Shubnum Khan
Shubnum Khan

Tightie whitie vaginas

Last December, during the Cop 17 United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Durban, I found myself alongside a Nigerian, Senegalese and Kenyan woman in the International Convention Centre’s prayer room. They were speaking in hushed tones when I entered but I soon gathered that the topic of discussion was how best to tighten their muscles down there. While world leaders argued about climate politics in the conference rooms around them, these women were deep in discussion about the state of their birth canals. The Senegalese said she got the best results from a special product in Congo while the Nigerian warned the others about a herbal concoction in her local market that had killed women. The best option it seemed, was a particular dried plant you applied inside you. My shock must have been apparent because they looked at me sympathetically and said “when you have a husband, you’ll understand”.

After my initial surprise wore off, my curiosity got the better of me and thus began my journey into the dark depths of vaginal tightening.

It seems Africans are not the only ones interested in this phenomenon. The Indians are just as keen and even less shy about it. India has now announced a vaginal tightening and whitening product, “18 Again”. It promises to make you “feel like a virgin”. In the advert, a sari-clad woman breaks out into a salsa in the communal home, singing to her delighted husband that she feels like a virgin while he agrees that she does indeed. At the end even the grandmother checks out the website. Because everyone wants to feel like a virgin again, right?

I hold mixed feelings that I usually reserve for awkward distant cousins for my Indian motherland. On one hand I love the family and tradition of the cultures but on the other, the abundance of prejudice repels me. When India continues to defend stereotypes that keep women firmly in place purely as pleasure seekers, I am sometimes relieved to have an African identity to escape into. India has never been coy about its biases – newspaper classifieds are filled with adverts seeking “wheatish-complexion” and tall suitors for marriage, pharmacy shelves are filled with skin whitening creams and Bollywood heroines are fair-skinned and buxom. India, directed by its movie scripts of drama drenched in fantasy has always fanatically sought to create the perfect woman. But this advert takes it to a whole new level; it dictates the role of the most intimate part of a woman’s body, it questions the essence of her femininity.

Increasingly we are normalising the absurd.

Why are we even commercialising a thing like vaginal tightening and whitening? By putting it out in the public, in a catchy, seemingly innocent advert – we are making the concept acceptable. We endorse that a woman is best presented and happiest as a virgin and that a relationship’s strength simply rests on her genitals. In fact in this advert (also in India) for a vaginal lightening gel it is directly implied that the couple are unhappy because unfortunately, her delightful wheatish complexion does not extend to her lady bits. Forget about saving dark Africa, it’s the Indian woman’s bush we need to worry about now.

Have we women, (yes I blame women) become so entrenched in consumerism, so obsessed with ourselves that we must nit-pick ourselves apart in the search for perceived perfection? We have breast enlargements, lip enhancements, hair extensions, eyelash extensions, bleached nooks and crannies, permanent hair removal, teeth whitening, liposuction, labiaplasty and even cream to pinken our nipples. We buy too many shoes and wear far too much make up. Instead of dismissing or expressing outrage at the bizarre existence of daily bombardments of airbrushed models in magazines and surgically manipulated porn stars, we attempt to compete with them. We compete with technology and fall into depression when we fail.

We are obsessed to the point of exhausted with our appearance and yet still, we find one more thing to add to our overburdened trolleys – designer vaginas. Snipped, trimmed, shaped, lightened and now tightened like an advert for the latest car model with added power steering.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see those matrimonial adverts soon announcing: “Female. 20. Fair. With tightie whitie.” A generation of “tightie whities” in demand by mother in laws all across India: “Forget the degree, son, ask if she has a tightie whitie first.”

After all, mothers are concerned for their son’s wellbeing – be it in the kitchen or in the bedroom. Leave alone that the girl is a fellow female and that this product is probably causing an allergic reaction and swelling her insides (there is no medical research for the long term-effects of 18 Again). The demands women often place on themselves and on other women so forcefully actually only aim to serve men.

We are shaped and whipped and cut apart to fulfil the ultimate male fantasy. What is even left of us? Which part between all that bleaching, injecting and cutting is truly ours anymore?

