body image · cycling

Is the “Toronto Trim” the solution to women’s cycling discomfort?

I don’t mean to get all riled about what other people do with the their genitalia. Fur? No fur? Dye it funny colours or not. Totally up to you. Let many flowers bloom, etc etc.

But I do get suspicious of the social pressures to conform to narrow norms, especially so when it’s surgery rather than hair removal or labia paint we’re talking about.

See my past post on Barbie crotch and the quest for tidy bodies. Certainly surgery is a drastic response to the problem of camel toe.

Why do I end up having people email me stories about this stuff? (Thanks blog reader SB) Because it’s often cycling that’s given as a justification for labial trimming. And yes you read that right, cycling.

CBC’s story on the increase in labiaplasty is typical. It begins with the story of a woman and her bike.

Carrie Anne is a triathlete in her 40’s, biking for 8 to 10 hours at a time but limited by the discomfort caused by the length of her labia. (Due to sensitivity issues and to protect her identity Carrie Anne is a fictitious name.) Thinking it was normal, she lived with it for years until finally getting a labiaplasty, a surgery that ‘trims’ the labia minora or inner labia, the external parts of the female genitalia.

“I was very uncomfortable,” Carrie Anne said. She told CBC’s The Current that the surgery is fantastic. “I just feel much more …it sounds maybe weird to say, but attractive.”

I’ve written before about sensitive girl bits and cycling. But except in extreme cases I don’t think the best answer is to cut them off. Experiment with different saddles and buy good bike shorts first.

What’s the surgery all about?

From the CBC: “Labiaplasty, commonly known as the ‘Toronto Trim’, takes about 30 minutes and surgeons say complications like bleeding and infection are minimal, with patients driving themselves home the same day. It costs between $4,000 to $6,000.”

Aside from the expense, pain, and the risks of surgery, what could be wrong with a little labiaplasty?

First, I’m suspicious of the claim that it’s a rise in popularity of cycling, rather than the spread of the porn star labia aesthetic, that’s fueling the demand for labial cosmetic surgery. It sounds a bit too close to the idea that women’s bodies aren’t suited to bicycling. I thought we’d left the 1890s behind.

Second, and much more seriously, the interests of long term labial comfort may not be best served by cutting and trimming.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told the CBC that they don’t perform the surgery because they say there’s no valid reason for it and there is risk of harm.

Labia provide protection and sexual comfort through stretch,” says Blake. “People don’t realize that labia shrink during menopause. Women are having this surgery done when they are young but we have no long term data on it. We have no idea what’s going to happen to these women during menopause.”

I’m not saying there are no women for whom this surgery makes sense. I am wondering about the motivation that is convergence on a single ideal of beauty. And I definitely worry about surgery as a route to cycling comfort when a pair of good cycling shorts might solve problem.

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See the vulva love lovely website for feminist vulva art celebrating body diversity.

18 thoughts on “Is the “Toronto Trim” the solution to women’s cycling discomfort?

  1. When I read “Toronto Trim” I thought it might be a reference to a style of grooming, not…this.

    Seriously, experimenting with new saddles is not only cheaper, but it has GOT to be less painful. I get that cycling can be painful on the externalities of one’s situation, but cutting part of it off seems a rather drastic solution when there are other solutions available.

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    1. And notice no one suggests scrotal reduction for men with this issue, which given the amount of time male cyclists spend rearranging things seems like it might be equally common?

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  2. I’ve never heard of cycling cited as a reason for labiaplasty before! Now I’ve heard everything. And your point about scrotal reduction is spot on. For goodness sakes, surely no matter how large a woman’s labia might be, it hardly rivals the average or even smaller than average male “package”!

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  3. Yeah to all these comments. But the supposed unknown risk cited in the article strikes me as pretty dumb. Women who already have normatively-sized labias or smaller also experience menopausal shrinkage and no one is worried, so the idea that maybe they will get ‘too small’ or something seems really far-fetched. Also, the article is about a woman in her 40s, so the comment that the women getting this are ‘young’ seems odd. They should have just stuck to ‘don’t chop off your parts for trivial reasons.’

