Popular advertisements by the cosmetic industry have built a new market globally for vaginal hygiene. From tightening, and brightening to maintaining Ph levels, market gimmicks have left no stone unturned. However, these are all gimmicks perpetuating patriarchal modelling of vaginas. The cosmetic products sold in the market only clean the vulva, including the clitoris and inner and outer lips.
The biggest myth that these ads are actually selling us, is that these products help maintain vaginal hygiene. That is simply incorrect – because what we’re actually cleaning is the vulva and not the vagina.
The vagina is a canal within our body which produces healthy bacteria. These beneficial bacteria ensure that our vaginal canal remains clean and healthy. These bacteria maintain the requisite Ph level in the vagina. The balance remains delicate.
In fact, using any of these chemical products, or even excessive water inside our vaginal canal, can lead to a disbalance between good bacteria and harmful bacteria which can be bad news! So you absolutely do not need to do anything to clean your vagina, because vaginas are self-cleaning.
Even our vulvas do not need any cosmetic cleaning aids. Can maintain a healthy and clean vulva through regular cleaning with any non-fragrant soap and water. Vulvas are as diverse as human beings; they range in shape, size and colour. Popular myths have construed the idea of a clean vulva as bright and fair. But they are not only dark vulvas, normal and clean but also a sign of puberty.
People expect our vulvas to look like lilies and daisies, but a darker vulva is absolutely normal! Many times it’s actually a sign of puberty. Skincare experts and healthcare professionals all agree – you don’t need anything that lightens and brightens your intimate area.
It is said that it was the adult film industry that started this trend of bleaching genitalia. But the practice has very much persisted. And now the cosmetic industry makes more than enough products to support it. But this process of bleaching or using chemicals around your vulva can be dangerous because the skin around the genitalia is more delicate and more prone to irritation.
The racist construct of a fair body and a fair vulva lies at the bedrock of all cosmetic products. Suggesting the need for brightening and whitening creams further perpetuates colourism. Some people produce more melanin and therefore the skin around their intimate areas may be darker – but dark doesn’t mean dirty or unhygienic. We need to understand that the idea of ‘clean’ being equated to ‘light skin’, has its roots in casteism and racism.
Another trendy product range deals with vaginal tightening. These products are packaged as creams, pills and even cosmetic surgery. The husband stitch is a surgical process where at the time of delivery, women’s vaginas are stitched to ensure that they return to their pre-delivery condition. This procedure is not necessary for the woman’s health but is centred around male pleasure.
These interventions manifest patriarchy, capitalism and medicine, policing and disciplining female bodies. The obsession and need for the virginal body are furthered through these cosmetic interventions.
Hence, the next time you encounter an advertisement for a fresh product in the cosmetic industry, tightening/ whitening/ cleaning your vagina, look right through for the racist, patriarchal deceit that it is.