A vision that took me back to adolescence, and a lot of American women to childhood

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The Independent Online

Further proof this week, as we refuse dark visions in the glass, that we remain wedded to childish things.

Further proof this week, as we refuse dark visions in the glass, that we remain wedded to childish things. First the cinema falls to the child, then the book, and now the last bastion of adulthood – the vagina. The child coming full circle, you might think, returning whence it originated. But that's not the point of being a child. The point of being a child is to get it over and done with and become a grown-up.

Anyway, revenons à nos moutons, as the ripened French say. The vagina. Or, if you prefer, the v*g*n*. Let me set the scene of its surprise intrusion into the quiet of my days. Picture me, sprawled before the telly, in one of those fractious, idlingly desolated moods occasioned by watching too much sport and suffering too many wrong results – Henman failing, Nasser Hussain out lbw before he'd even got to the wicket, Manchester United losing to Liverpool – and then, a single channel-hop from the site of Murphy's killer goal, the screen all at once aflame with the vagina, the vagina in puris naturalibus at that. Not Kingsley Amis's "inside of a giraffe's ear"; no, something far more wonderful, the lost nautical world of the Greeks and Romans – Labia Majorca, Labia Minorca, even that elusive Balearic pearl of the dreaming Mediterranean Sea that is womanhood, the Clitoral Isle.

I am a lifelong cartographer myself, you see. A storm-tossed mariner who passed through adolescence with just such photographs and even one such film – originating in Cairo and passed down the line from boy to boy before it stopped at me – concealed below my bunk. For one sick moment I even thought this was my collection they were showing. Discovery is the thing one dreads most as an adolescent, and here was my secret for everyone to see.

Not my vagina, obviously. I have no vagina. But you take my meaning. Just as ancient man assumes the totem of the animal he hunts to live, so does a flaming adolescent become the part he lives to hunt. You have heard of buffalo men. I was vulva boy.

And that wasn't the only way in which this programme reminded me of being 12. For all its high points of flagrancy, most of the time the camera was reduced to making do with guesswork, ogling fully dressed women through rustling pubic fern and palm fronds, trying to draw a surreptitious bead on that area where the vagina is reputed to hang out. That last is an unfortunate phrase. Excessive protuberance of the labia being first among the reasons the women featured in this documentary were travelling to Los Angeles for surgery. Surgery? Haven't I mentioned surgery? It's possible that, in my enthusiasm for the subject, I have omitted to explain that what the programme was actually about was the designer vagina (never underestimate the power of rhyme) – a sort of facelift for the labia that is the latest of modern woman's wants. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. If the flaps of your vagina irk you, cut them off.

To be fair, it wasn't only appearance that motivated these women to have their genitals regroomed. Health, too, was a consideration, though it was very much pleasure-principle health – the right to wring out every last throb of ecstasy from one's knackered organs; the right to be a mother without any sign one's had a baby; the right to say, in mournful retrospect: "I felt like I deserved to be happy." Deserts? "God's bodkin – use every man after his desert and who shall scape whipping?" But then, who's Hamlet to venture an opinion after what his views on country matters did to poor Ophelia?

And we, too, have nothing to say about health. Aesthetics is our sphere. So, is it not surprising that there should exist in the minds of women an ideal image of the vagina? Of course, it exists in the minds of adolescent boys as well; but for them it is any vagina they can get to see, whereas for these women it is any vagina that can't be seen. "My inner labia were asymmetrical," one of them confided, causing those watching telly with me to fall very quiet, the question of defective bodily correspondence hanging heavy between us.

But harmony is a diversion; the real issue is size. As in "I wanna be really, really tiny". A favoured way of achieving this being what I think I heard the doctors calling labiaplasty, amputation followed by remodelling in clay, six weeks after which, lo! – a perfect simulacrum of that neat hairless little clam favoured by centrefolds in tamer men's magazines the world over.

I take the hairlessness to be telling. Hairlessness has been with us longer than labiaplasty and should have signalled a warning. The woman who'd be hairless where nature wishes her to be profuse is a woman who'd prefer to be a child. It's no coincidence that the modern high-thighed bikini bottom – to wear which you must be plucked like a chicken dinner – is cut on the same principle as a diaper. You razor without remorse, remake your labia in Playdough, step dimpled into your nappy and, hey presto, you are daddy's little girl again. No more embarrassment on the beach, no more cries of: "Look at the asymmetry on that!" and no more choking fits from the infantophile you have chosen to be your partner.

Just suck your thumb and settle back with Harry Potter Meets the Hobbit, secure in the knowledge that you're really, really tiny, and with luck no one will ever confuse you with an adult again.

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