Who knew Medicare covered cosmetic procedures like vulvoplasty and labiaplasty which are used to improve the ‘look and shape’ of the vulva?
The procedures are used by some with medical conditions that cause painful and sometimes embarrassing problems. Others just want to look ‘prettier’ down there.
The Australian Government has turned its attention to the latter as it looks to make some budget savings. As Fairfax reported:
“However the number of these procedures done outside hospital attracting payments under the Medicare safety net has nearly doubled in recent years to 191 in 2010, at a cost of $427,551.”
If the Government is now acutely aware of the increase in ‘designer vaginas’, it must be an issue large enough to make waves. Scarlett Harris writes:
‘The Perfect Vagina’ (which you can watch here) is a documentary that deals with the rising dissatisfaction women have with their vajayjays and the quest for genital perfection in the form of labiaplasty, a cosmetic surgical procedure that changes the size and shape of the labia minora. In it, UK television presenter and actress Lisa Rogers encounters Rosie, a young woman who hates her vulva and is scheduled for a labiaplasty. She wants the surgery because her sister and her male friends never cease to make fun of what they—and she—believe to be her overextended inner labia.
Call me old fashioned, but I think men should be falling over themselves to get with a naked woman who wants to get with them, not scrutinising her body. As Rogers wishes she’d said to a man she interviews who prefers a “tucked in” ladygarden, “why don’t you get your cock out, then?”
While the other men Rogers asks about their vaginal preferences claim to have none, I think she’s looking to the wrong men. In my experience, Gen X guys, whom the doco seemed to focus on, are accepting of women in all their glory, flaws and all. Gen Y guys? Not so much.
One of my friends, 25-year-old Tom* subscribed to the strangely common and hugely incorrect male perception that the larger a woman’s flaps, the sluttier she is! If ever there was an argument to stop airbrushing the life out of vulvas, so to speak, in men’s magazines this is it.
Journalist Kristen Drysdale debunks Tom’s theory in her moving exposé on labiaplasty for ABC’s Hungry Beast:
“[The size of a woman’s labia] has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, their state of arousal or whether they’ve borne children (although, so what if it was?). It’s simply the way they are built.”
Mia Freedman has been a vocal champion of the importance of seeing real ladybits, and she writes:
“… Since women don’t have a non-sexual place to compare bits with other women (unlike men who see other penises all the time at urinals), the only place any of us are likely to see vaginas that don’t belong to us is in men’s magazines.”
On the other hand, women’s magazines aren’t exactly portraying a realistic depiction of the vulva, either: because they’re not allowed. Classification laws in Australia require pictorial representations of female genitalia to be “healed to a single crease”, a phrase from which Drysdale derives the title for her Hungry Beast piece.
God forbid the actual labia minora and majora were featured in the sealed section of Cosmo and happened to fall into the grubby mitts of children—who have a right to see what normal bodies look like and that the body of their mother and/or father aren’t abnormal compared to those in the media—or men, for the purposes of arousal. If men are getting off on pictures of real pussies it can only be beneficial to the plight of real women, who haven’t had plastic surgery, labiaplasty or otherwise deviate from the Classification Board-sanctioned “norm”.
While we wait for the laws to catch up with us in the 21st century, things like vaginal casts (as featured in The Perfect Vagina and The Great Wall of Vagina exhibition), walking around naked and employing the hand mirror can only be beneficial in our quest to body acceptance.
Before I came to accept and love my body the way I do today, I never really saw it other than getting in and out of the shower. Now I take the opportunity to walk around naked whenever I can (and whenever the housemate is out!). Knowing what your body—and yes, your genitalia—looks like in all its glory makes it all the more familiar when it comes time to step into that bikini or get naked with someone.
Controversially, I also think waxing can aid in this. I’ve been shaving and waxing since my mid teens, and I don’t think it has done me any harm. If anything, it’s helped me to be more in tune with my labia and the way it looks.
But I grew up in the nineties, just before internet porn became mainstream and the Brazilian wax reigned supreme. My primary and high school sex education consisted of how to put a condom on a banana and defining the wet dream as opposed to body variance and acceptance.
There may be some hope yet: a recent New York Times article profiled Al Vernacchio, an American high school English and sexuality teacher, who advocates for more realistic sex education in school focusing on pleasure, sexting, consent and sexual orientation, showed the importance of education on this matter. Now there’s a novel idea.
But let’s start it in primary school and in the home if it means young people will grow up with a healthier, more realistic perception of what people—not these airbrushed Victoria’s Secret Angels in centrefolds—actually look like naked. Sort of like Where Did I Come From?; version 2.0.
*Names have been changed.
Scarlett Harris is a freelance writer and blogs about pop culture, gender and feminism daily at The Early Bird Catches the Worm.