All The Cool Teens Are Getting Vaginal Cosmetic Surgery
Breaking news: women are, by and large, unhappy with their bodies. This shouldn’t be surprising—we live in a world that encourages us to pluck, wax, shave, augment, reduce, and/or contour various parts of ourselves on a daily basis. It also shouldn’t be surprising that teenage girls are absorbing the message that their bodies are inherently flawed, and willing to go to increasingly drastic lengths to get rid of these perceived flaws. Just last year, the New York Daily News reported an uptick in teen plastic surgery procedures; nose jobs, lip injections, and breast augmentations topped the list, and everyone from Kylie Jenner to Iggy Azalea was blamed for the phenomenon. Shockingly, the most recent development in teen surgery trends goes beyond your typical lip filler or boob job: teenage girls are reportedly undergoing labiaplasty procedures in steadily rising numbers.
Labiaplasty is the medical term for the surgical procedure that alters the inner and/or outer vaginal labia—basically, a labiaplasty will tuck in any “excess” skin, giving you a smooth, symmetrical vag. According to a 2008 study by the Journal of Sex Medicine, 32% of women who underwent the procedure did so to correct “functional impairment”—typically pain or discomfort caused by larger-than-normal labia—while 37% did so “strictly for aesthetic reasons” and 31% did so for both functional and aesthetic reasons. The average labium is approximately two centimeters wide, but labia minora can range from anywhere between 0.3 and 7 centimeters in width and come in all colors, shapes, and sizes.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 400 aged 18 or younger underwent the procedure in 2015, compared to just 222 the previous year. Those numbers don’t indicate huge popularity, but that’s still an 80% increase in labiaplasty surgeries in just one year. The New York Times reports that although labiaplasty isn’t at the top of every teen girl’s plastic surgery wish list, girls under age 18 receive less than 2% of all cosmetic operations but almost 5% of all labiaplasties.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently released its first-ever statement indicating their guidelines for addressing teen interest in both breast augmentations and labiaplasty: apparently, there’s no consensus on what constitutes an enlarged labia or what the best criteria, if any, is for surgical intervention. The ACOG’s guidelines also urge doctors to offer “education and reassurance regarding normal variation in anatomy, growth, and development” to teenagers who are considering the procedure, as well as options for nonsurgical treatment.
Although the ACOG still doesn’t know what has caused the rising interest in labiaplasty—they cite pubic hair removal, exposure to “idealized images of genital anatomy” (i.e., porn), and increasing awareness of the procedure’s existence as likely factors—it’s possible that simply educating young women and girls about natural variations in their bodies would be enough to deter would-be patients from seeking out labiaplasties for purely cosmetic reasons.
It’s also incredibly important for doctors to communicate the risks associated with the procedure: the most common post-op side effects include infection, bleeding, bruising, scarring, and tenderness—more severe risks include nerve damage, diminished sexual pleasure (there are a lot of nerves down there!), sharp pain during sex (there are a lot of nerves down there that can be damaged!), and edema (an excess of watery fluid that collects in the tissues). An Australian study from last year indicates that informing women of both the risks associated with the procedure and the natural variety found in the wonderful world of vaginas reduced state-subsidized cosmetic labiaplasties by 28%.
Let’s be clear: it’s perfectly normal to dislike a part of your body. It’s perfectly normal to want to change something you dislike about your body. But it’s also important to understand the reasons why you’re uncomfortable with parts of your body and the risks associated with cosmetic surgical procedures. It may sound cliché, but vaginas are like snowflakes: they’re all unique, no two look alike. If your labia aren’t causing you physical pain or discomfort, aesthetics alone may not be a good reason to get rid of them.
Stay tuned to Milk for more vaginal updates.