Aesthetic surgery has come a long way since silicone breast injection was one of the few – and rather dangerous – procedures available to women who wished to retouch their bodies. Today, instead, the list of beauty treatments that women can undergo in order to fix their appearances is vast. With patients as young as 14, women’s aesthetic surgery is becoming scarily popular and accessible, enabling entire generations of girls to modify their bodies irreversibly, often before they fully develop.
Forget about nose and boob jobs, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), female genital plastic surgery is the world’s fastest-growing cosmetic practice. It covers a series of different procedures that you might have heard about under the name of vaginal rejuvenation. The popular menu includes: clitoral hood reduction (to remove the excess folds of the prepuce), monsplasty (a procedure designed to remove excess skin and fat in the mons, the rounded mass found over the pubic bones), vaginoplasty (done to tighten the vagina), and the increasingly popular labiaplasty.
For a swooping average of $2,730, women can get their labia shortened or reshaped. The twisting and tugging of extra-long labia can in fact cause symptoms of discomfort and pain, but asymmetric, seemingly “ugly” labia can make women feel uncomfortable with the way their genital look. In favour of this practice, plastic surgeon Miles Berry told BBC that labiaplasty "can change people fundamentally, the feelings they have about themselves, their confidence and self-esteem.”
This time, though, it’s hard to blame advertising and the mainstream media for showcasing a false image of the vulva; for once, they’re not the ones responsible for circulating unrealistic representations. It’s in fact fair to say that, excluding porn, there’s little imagery of the vulva circulating around at all, and in this regard, I’m left wondering, is porn the sole place of reference where women and young girls find the inspiration to purchase the ultimate ‘perfectly’ looking vulva?
While there’s no doubt that women should be able to do what they wish to feel comfortable with their bodies, having girls as young as nine yearning to get their labia ‘fixed’ because they feel it doesn’t match the body image they believe is normal loudly speaks of a systemic lack of representation of the female genitals. Girls want the vulvas they see in porn because quite frankly, it’s close to impossible to find images of those magical organs anywhere else. Young women are being raised to feel uncomfortable with their bodies because our society has failed to show both men and women that there isn’t such thing as a ‘normal’, ‘right looking’ vulva, but that, as every other part of the body, it comes with infinite sizes and shapes. Too occupied in censoring what is 'inappropriate', we've lost touch with what's most basic.
Under the new wave of feminism – one that calls for the full acceptance of the female body in all its diversity, we may wonder what the accessibility to surgery practice of our own times might be doing in the battle for self-acceptance. In the long-lasting debate on whether female aesthetic surgery contributes to the well-being of women, or whether it’s just another way to conform to the unrealistic beauty standard perpetuated by – for example – the porn industry, I’m convinced that ultimately surgery isn’t the one to blame, but rather the educational voids that let women believe something is wrong in the way they are shaped.