Labiaplasty is now the fastest growing form of plastic surgery women ask for. It involves the surgical alteration or removal of the inner lips of the vagina. Labiaplasty, also commonly called labioplasty, labia minora reduction, and labial reduction, is a $4,000 – $5,000 operation requested by women of all ages, and from all different cultures. Even girls as young as 16 years old are having their labia lips removed in the hope of having “the perfect vagina.” Is this growing trend something to be concerned about? Why are so many women cutting up their private bits?
Warning: This article is not safe for work (NSFW)
The Rise of Labiaplasty
Most women who undergo labiaplasty are aiming for the same, very specific vaginal look. They want a vagina that is “clean, tucked in, and tight.” They are looking to have little to no lips, complete symmetry, and clear visibility of the clitoris. For these reasons labiaplasty routinely involves cutting off the labia minora (inner lips that hang) right up to the body, and slicing away part of the clitoral hood so that the clitoris can be easily seen. Furthermore, the operation usually only involves local anesthesia, so women remain awake. It sounds like a horrific and unnecessary procedure, but the numbers speak for themselves: women don’t like the look of their vaginas.
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In the documentary The Perfect Vagina (NSFW) a woman from the UK sets out to understand why women are going under the knife to alter the look of their genitalia. She notes that labiaplasty is the fastest growing cosmetic surgery in the UK, and one of the fastest growing operations in the United States. Plastic surgeons all around the world are seeing up to 300% increases in labiaplasty requests in the last two years alone.
According to gynecologist Linda Cardozo, requests from the UK’s National Health Service for what she calls a “designer vagina” have doubled in the last five years. Cardozo is concerned about the well being of women because a labiaplasty means being subjected to a largely unregulated procedure, one that involves the risk of permanent scarring, infections, bleeding and irritation, as well as major changes in vaginal sensitivity. According to the documentary, a labiaplasty procedure can take up to three months to fully heal. In the worst cases, post-operative clitoral hood deformity can occur.
Cardozo noted that it isn’t rare to have three generations from the same family come into her office all looking for the same type of labia reduction. She comments that women are looking to have a vagina that looks like that of a little girl, which will never truly come to fruition because these women aren’t and will never be little girls again.
Labiaplasty and the Legendary ‘Perfect Vagina’
Surgeons actually split women seeking cosmetic genital surgery into two main groups: those with an actual congenital condition, and those with no underlying conditions or physical discomfort. A 2008 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that 32% of women who underwent the procedure did so to correct a functional impairment, 31% to correct a functional impairment and for aesthetic reasons, and 37% for aesthetic reasons alone. This shows that the majority of women who choose to undergo labiaplasty surgery are doing so for purely aesthetic reasons.
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The authors of a recent study on the growing rate of labiaplasty noted that,
patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat, with no protrusion beyond the labia majora … some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from adverts or pornography that may have been digitally altered.
Women are using digitally altered pictures, that is, fictional vaginas, as an example of what theirs should look like. These digitally modified vaginas, along with female models and pornstars who have been chosen specifically for the way their body (including their vagina) looks, are warping the self-image of women all around the globe. This type of aesthetic ideal is nothing new of course, but what is new is the idea of a perfect looking vagina.
Ours is a society that glorifies violence but shuns sex and nudity. We deny ourselves as sexual beings and think of the body, especially our private areas, as a taboo subject. For this reason, most women grow up with something far worse than a warped image of their body. They grow up being ignorant of their own body.
Women are taught not to think or talk about their bodies. Ignorance regarding what is normal naturally leads to insecurities, and subsequently more ignorance. For example, just as many women believe in the myth of the perfect looking vagina, many people believe in the myths surrounding loose versus tight vaginas. Here’s a hint: it’s all rubbish.
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To this day, descriptions of what a ‘normal’ vagina looks like are not taught in the sad excuse for “sex education” that is available to our children. Little girls grow into womanhood learning about the way their vagina should look from the only source that openly discusses it: the media.
Labiaplasty can easily be linked to the media’s effect on women. If you think this is far-fetched, check out this haunting video below that provides some insight into the global onslaught of advertisements designed to exploit girls’ insecurities.
