opinion

What is it about our vaginas that need to be fixed?

“What’s your problem?” A website advertising the ‘FemLift‘ procedure asks. Is it incontinence? Dryness? Looseness?

Perhaps it’s the pigmentation or the shape of the “lips below your hips”?

Vaginal rejuvenation procedures are growing in popularity across the globe, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).

“If you feel self-conscious about the way your vagina looks, it could adversely impact how beautiful, strong and desirable you feel,” the ISAPS website states, before telling you how more than 8,000 women in the US have undergone vaginal surgery in the last 10 years and that Kim Kardashian has had a “she-lift”, too. It’s a surgical procedure – called a labiaplasty – designed to ‘trim’ and ‘shorten’ the inner and outer labia in order to make the vagina appear more lady-like, just short of dressing it up in white gloves and making it curtsey.

“This popular procedure makes it possible to empower yourself with strength and beauty both inside and out,” the ISAPS website continues.

Surely, the word ’empower’ is misplaced? Until I saw the options, I didn’t realise I should be worried about the colour of my vagina or the ‘plumpness’ of my labia. Or that I even had “lips below my hips”… (Can I choose whose lips? Angelina’s or Mick Jagger’s, perhaps?)

Until I saw the potential ‘problems’ such as ‘looseness’ and ‘pigmentation’, I hadn’t considered feeling self-conscious about the way my vagina looks and feels – don’t women have enough to worry about? Last week I was told “hip dips” were a thing (those little dents below your hips before your thighs start that I thought were normal, until I was told I ought to feel ’empowered’ by them because only models have them and DIDN’T YOU KNOW? WE’RE NOT ALL MODELS) and then there are the muffin tops and the love handles and the neck rings and the way my eyebrows are shaped?

My vagina, I believed, was the least of my worries. I was only reserving enough energy to worry about the body parts I can actually see. 

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In Australia the trend is the same as in the US. In the year 2000, 640 Australian women made Medicare claims for genital cosmetic surgery – this was before laser rejuvenation or minimally-invasive ‘labia plumping’ were even options. In 2011, the number had tripled and 1,565 woman claimed the same surgeries.

These numbers don’t include non-surgical procedures.

Procedures such as the Vagacial, which uses 24k-infused gold wax strips and LED light therapy to smooth and “brighten” the surface of the labia. Or the V-Tighten, which inserts a “360-degree laser” into the vaginal canal to promote collagen production. Or the V-Lighten, which does “what bleach can’t” and uses laser to lighten the labia’s pigment – all procedures offered by a clinic in New York, where vaginal rejuvenation is fast becoming the new botox.

“There is a light saber that they shove up there, and it emits lasers that make a million tiny cuts in your vag, and then tightens you up and re-virginizes you,”Jill Kargman, writer of the series Odd Mom Out (a show that studies and satirises Manhattan’s Upper East Side) told The Cut. She was likely referencing a congruent of the V-Tighten. “One person I know orgasmed during it. Apparently, it’s very stimulating.”

Orgasms on the operating table aside, who are we making our vaginas look so good for?

I can’t find any information on smoothing penises with LED lights. There aren’t a million costly ways to brighten the penis until it glows with the absence of pigmentation or the plumpness of injectables. And penises are surely the part of human anatomy that need a good spruce up. Labia – even if they ‘wobble’ – seem perfectly friendly when put next to a body part that so shamelessly resembles a root vegetable (often one that’s pickled).

For some women, these procedures probably are empowering.

Women who’ve undergone chemotherapy as cancer treatment, for example, can be left with inflexible and dried up vaginal tissue that makes intercourse painful or even impossible. There are women who suffer with deformities and discomfort, or those who’ve had a particularly impactful menopause. Certainly, a treatment designed to add strength and wetness to the vaginal walls, while treating conditions like incontinence and vaginitis, might be ’empowering’ for women with these conditions.

But these women are not the only women seeking vaginal rejuvenation.

Indeed, one of the “top three reasons” women seek vaginal rejuvenation is to “boost their sexual confidence through aesthetics”, according to the ISAPS website. As well as this, a 2015 study of 27 gynecologists and plastic surgeons showed many patients were concerned about genital appearance. Not pain or discomfort or dryness or low libido; but vaginal appearance. 

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What is it about our vaginas that needs to be fixed? Image via iStock.

Make no mistake, vaginal rejuvenation is not just the realm of post-menopausal women, either.

According to the 2013 Medicare numbers of genital surgeries in Australia, surgeries designed to trim the outer labia and tuck in the inner labia are just as common among women aged between 15 and 24 as they are among those aged between 25 and 44.

Last year in America, there were so many teenagers seeking cosmetic surgery to improve the shape of their external genitalia, that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued general practitioners a "guidance letter" from its Committee on Adolescent Health Care.

The letter urged doctors to remind teenage patients - girls in high school worried about their upcoming Maths exam at the same time as the appearance of their labia - that every vagina is different.

Some vaginas are more pigmented than others. Some labia are long and wide, others are smaller and less noticeable. Some vaginas are plumper than others - a 'condition' described on a Sydney plastic surgeon's website as an "uncomfortable large bulge". All of these vaginas are normal.

What isn't 'normal' are the flat, seamless, without-a-trace vaginas seen in pornography, or barbie dolls, or the swimwear shoots of women's magazines.

What isn't normal is the way young women and girls are looking at their genitals and feeling self-conscious about the shape of their labia.

What isn't normal is the way women who've had children are worried about the 'tightness' of their vagina because every media representation is one of youthfulness and the illusion virginity  - zero pubic hair and the implication of a collagen-filled narrow vaginal canal.

What isn't normal is the way we've completely forgotten how vagina's are meant to deliver women pleasure, not just men.

Can't our vaginas exist in peace? Without worrying about their wobbly bits, or being approached by 3D laser wands, or answering to the title: "lips below our hips"?

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