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    1. I think they were speaking then about women who have this done in their early twenties…And maybe who go for a drastic version of the reduction. But yeah, you don’t need that to make the point

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  4. Oooh, thank you for this post! It comes down to societal pressure. If one feels pressured to conform, then maybe when the pressure is off, it feels good after you conform, especially if one shares the view of her oppressors. I got a lot of “Why don’t you go to a plastic surgeon/get botox/ooh, wrinkles!” from strangers. But no, it didnt force me fleeing to the plastic surgeon. Those kind of doctors need to make their money, and they will make it by creating a need that is not really there. All we gotta do is not fall for it. I don’t see myself in the same lens that other people do and it’s taken a lot of work for me to disassociate those two views–to not be affected by what someone thinks of how I look. Padded shorts and lube work great, no need for scalpels. As my dad would say, “If thine eyes offend thee, pluck them out!” (Maybe from a Monty Python sketch)

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    1. The distinction between functional reasons and aesthetic ones can be tricky. And sometimes it’s not clear what’s driving the functional explanation. Why say it’s for cycling or horse riding if it’s really for looks? Sometimes insurance is the answer. My friend’s medical insurance covered mole removal for functional reasons (for example, if it kept getting cut when you shaved) but not for purely aesthetic reasons. So it’s hard to be sure what’s behind the reasons we give.

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  5. … I can honestly say that this kind of thing would NEVER have occurred to me as an actual possibility. I’m not squeamish; I’ve had my share of interesting piercings. But my bicycle and I do NOT have the kind of relationship where this is on the horizon.

    Good God. Good shorts, better saddle, chamois cream, whatever it takes – hell, do a bit of strategic tucking if you have to, but surgery in that area is TOO FAR.

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  6. Don’t they make a men’s saddle that doesn’t have a front to it for the reason you’re describing? My friend Sarrah and I were just discussing “vaginal rejuvenation” the other day and neither of us gets it either!

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  7. It is sad that the cosmetic element of most labiaplasty discussions in the media overshadows the real life concerns of many women: pain and discomfort. This is a real issue!
    Discomfort: For some of women it’s uncomfortable to wear tight jeans. It can even be hard to buy underwear as it has to be supportive enough to hold in the inner labia, but not too tight as to be uncomfortable, and perfect underwear can be hard to find!
    Pain: Constantly feeling chaffing and rubbing, always trying to tuck in the sensitive tissue that sticks out past the protective labia majora when it is just too big, thick or long to stay in. Biking causes soreness, as does riding horses, running and most sports, even walking causes chaffing! This is not just a “try a new bike saddle” thing. These women have probably tried literally every saddle and padded short in existence before opting for surgery! If you’ve never felt the pain of labia rubbed absolutely raw after sports, or even a long walk then I guess it could be hard to understand, but I am one of these women and I can tell you it is not pleasant!
    Listen, I’m all for celebrating diversity and individual physical differences, but if a woman’s inner labia are holding her back from fully participating in the sports or lifestyle that she loves then I fully support her choice to have this surgery. ❤

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  8. I love my giant labia! And I love my bike! That’s means they’re twice as big and they look like someone has taken a meat cleaver to them. It’s awful. There’s plenty of reason to be skeptical here but just think of all the tinkering you (I!) have do, for days and weeks and months, talking to doctors who say, “well, don’t ride your bike,” looking for bike shorts or shop assistants who have ever considered this problem, trying saddles at $100 a pop, getting fitted for just as much money (not including the cost of new bike parts or new bikes), trying shorts for a few hundred miles (can’t return them), trying creams, and on and on. I would hate to have mine lopped off but goddamn, it’s one and done, and your bits fit in the saddle and your partner doesn’t cringe at what looks like a horror movie and you don’t itch and swell and abrade then heal some and itch and swell and abrade some more? Barbie has nothing to do with it. I want to continue to be the badass, four season tough as anyone bike commuter and athlete I already am and be done with this awful on-going, feel it all the time I am awake and also in my sleep, problem.

    I don’t want this surgery, no. I’m proud of my big lips! and I don’t think I’ll get it, but ask me again after another couple hundred days of this and I may change my mind.

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    1. I know this is an old thread but it kind of boils my blood to find–while in my continuing attempts to solve this problem, I negotiate male dominated domains wherein ignorance and disregard of women’s bodies and women’s experiences are the norm (medicine, cycling)–that women who are both feminist and interested in fitness are also similarly ignorant of how much it can frankly suck to do sports, or even walk around, yes, when you have large labia. I found this article while googling about this damned problem and thought it might offer a solution. I don’t want surgery now, but it’s only been a couple months that I’ve been scratching myself in my sleep until I bleed and I’ve only replaced all my underwear, pants, and cycling stuff a couple times. Ffs, I don’t want to be Barbie. That’s so insulting. Maybe Barbie’s sporty butch friend. Who prefers not to itch and bleed and be in consyant crotch discomfort.

      Re why don’t men turn to this? Bikes and all things made for bikes are made for men. When it comes to women, though, this is a hugely underaddressed problem. The cut-away and noseless saddles that work for some men don’t work for all women. The solutions for their anatomy are more plentiful, and the conversations with bike mechanics and store owners and even doctors easier to have.

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