by Shanzeh Khurram

There’s a new type of plastic surgery on the rise. It sounds scary, it’s quite unnecessary if you ask me, and its mere existence might shock some people. It’s plastic surgery for vaginas. Yes, for vaginas. Apparently, women are not only expected to have perfect skin, legs, breasts, hips (the long list continues), but now there’s also a completely unrealistic standard of what the perfect vagina should look like. Technically speaking, “vagina” refers the tract leading up to the cervix, and “vulva” is the name for external female genitalia. It’s the vulva, especially the labia minora, that is operated on, and the two terms will be used interchangeably throughout the blog.

A lot of women simply feel insecure about their vulvas, but some of them feel compelled to fork over thousands of dollars to get their private parts mutilated and reconstructed to meet the standards set by the porn industry. Vaginoplasty, reconstructive vaginal surgery, and labiaplasty, the partial or complete reduction of the labia, are two procedures that more and more women are now opting for.

The rise in the quest for designer vaginas has been linked to the increased availability of certain types of porn, which present a very unrealistic idea of what the ideal vulva looks like. Pornographic media are often the only exposure that most women have to other females’ genitalia, leaving those images as the main standard for comparison. Since porn does not present genitalia that are representative of the general population, a lot of women end up feeling that their vulvas are abnormal or disgusting, or that there is something wrong with them. What’s worse is that some soft porn magazines actually Photoshop images of women’s genitals, so that only one type of perfect, creaseless, hairless vulva is shown. Those vulvas look more like that of an infant, and not at all like those of normal women!

Women end up feeling disgusted or insecure about their own vaginas. Girls are already very judgmental of their appearances, and now a lot of them are even fretting over how their genitals look. For a sixteen year-old to feel insecure or embarrassed just because she has what people dismissively or disgustedly refer to as “beef curtains” or hanging lips is really sad. Because the truth is, all girls are built very differently, and for the media to project such an unrealistic image is wrong. The recent trends of Brazilian waxes don’t help either: now that vaginas are not covered by hair, girls can be even more critical of their vulvas.

The problem is not simply the procedure – it’s the reasons women feel compelled to mutilate their genitals in order to achieve some ridiculous standard of what female genitals should look like. Of course, there are some women who opt for vaginoplasty because their vaginas cause them discomfort, especially after pregnancy, or for increased sexual pleasure. But now, a lot of teenage girls and adult women are considering and paying for this rather extreme form of surgery, and the main reason for them is the aesthetic image projected by porn.

In addition to being expensive (upwards of $2000), the procedure is also quite risky: it’s painful, and can have possible side effects, especially if performed by unqualified doctors. Despite the risk and cost, these factors don’t seem to stop many women from getting it done each year. And although the procedure itself is advertised as simple, it can take up to three months for the vagina to fully recover.

In her documentary “The Perfect Vagina,” Lisa Rogers examines the different reasons why women opt for plastic surgery, and reveals how vaginas are so diverse that it’s almost impossible to find a “normal” or perfect prototype. While porn and the media show vaginas with labia minora that are extremely small or almost non-existent, Rogers quotes medical research to show that the labia can in fact range from 20mm to 100mm. Her documentary further highlights how images presented by the media are completely unrealistic, and that girls shouldn’t compare themselves to such fake standards. The documentary also features The Great Wall of Vagina- a sculptural wall made by Jamie McCartney that features 400 casts of vulvas of different women. By looking at this innovative work of art, anyone can realize that, in reality, vulvas are extremely diverse and vary greatly in shape and size. All of these very different vulvas are completely normal just the way they are.

Instead of opting for expensive and unnecessary plastic surgery, it would be better if girls could learn to accept and appreciate their genitals. Firstly, it should be widely known that the vulvas shown by porn and other media are not at all the norm. Most women do not have symmetrical vulvas, and it’s perfectly normal to have inner lips that protrude the outer lips. Going through images of REAL vulvas or talking about them with friends can make girls realize that they are perfectly normal and have nothing to worry about. Projects like The Great Wall of Vagina also help, since they enable girls to see how different everyone is. Ness’s story, for example, shows her journey through the discomfort that many girls experience, into a place where she is comfortable with her own body.

The quest for the designer vagina is just another addition to the long list of ideals that a woman feels she needs to have. Just like the media only presents images of one type of beauty (white, thin, perfect skin), which is quite unattainable for most girls, the idealized vulva is also something unnatural. Real girls just don’t look like that. Only naked Barbie dolls do, and porn stars that have a lot of help to change the way they look (plastic surgery, Brazilians, douches, anal bleaching, and what not). So instead of encouraging them going under the knife, we should encourage girls to make peace with their bodies, especially their vaginas!