A recent study examined the effects that exposure to images of digitally altered vulva had on women. The results indicated that even minor exposure the images significantly influenced a woman’s perception of what is normal. The reason is due to a lack of discussion regarding what is and isn’t normal. So, let’s talk.
The Normal Vagina
One of the major reasons women want labiaplasty is because they are led to believe that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect vagina.’ The truth however, is that vaginas are like snowflakes: They are all unique and different, and they are all beautiful.
Vaginas come packaged in a surprising number of different ways. The size, color, and shape of labia varies significantly from woman to woman, just like our bodies do. The size of labia can vary from 2 – 10 centimeters. It is also common for each side of the labia to be a different length. Additionally, events such as childbirth, puberty, and general aging can greatly alter the look of a woman’s vagina, especially the labia. Simply put, all vaginas are normal, and the same goes for labia. All labia are normal.
Labiaplasty: Problem or Solution?
Although there is a great deal of negativity surrounding labiaplasty, women consistently report that it makes them happier and more confident. According to a 2011 review published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, overall patient satisfaction for a labiaplasty procedure is in the 90 – 95% range.
According to one of the patients interviewed in the documentary The Perfect Vagina, she was teased by her sister for being an ‘outtie.’ She also said that past boyfriends had made fun of her, calling her labia a “hanging ham.” Having labiaplasty surgery allowed her to gain self confidence in life. She reported being extremely happy with the outcome of the surgery.
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Womans News interviewed a 20 year old girl who said that it wasn’t until late in life that she had actually looked at her vagina. She reported being horrified by what she saw, stating that,
I looked in like, those magazines, and saw that inner labia shouldn’t stick out like mine did. So I had a labiaplasty and now I love the way I look; nice and neat and new. My vagina looks perfect.
Let’s not forget that there are women who get labiaplasty due to extremely large lips that legitimately get in the way of daily life. All of this self confidence has to be a good thing right? If this procedure is making women happy and more secure in themselves then what’s the problem?
With the exception of women who have labiaplasty for medical reasons, the original reason they seek out the treatment is usually due to devastatingly poor self-image. Stopping the practice of labiaplasty is pointless, what we need to stop is the ignorance that causes self-image issues.
Talking about these issues couldn’t come at a better time since cosmetic surgery in general is on the rise. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2012 alone there were 14.6 million plastic surgeries in America, a 5% increase over 2011. It’s a figure that continues to rise year after year. These surgeries include breast augmentation, gluteal implants, liposuction, face lifts, and of course, labiaplasty.
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The key is open communication, and eventual acceptance of who we are physically and mentally. Los Angeles gynecologist Dr. David Matlock reiterates where women are getting the notion of a perfect vagina from, saying that,
Women want to be tight. They don’t want sagging or loose labia. I can’t tell you how many pages and pages of pornographic material woman have brought into me saying ‘I want to look like this.’
There is a serious denial of reality happening when a woman chooses labiaplasty to reconstruct her vagina based on a digital creation made to look 30 years younger and infinitely more ‘societally perfect’ than her vagina. Altering your body through surgery is by no means harmful in and of itself. What is harmful is the potential psychological conditions that lead to the decision to have labiaplasty.
A study from Cambridge University found that there is often a great deal of insecurity involved in the decision to have labiaplasty. It has been reported that a good number of plastic surgeons take advantage of insecure and ill-informed women by pointing out the ‘potential’ faults of a woman’s vagina. This is an easy way to persuade women that labiaplasty is right for them.
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Everyone should have the right to do as they please, as long as it does not harm anyone else. That is why I would never propose an outright ban on labiaplasty. What I propose instead is a ban on being taboo. Let an open dialogue about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll begin the moment kids are curious. No more baby-delivering-storks and cooties nonsense.
If you want your child to grow into a knowledgeable, capable, self-confident adult, don’t handicap them by making everything an unexplained mystery. Help your daughter to understand and accept herself. Consider, do you want your daughter, or any woman for that matter, to feel that they need labiaplasty in order to be beautiful?
To each and every woman on the planet: There is no such thing as normal. There is no such thing as perfect. Your vagina is beautiful, and so are you.