Certainly not our minds.

The real kicker is that the pharmaceutical company that produces the gel, Ultratech India, claims “18 Again has the power and the potential to break the shackles and redefine the meaning of women empowerment altogether”.

Empowering women how exactly? By turning them into a pseudo-virgin again? Most women never enjoyed their first time anyway. Let’s cut past all the dancing and singing and female empowering wrapping and admit (again) that this product is simply for the (perceived) male’s pleasure.

Does the popularity of such products in society mean that the male fantasy is to have a beautiful woman with a tight vagina? Or have we as a society developed an ideology of this fantasy over centuries, building on folktales and myths of virgins with attached ideas of innocence and youth? And because it is left murky and shrouded by taboo and secrecy, it remains largely uninvestigated and just mainly propagated? Women perpetuate these notions by going out and purchasing these products. Women continue to alter themselves from the perspective of society’s ideal for men. If the perspective never changes, the story never changes. The 21st century woman continues to shackle herself to the history of her limitations by placing different kinds of locks around her hands and feet.

The worst part is this time she is the one putting them on.

A woman does not need to whiten or tighten her vagina to be happy and a man does not need a continuous virgin in the bedroom. There is a reason virginity only comes once – it symbolises the beginning of many hopes: adulthood, maturity, a union with another person. While it may not mean many of these things today – the sentiment still is that it is a sacred thing. It is honoured in most religions and most people when asked, would rather have saved it for the right person at the right time. Virginity is not just a physical thing as the advert narrowly implies. That space comes with many important mental connotations. The first time for a couple together symbolises the breaking of barriers, the awkward beginnings, the painful adjustments to allow a new person intimately in your life. It represents awkwardness, newness and overcoming fear. It is a symbolic step in life. It makes way for a future of understanding one another and becoming comfortable with another person. Why then would you want to go backward into a space where you were both still learning how to love one another?

Which brings me to this – if your husband is really pleased with a lighter and tighter vagina, if he is willing for you to risk your health and your sense of self-worth then what kind of man does that make him? In my opinion such a superficial man is not worthy of such concern from you. If he is that desperate for you to feel like a virgin again then he might even consider finding the real thing. And if he does start wandering because you’re not tight or white enough then believe me, you’re better off without him.

When we normalise the absurd – when we accept things like illegal occupations, genital mutilation, pointless wars, corrupt governments and the degradation of women, by allowing it into our societies without speaking out or, at the very least, questioning it, we erase a little of our humanity.

We live in a world where women today are caught on the brink between rising up and being pulled back down. When she lets go of altered perceptions, when she recognises her incredible strength, when she embraces it and shakes off the shackles of prejudice and pressures she will rise far, far beyond anything anyone can ever imagine.

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  • MuslimIndianGuy

    Dangerous lines of thinking in this. On the one hand one can argue that products such as these

    a) Are dependent on the objectification of women
    b) Set unattainable standards of female beauty
    c) Perpetuate possible racial/social/cultural biases
    d) ‘Gullible minds’ are exploited for capitalist gains

    On the other hand, one can also say that

    a) None of these products are forced upon the buyer
    b) A male preference for users of these products is unproven (probably nonexistent)
    c) Intelligence dictates that users are responsible for evaluating products before use
    d) The economics of supply and demand are at play, hence the product

    My gut feel is that the simple existence of a product on the market and its advertisement in the media do not constitute a sufficient basis to evaluate perceived male desire or female subservience. Its a simply another of the millions of ways in which materialism serves to take society lower and lower.

    PS: I’m a firm believer in virginity until marriage and will want the same from my wife. I see absolutely no hypocrisy in wanting my wife to be a virgin! All the people who see fault in my natural desire for exclusivity in a physical relationship are the real hypocrites. This DOES NOT make me a male chauvinist, etc..

  • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

    @David
    Its precisely your kind of thinking that’s the genesis of much of the evil we see in modern society. The fear of being not white enough, not blonde enough, not tight enough, not thin enough, not strong enough etc. etc. etc. That perpetual cycle that exploits people’s fears for profit and by instilling these fears via corporate mass media. There’s certainly a special place in hell for those that propagate these false beliefs.

