The last few decades have seen a steady rise in the prevalence of plastic surgery. Cosmetic Surgery has widely become more acceptable for both men and women. Unsurprisingly however, studies indicate women are overwhelmingly more likely than men to seek out procedures with ninety-one percent of cosmetic surgeries in 2011 being performed on women. Plastic surgery has consistently evolved to accommodate the perpetually in flux standards of beauty imposed on women. So with $5000 breast augmentations and butt implants becoming fairly commonplace, what remains for the “cutting edge” of cosmetic surgery today?
In a not so shocking move, plastic surgeons have developed a surgery to modify the only body part that has generally been excluded from cosmetic changes. That’s right, it’s time to put the phrase “vaginal rejuvenation” in your vernacular! Vaginal rejuvenation encompasses several procedures, with the most controversial and troubling surgery being the Labiaplasty.
The Labiaplasty is a relatively new procedure, with the first occurring in 1984, and it acquiring notoriety in the late 90s. The procedure “trims the labia minora (the inner lips of the vulva) to fit neatly within the outer lips” with the purpose of creating a “neater” looking vagina. More shocking is the extreme version of the Labiaplasty aptly titled “The Barbie.” To create the “Barbie look” the surgeon excises the entirety of the labia minora, so that the outer lips appear closed. The aim is to eliminate all protrusions, fashioning a perfectly smooth, “clamshell” aesthetic.
The factor behind this sudden surge in Labiaplasty surgeries is not a mystery. Doctors, psychologists, and writers all concur that women today are more than ever, transfixed by the idea of the “perfect vagina.” Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly people who are in desperate need of this surgery due to discomfort from sex or athletic activity. Still, none of those women would require a procedure even slightly resembling “The Barbie.” It is abundantly clear that a vast majority of Labiaplasties seem to be performed on women in pursuit of a “designer” vagina.
The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons estimates that 5,200 Labiaplasties are performed annually. This number, combined with the number of annual breast augmentation surgeries (300,000), is indicative of how passing ideas of beauty are permanently modifying large portions of the population.
Kirsten O’Regan’s expose on the field of cosmetic gynecology, highlights how doctors utilize beauty trends to reinforce female insecurities and compel their patients to undergo vaginal rejuvenation. She writes:
“The escalating pathology of the vagina is just one manifestation of a fairly ubiquitous desire to deny natural variations in female anatomy by casting them as aberrations. Alinsod and Alter speak with enthusiastic distaste about female genitalia-“this big, fat pad”, “like a golf ball”, “she has a fatty majora”-and they don’t necessarily consider it a doctor’s obligation to advise patients if they are within normal range. Interestingly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine shows that male physicians are more likely to recommend cosmetic labiaplasty than their female counterparts.”
The demand for Labiaplasties may be increasing, but recognition and validation from the medical community is still lacking. O’Regan comments, “In 2007, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology opined that vaginal rejuvenation procedures ‘are not medically indicated, and the safety and effectiveness of these procedures have not been documented.’ They concluded, ‘It is deceptive to give the impression that… any such procedures are accepted and routine surgical practices.’” The idea that any vagina is “unnatural” is a disturbing one that only enforces female body shame. Hopefully this trend will follow a different trajectory than breast augmentation and butt implants, and fall out of fashion before this becomes the norm.
For more of O’Regan’s insights, read her article.