takes into account the concepts underlying individual descriptions and depictions, and assesses factors such as emphasis, tone, frequency, context and the amount of visual or written detail in those descriptions and depictions.
This is the same excuse they’ve been using ever since these guidelines were redrafted in 1999. Because no one factor alone is used to classify an image or publication, they can claim that photos of women with protruding inner lips are refused for any one of those other reasons – ‘oh, we can’t speculate on individual cases, but it must have been something else that was a problem, there’s nothing in the guidelines that says labia minora aren’t permitted’.
They don’t allow it, and they know it.
By Kirsten Drysdale
*DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know I should be using the word vulva. The vagina, technically, is the ‘muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus’. The vulva refers to the external part (the ‘lips’, clitoris, etc) which is obviously what we are talking about here. However – the term vulva is not used in everyday language to describe the external female genitalia of humans, so for the sake of making the point clear I’ve opted to use the word vagina in this article as it is commonly (though not entirely accurately) used.
Kirsten Drysdale is a reporter/presenter for the ABC’s Hungry Beast and a researcher on The Gruen Transfer. She is currently travelling in Africa and working freelance.
WARNING: The video contains imagery that is not safe for work, including a labiaplasty surgery scene. Story by Kirsten Drysdale and co-produced by Ali Russell republished with full permission from the authors.
This should be mandatory reading and viewing in schools. Just like the Dove advertisement which deconstructed what goes on in the making of your typical beauty image, girls and women of all ages need to know that the vaginas (vulvas!) they see in men’s magazines do not exist.
Imagine for a moment if someone in the censor’s office had decided that testicles were too ‘explicit’. Imagine that to be sold over the counter at a normal newsagent, your naked pictures of men had to have their testicles digitally removed.
Yes, digital castration. Think there might be an outcry? Think the censorship laws might be overturned?
So what exactly is it about female genitals that are so ‘explicit’ and offensive that they must be removed?
People need to know about this. Please share it.
- Architect of Giant Vagina Stadium Says It Doesn’t Look like a Vagina (jezebel.com)
- 100 Men Explain Why They Think Vaginas Are Awesome and Important (jezebel.com)
- University Newspaper Pulled After Editors Ran A Front Page Covered With Photos Of Students’ Vaginas (buzzfeed.com)
- Vagina! (sarabharrat.wordpress.com)