Labiaplasty: Designer Vaginas, the New Normal?

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Labiaplasty was unheard of until the expertise in surgery met the beauty industry. The 21st century society has evolved into one where ideal body standards have been normalized and this has led to individuals developing a chain of insecurities about how they look. One of the more “ taboo” and lesser spoken issues is that of our vaginas and how they look. There is not a woman who has not questioned how her vagina, more specifically how her labia looks and if it is normal. Women often choose to undergo the cosmetic procedure of labiaplasty in an attempt to “perfect” their labias, despite it being a medically unnecessary procedure in most circumstances.

What is Labiaplasty and is it a medically necessary procedure ?

According to the Vaginal Rejuvenation Market Size Industry Report, 2019-2026 published by the Grand View Research, the global vaginal rejuvenation market size was estimated at USD 4.4 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.5% from 2019 to 2026.  The term labiaplasty ( vaginal rejuvenation) is a process wherein the length and shape of the labia are cosmetically  “ perfected” to be made symmetrical.

Labiaplasty is only medically recommended in cases where women experience pain and itching sensations in their labia during intercourse or routine activities but, in today’s time, women choose to go under the knife mainly because they are self-conscious about how their vaginas look. In an interview conducted by Buzzfeed in 2019 (1), girls as young as the age of 15 in the United States choose to go through this procedure.

Psychological Factors surrounding Labiaplasty 

1. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

According to the British Medical Journal, BDD is having a preoccupation with a perceived defect or defects or ugliness in their appearance (2). These “ flaws” are often normal physical body variations and are undetected, yet cause immense amounts of shame and anxiety to the individual. This condition is often stigmatised and deemed as “body dissatisfaction”, but can lead to a number of mental health issues such as depression, schizophrenia, and fear of going out. Any part of the body can be the focus, including the genitalia (3)

2. Partners, adult-entertainment industry and insecurities 

A huge populace of women considers undergoing labiaplasty because of their partners. They often feel pressured by their partner to conform to the “ideal” labia that we see in pornography or sex-magazines. Our society is toxic enough when it comes to body-image issues and criticisms from partners add onto inhibitions and fears that women harbour about their vaginas being “saggy”, “old” or not “aesthetically” pleasing. It is as if women are emotionally coerced into getting a “vaginal rejuvenation” procedure.

3. Are women satisfied post labiaplasty ?

The impact that labiaplasty has on women is hard to assess, because of the limited engagement in such topics.   While it is something that offers many women satisfaction and restores their self-esteem, there are many others who go into this procedure with highly unrealistic motivations and remain unsatisfied and distressed post surgery.

Side-effects and risks of procedure ?

  • Decreased vulvar sensitivity and numbness: Post surgery, women will experience discomfort in their external genitalia for perhaps 4-6 weeks and should usually refrain from exercising and engaging in sexual intercourse.  However, there is a risk of damage to tissue fibre and nerve endings in rare botched up cases which often leads to prolonged discomfort or numbness due to nerve damage.
  • Chronic dryness: The vaginal opening can scar when aggressive reduction is conducted. This happens due to chronic dryness. Consequently there will be pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Hematoma: It refers to an area of blood that collects outside the blood vessels. Doctors say that there are usually bruises left for a few weeks and the development of smaller hematomas could occur. These, however , mellow down in a few weeks but in extreme scenarios, hematomas could cause damage to the clitoral hood. The clitoral hood surrounds and protects the sensitive tip of the clitoris, which is the main pleasure centre for females and has thousands of nerve endings

It is vital to go to consult an experienced medical professional. Doctors should also consider the expectations and causes that drive their patients to consider labiaplasties. 

How can we fight such insecurities ?

Not all women have access to or even want to go under the knife. There is a need for healthy conversations to happen between women and their peers when it comes to such insecurities. Women need to realize and accept that our vaginas come in all shapes and sizes. We as a  society must normalize the notion that every human body is beautiful, and that can only change when the idea that talking about our private parts is “taboo” fades. If one experiences discomfort in talking about it with their peers, they can take such issues up with their gynaecologists or even sex-therapists.

Women are in charge of their own bodies and if certain women feel that cosmetic procedures give them the self-confidence they are missing, then labiaplasty is their solution. The reason we need to talk about this issue is that a cosmetic procedure like labiaplasty is sometimes a result of an unhealthy fixation over “ideal body standards”. The most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself and at the end of the day loving yourself and every aspect of your body, can do miracles for your overall wellness, which is far more than what cosmetic treatments can do.

Sources:

1^ O’Neal, Merle. BuzzFeedVideo. “I try learning not to hate my vagina.” Youtube, 4 April 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nqr5wBXydkQ

2^, 3^ Veale, David, and Anthony Bewley. “Body Dysmorphic Disorder.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 350, 2015. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26522102.

About the Author: Tanvi Uday Shetty
She is a second year law student, at the O.P.Jindal Global University, Sonipat,Haryana. Her passions are rooted in environmental law, cyber-security law and human rights advocacy. A biryani enthusiast, you could find her curled up in bed, binging movies or reading Khaled Hosseini’s books

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