Friday, November 13, 2009

The Impossible And Unnecessary Pursuit Of Perfection

"Have you noticed how much they look like orchids? Lovely!"
- "More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long" --Robert Heinlein

“There is no such thing as perfect”, she said,
What she meant was Platonic Ideal;
That ancient Greek has made us seek
For things that are better than real.

All populations will vary, you know,
Even twins aren’t exactly the same
And that’s the appeal of the things that are real
Cos monotony sure is a shame

Perfection, to me, is a wonderful spectrum,
A rainbow of difference and change
The lows and the highs, every shape, every size,
My perfection is seen in a range

Bigger, or smaller, or thicker, or thinner
Darker or paler in hue
Yes, every complexion is part of perfection
Including, so perfectly, you.

But Plato’s perfection, a perfect ideal
Is the reason for this operation
But cutting some snips off of vaginal lips
Isn’t perfect, it’s just mutilation

When Barbie is viewed as a model for women
(Despite being merely a doll)
Being hairless and plastic, while patently drastic
Is seen as a goal for us all!

The body (your body) is perfect as is—
It’s a one-of-a-kind work of art!
The flesh of your quim isn’t something to trim—
I’d as soon take a knife to your heart!

Rejoice in the body you already have
Protect it and treat it with care;
Don’t ask which direction will lead to perfection:
My darling, you’re already there!

I've written before about some of the problems that arise from a pre-Darwinian view (in this case, a Platonic view) that finds some abstract entity "ideal", and variations (which, since the ideal is an abstract, must necessarily exist) as imperfections or flaws. The notion that "there's no such thing as perfect" is a necessary consequence of Plato's world view, but of course it will be the case when you define "perfect" as he does. In a population-centered view, there is no utility in an abstract ideal; a varying population is a necessary element to evolution, and to life. There is no perfect Luna Moth, for instance--or, just as usefully, we could say that any Luna Moth is perfect (or at least as entitled to use the term "perfect" as any other).

Every McDonald's hamburger is the same. Every hamburger I grill is different. Which more deserves the label of perfection? (and yes, on occasion one of my burgers may be worse than a McD's; I do have my off days.) Variety is not just the spice of life, it is the main dish. Things that do not vary are not alive (literally and metaphorically; I know someone who has eaten the exact same lunch for some 50 years--with regard to lunches, this person is long dead.)

So I was particularly disappointed to see this BBC report, a "new warning on perfect vaginas" (It's well worth a read, although I will not quote much here.) As soon as we speak of "a" perfect vagina, we are in Platonic territory and have defined the goal as out of reach. So women have been seeking some approximation of this perfection, and for some reason have decided that the perfect vagina is not that of a woman at all, but that of a prepubescent girl. Labioplasty is on the rise, and the story reports on a "'shocking' lack of information on the potential risks", as well as the dubious ethics of a procedure that seems preponderantly to be a response to culturally-created concerns about looking... well, like a woman instead of like a Barbie doll.

It's bad enough when platonic thinking misleads people about atheism and religion. But far worse is the notion that it is powerful enough to lead people to voluntarily (no, worse--to pay for it) have someone take a scalpel to their genitals (!!) in order to transform them from unique into assembly-line monotony.

Of course, the article presents others who call the surgeries safe and a simple way to address self-image problems. Mind you, these others are on the receiving end of the £3,000 paid for the operation, and have no incentive to complain about Plato.

And, not that it matters, but there are just sooooo many other titles I could have chosen for this post, which would have guaranteed hundreds of clicks on a daily basis for years to come... ok, all of them from people looking for a particular sort of porn, but still.


Jennifer said...

"some women complain that wearing tight clothes or riding a bike is uncomfortable"

Good lack of lord, they make bike saddles that will fix that! You don't need surgery!

Olaf Davis said...

It's interesting to see the surgeon saying "softcore porn makes people unhappy with their bodies when they'd have been fine otherwise" as a defense of surgery, rather than a condemnation of our attitude to body image.

But then, I'm not sure I'd have recognised the difference between an 'attractive' and an 'unattractive' labia, so I'm clearly no expert.