    @Yaj
    To simplistically label this sick form of racism in Indian society as “backward misogynistic values” is disingenuous and shameful. At least Shubnum has the courage to tell it like it is!

    @MuslimIndianGuy
    Nobody has any issue if your prefer to cling to your fringe belief of virginity before marriage. However, you cannot ignore the evil that these highly profitable scams unleash on a society through corporate mainstream media by spreading utterly false claims to the general public (including children) of what most men and women prefer sexually.

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/shubnumkhan Shubnum Khan

    Thanks for the kind comments and discussions. The response has been incredible. I’d just like to jump in to clarify and comment on a few things.

    Firstly, the colour being spoken about is the outside and not the inside – hopefully we will never become obsessed enough to worry about the inside!

    @virgin: Thank you. I feel that is important to acknowledge.

    @MuslimIndianGuy: How exactly is this ‘dangerous lines of thinking’? And it has been proven. Read some of the research done at Wits university here: http://bit.ly/O2AEhW. Beside that – I do partly blame women for perpetuating these myths to men by purchasing these products. Also, I am all for saving virginity for the right person – but I don’t see what it has to do with this article or why it has to be presented in such an aggressive manner.

    Also in general comment, yes, have faith in people and their intelligence, but: 1. the media also holds a responsibility to the public 2. The audience that this advert is aimed at: rural Indian women – are sometimes too entrenched in a patriarchal system to understand the wider meaning of such a product.

    There was a great discussion (almost hilarious) on the BBC a few days ago about this in which I was supposed to take part with Indian women and the producer of the cream: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-19353039

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • sfiso

    Frankly I have never looked down there. I like it dark, mysterious and enchanting. If its tight and unlubricated I hate the chafing and abrasive sensation it makes it feel criminal and as if you are not wanted and you are punishing her. I respond to her eyes, face, breasts and smooth skin and I can’t resist her voice it also breaks my resolve to prolong the action. If the tightness was so important I might as well stick it in a pair of pincers and enjoy the agony. I respond to the total package especially what has led to the action, her perfume, holding hands, , touching, murmering…. any tightness freak is a pervert, be careful of them. I love the person that’s why I can’t just respond to any woman. I must know them and respond to the total package the personality inside her also counts. I that settles it for me.

  • MuslimIndianGuy

    @ Shubnum

    Why dangerous? Well, I just think any discourse on social behavior which fails to balance both sides of the equation is dangerous! Also, the evaluation of a phenomenon without a thorough analysis of its causes is frankly dangerous.

    The ‘aggression’ is simply a reaction to the perpetual feminist propaganda that most men (especially the religious) expect virgin wives whilst not adhering to the same standard themselves. No one seems to state the fact that there ARE men who aren’t full of double standards. It is relevant because ultimately the article is about a class of product which is expected to recreate ‘virginity’ and it was to clarify what my views on the topic are. If there was no ‘demand’ for virginity (whether real or perceived) the products wouldn’t exist.

    @ Dave Harris

    Is there any statistical evidence to prove that my values are ‘fringe’? Goes contrary to my personal experience, even in countries where the so called ‘sexual liberation’ has had a major impact.

  • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

    @MuslimIndianGuy
    I think you’re digressing from the topic of this article which is about appearance and tightness of the genitals and not whether the hymen is intact at marriage.
    Again dude, its totally cool, and quaint, if you want to get married to a virgin, however, at the risk of “bursting your bubble” (pun intended), you should educate yourself on the myths of virginity and how easy and cheap (from R15000 – cost of a decent HD TV 😉 and dropping!), it is to fake virginity! http://abcnews.go.com/2020/WomensHealth/story?id=123701&page=1#.UERlVsFlREM
    These cultural practices of insisting on virginity is now a fringe practice everywhere in the world except possibly a few remaining places in the Middle East.

  • David

    Harris. I will continue to have faith in humanity. Also, I especially like your first and last sentences in your response to me. Expect to see those back at’cha in future, as I feel they apply to the majority of what you post on this forum….

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