Your vagina is ugly

But a talented surgeon can make it more like a teenager's, which is totally not disturbing at all

Published November 11, 2009 8:12PM (EST)

British researchers, having reviewed the existing literature on cosmetic labioplasty (surgery to reduce the size of a woman's labia), have concluded that it risks "impairing sexual sensitivity and satisfaction," much as female circumcision does; that not enough long-term research has been done on it; and that "counseling and support" might be more appropriate alternatives for women who seek surgery because they believe their vulvas aren't pretty enough. Moreover,  says the report's author Lih-Mei Liao, aggressively marketing the surgery exacerbates one of the problems it's meant to correct. "Advertisements promote labial surgery as easy answers to women's insecurities about their genital appearances -- insecurities that are fuelled by the very advertisements that prescribe a homogenised, pre-pubescent genital appearance standard for all women." (I'm envisioning the ladyparts version of a Latisse commercial here: "For inadequate or more than enough labia.")

Unsurprisingly, Douglas McGeorge, past president of the the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, told the BBC he thinks the concern is "over the top. Essentially this is just about removing a bit of loose flesh, leaving behind an elegant-looking labia with minimum scarring." Oh, well if that's all it is! I mean, obviously, if you want to be taken seriously at a job interview or get a decent table at a hot restaurant, you can't just show up with inelegant-looking labia. Adds McGeorge, "Lads' mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look. We live in times where we are much more open about our bodies -- and changing them -- and labioplasty is simply a part of this."  By "this," you mean "a painfully sexist culture that encourages debilitating body shame," right? Because otherwise, you might want to think that one through a little more.

On the other hand, there are women out there who really do need genital reconstruction. Amanda Hess at The Sexist shares the stories of two of those, women who didn't just have "more than enough labia" but serious post-pregnancy complications described by one as "My vagina is falling out of my body!" (Actually, it was her uterus. Also, for the record, that woman had labioplasty while she was at it and reports that it "was brutal. All of 'Dr. 90210''s patients who say it doesn't hurt are lying. I'd rather get my teeth pulled out than do that again!") But after all that suffering, both women describe their new equipment as A) equivalent to a virginal young woman's and B) therefore incredibly desirable. Allison Henry, who nearly bled to death more than once: "We just had a cocktail party to celebrate me feeling healthy. And I do have the vagina of a 13-year-old virgin, with a perfect labia, as a bonus." MomLogic guest blogger Sara: "So now I'm on the mend, with a teenage-sized vagina ... The way things are at present, no man's apparatus, even of the Fisher Price variety, could ever fit down there. Still, I'll try to write a follow up report when it happens. That is, if my husband and I ever leave the bedroom again!"

To recap: These two women suffered severe trauma to their reproductive organs, but the big silver lining is that they now have vaginas reminiscent of girls too young to consent to sex. It's what every man wants, without the pesky statutory rape charges -- lucky hubbies! Sara even jokes (I hope) that her husband bought her cheerleader costumes to go with the new model. Look, I'm all for making inappropriate wisecracks about horrifying things, and any woman who has ever had to say or even think the words "my vagina is falling out of my body"  has earned the right to be seriously inappropriate,  but what the hell? Neither of you squicked yourself out, writing that? Hess puts it best: "I'm happy for you. I am. You went through some bad shit, and now your vagina is back inside your body, and I think that's wonderful. But I never, ever, ever, ever again want to have to think about a grown woman having a 'the vagina of a 13-year-old virgin.' That's some messed up heebie-jeebies shit."

And it's the same messed-up shit that drives perfectly healthy women to pay someone to cut into their genitals for purely aesthetic reasons. Oh wait, I'm sorry, did I say "messed-up shit"? I meant openness about our bodies. Now that our culture is much less repressive, we've learned important information that used to be hidden away -- like that pubic hair is disgusting (on a woman), which means we must wax it all off to avoid offending our sexual partners, after which we might just discover our vulvas are kind of funny-looking and thus require surgery to give us the "elegant labia" of ... children. Such progress we've made! Why, if people had never broken the silence, we'd all still be walking around assuming adult-looking vaginas are perfectly fine! Instead, we've completely eliminated all that old-fashioned shame about our bodies and backward thinking about sexuality. Whew. 

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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