by Dr Amelia Stephens
An article recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia showed the increased frequency of vulvoplasty in New South Wales, Australia (1). The intention of the study was to look at potential complications following this procedure and outcomes of the women who had the procedure done related to births following. What was interesting about this study, was seeing how the rates of vulvoplasty have increased, not only in Australia, but in other countries such as the U.K and U.S.A since the early 2000s. So from here, we need to ask a few questions. One you may be asking, rightfully so, is – what on earth is vulvoplasty?
What is vulvoplasty?
Vulvoplasty is an operation that changes the shape of the vulva, the external part of a woman’s genitals. It can be done for the purpose of correcting anatomical malformations that women are born with, that may affect their function or quality of life significantly, or, assisting with correcting scarring or malformation resulting from female genital mutilation. You may have heard the term ‘designer vagina’ and this is also associated with vulvoplasty. Strictly speaking, the vulva is a different anatomical location to the vagina, but it is common for the two to be considered the same thing.
‘Designer vaginas’, and vulvas, have become a more common cosmetic procedure, and as this study shows – it appears the incidence is increasing. As one could appreciate, this area of a woman’s body is quite sensitive, so undergoing surgery would be considerably painful at times.
So why are women lining up to have this procedure done?
There are many that are medically necessary, as the shape of this area can significantly affect a woman’s quality of life. Equally, for many this is a cosmetic procedure, and it does concern me that as women, and as a society, we are a) so concerned about how this area of our body appears and b) that we would go to the lengths of painful surgery to fix it.
We are in a day and age where we possibly consider women to be as liberated and empowered as we have ever been, but are we truly if we are lining up to have our bodies mutilated?
This may sound extreme, but it is something worth thinking about. If we see the driving force of what is allowing women to feel like they need to change this part of themselves, we need to look broader across society.
The need to change this part of ourselves – and to have it fit a certain ‘image’, is a further and I would say very concerning symptom of how women see themselves in society as a whole. So much (and too much) of our value is attributed to how we look – and when we get to the stage of feeling judged on the appearance of our genitals, or having deep dissatisfaction of this, then we really need to stop and see where we are at.
The images of ‘perfect genitals’ possibly get portrayed through pornography – and thus both men and women become accustomed to things looking a certain way, and then feel the need to comply with this. What is not shown on these images, is the millions of variants of what is a very normal, and healthy part of the body. I see these variants every day, and to me it is a huge huge shame that any woman would ever feel that they are inadequate due to their appearance ‘down there’.
As women, this is a culture we can change and it starts with not buying into the images that we are constantly bombarded with. This may mean physically not buying magazines that portray women in this way, not buying clothing lines that clearly support the denigration of women through their advertising campaigns, and certainly not allowing pornography to dictate our relationships and how we are within them.
Our bodies are not designed to be at the whim of the latest fad or trend, because no matter how hard we try to ‘pretzel’ ourselves, we will never fit whatever image that is anyway.
What we do need to do is celebrate, and appreciate everyday who we are, and the women around us. A little appreciation goes a long way, and stops us from getting caught in things we think we may need to be or do, that simply aren’t us.
This International Women’s Day – with the theme ‘Be Bold For Change’, I encourage us all to step up and support each other more – to appreciate, nurture and deeply take care of ourselves. These moves don’t necessarily need to be bold in how they look, but they will help things change.
(1) Amanda J Ampt, Vijay Roach and Christine L Roberts. Vulvoplasty in New South Wales, 2001–2013: a population-based record linkage study.Med J Aust 2016; 205 (8): 365-369