The Colonial Race Sciences
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In this chapter, I argue that white colonial encounters with African women popularised labial hypertrophy, rendering it recognisable as a condition of disorder pertaining almost exclusively to black women. By the mid-nineteenth century, medical practitioners had become familiar with anthropological accounts of an enlarged vulval structure supposedly found in women of southwest Africa whom the Dutch called ‘Hottentots’ (which is now considered an offensive term due to its moorings in colonial racism). This anatomical curiosity was dubbed the ‘Hottentot apron’. The chapter locates the colonial race sciences as a crucial turning point in the historical construction of the medical model of labial hypertrophy. It suggests that contemporary cosmetic labiaplasty is highly invested in a colonial sexual imaginary, by which the aesthetic valuation of the labia is linked to the construction and maintenance of racial hierarchies.