apexart :: Exhibition Talk :: Dr. Anthony Berlet

  Wednesday, April 15, 6:30 pm

Cosmetic surgery, commercialization and culture: The case of the 'designer vagina'

A talk by Dr. Virginia Braun

In conjunction with the exhibition I Am Art, curated by Anthony Berlet, M.D.

Download mp3 of talk (33MB)


The so-called "designer vagina" -- a term used to refer to various forms of female genital cosmetic surgery, usually performed by plastic surgeons or gynecologists -- appeared in public discourse about a decade ago. Since that time, this area of cosmetic surgery has been identified as "the fastest emerging growth trend" in cosmetic surgery, itself a field which has expanded exponentially over that time. It seems more and more women are, apparently, having their genitalia altered for aesthetic purposes. What do these procedures have in common with other types of cosmetic surgery? What makes them unique? How can we make sense of the appearance and apparent popularity of these procedures? What makes them problematic? And what might be the (unintended?) implications of the marketing and availability of these surgeries, for girls and women? In this talk, Dr. Braun will outline what the surgery is, and identify a cluster of contemporary and historical sociocultural factors which make the appearance of female genital cosmetic surgery entirely understandable. She will also discuss critical questions this surgery raises, related to choice, agency and ethics, and to notions of genital perfection and pathology.

Virginia Braun, PhD, is a faculty member of the Department of Psychology at The University of Auckland (New Zealand), and is currently a visiting scholar in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University. Her research interests are primarily focused around the (intersecting) areas of women's health, gendered bodies, and sex and sexuality, with a current focus on female genital cosmetic surgery. She is particularly interested in developing knowledge of how socio-cultural meanings given to bodies and bodily practices impinge on women's experiences, practices, and identities, in ways that can work to promote or preclude choice and wellbeing. For this reason, her research has always examined the nexus between individuals' accounts, scientific knowledge, and popular cultural meanings. She is currently the co-editor of the international journal Feminism & Psychology.

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All events are free and open to the public.

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apexart's exhibitions and public programs are supported in part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Edith C. Blum Foundation, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., The William Talbott Hillman Foundation, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.