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Are designer vaginas and female genital mutilation the same?

Published 13 June 2024 Associated Categories What critics think
Are designer vaginas & FGM the same?

Reader, what does ‘mutilation’ mean?  ‘You are invited to reflect on this as you read this poem. I have written this poem from an anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) activist perspective. It is inspired by the feminist debate on whether ‘Designer Vagina’ surgery (otherwise known as female genital cosmetic surgery (FGCS)) is the same as or at least similar to FGM. One might argue that these practices are different because FGM is forced upon girls and women against their will while women elect to undergo FGCS. Indeed, FGM is used as a patriarchal weapon against women, to inscribe into women’s bodies what Womanhood means and to control how women exercise their sexuality within the confinement of the male gaze. However, it is worth appreciating that FGCS and FGM seem not so disanalogous if we take seriously the depth and harm of socio-cultural pressures, deriving from a shared system of women’s oppression, that inform women how to feel what their vulvas and vaginas should look like and whom they service.’

Saarrah Ray.

Sister, Is this Mutilation?

Sister, you told me that if you Sheela Na Gig Footnote 1

near the sun they call you:


Yes, and you would think No.

But they will fix you anyway.


Clean. Neat. Tight. Pretty. Virgin. Normal.

But I am told the same in places where it is dark and wet.

And there you Sheela Na Gig and tell them:

I say, Fix me.

Snip, snip, snip.

Because you do not want love, beauty, or self-improvement to be temporary.

I want to ask you a question, Sister.

Is the meaning of mutilation obvious to you?

Whether the word is read with the inside-voice or heard aloud, it possesses the ability of evoking an immediate response.

Which is to envisage and to sense something so intensely and being so certain about it.

You are probably doing it now.

In fact, you are convinced by your feelings.

You retain them and believe that you can confidently explain what mutilation means to whoever would ask.

So I ask, Sister.

Where would you start?

Probably the body.

Whose body? And what part of the body?

My body. Your body. Does any of that make a difference?

Anyway, who inflicts the harm? Actually, why do we think it could be a harm?

Is love, beauty and self-improvement a harm?

But how deep would the wound be, and how visible could it be?

Or is it more like an amputation?

Surely, this must be painful?

“Beauty is pain”, “survive or perish”, “fuck or be fucked”.

That seems to be our normal.

What kind of weapon will be used? Or will it be a surgical instrument?

Call a spade a spade.

Does any speculation about the equipment matter?

I trust it.

Maybe it is more important to consider why this is all happening in the first place.

Is this really necessary?

Does anything need to be necessary when I simply want this?

For what and for who exactly? It can make me better.

For what and for who exactly? I can be more beautiful even. More loved even.

For what and for who exactly? My body, my choice.

… [pause] ….

Stitch, snip. Stitch, snip.

It is done, Sister.

In. Out.

Enter. Exit.

Over, over and over again?

Again, again and again.

It cannot really be all that bad, right? It must feel pleasurable too.

It only lasts for a little while.

Numbing for a while.

It might be temporary.

I do not want love, beauty, or self-improvement to be temporary.

That is numbing.

I did not choose for love, beauty, or self-improvement to be temporary.

What did you choose? Was there really a choice?

Your body. My choice.

Sister, have you changed your intense certainty about the meaning of the word yet?


What do you see now?

Who do you see now?

Anyone of us. ‘Designer Vagina’. Female Genital Mutilation. If not the same.

I see us, Sheela Na Gig-ging in all places hot, cold, wet and dry, because we are worthy of

Self-love, and we are

Beautiful and we are

In no need to prove anything to Self or another. Not for a Stitch or a Snip.


  • 1. ’Sheela Na Gig’ or ‘Sheela’ represents Goddess, and you can see stone carvings of her on early medieval churches and castles in Ireland. Sheela is usually portrayed with a large skull-shaped head and with both hands she opens her vulva widely – she invites us into her vagina. Sheela is an image that promotes women’s sexual agency, and she warns off evil from disturbing that. When Sheela shows us her vulva and vagina, she is proud and unapologetic of the power she possesses. I use ‘Sheela Na Gig’ as a verb in this poem, to demonstrate this incentive.

Authors and Affiliations

  • University of Oxford, Christ Church, St Aldate’s, OX1 1DP, Oxford, UK
    Saarrah Ray

Correspondence to Saarrah Ray.  Ray, S. Sister, Is this Mutilation?. Fem Leg Stud (2024).

Reproduced here under Open Access permission.

Cite this article

Ray, S. Sister, Is this Mutilation?. Fem Leg Stud (2024).

Photo credit Steffan Lassus

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