Sam sent me this link to a BBC article entitled “Girls say they hate their vaginas,” quoting Dr. Naomi Crouch, a gynecologist for adolescent girls. Dr. Crouch says, and I agree, “for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body, let alone a part that is intimate, is really upsetting.”
The issue is the labia. Girls as young as nine years old are asking for it to be “tidied up.” A young woman interviewed for the news story says, “I guess I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn’t neat enough or tidy enough. And I think I wanted it to be smaller.” She had the idea, from porn she guesses, that it was supposed to be symmetrical.
Sam and I had an interesting discussion about this because, as I told her, at no point in my childhood, teens, young adulthood, or even today, have I ever had any thoughts at all about what my “vagina” looked like (I put that in quotes because of course there’s more to it than the vagina, as the article “Sex Education: It’s Called a Vulva,” reminds us). As all teens did, we came across porn and magazines. But not once did anything I saw lead me to question whether my own anatomy was “normal” or not normal.
Sam said the same. It just wasn’t a thing that we ever thought about. It’s not that either one of us inspected ourselves and determined, with relief, that “whew! it’s all good!” We just never thought about it at all.
The invention of bodily things for girls and women to care about and worry over — camel toe, muffin tops, perky breasts, nipples, “back fat,” cellulite, booty size [too big? too small?], and now untidy labia — continues to grow.
If you want to see all of our posts about labia, you can find them gathered here.
It’s disturbing when any woman or girl squinches up their nose out of disgust for a certain part of her body. But when girls under 18, some under 15, are being referred for labial surgery (more than 200 had the surgery in the UK last year; over 150 of those were under 15), there’s got to be something wrong (and not with the way they look down there). According to the news story, cosmetic reasons are not sufficient for girls under 18 to be approved for the surgery. They need to have a medical “abnormality.”
Dr. Crouch says that she finds it hard to believe that 150 girls had a medical abnormality requiring labial surgery. According to her, “as a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist, I’ve never seen a girl under the age of 15 who needed an operation on her labia.”
So what can be done. One of the most important things is for girls to be exposed to realistic information, even images, of what the different anatomical parts of their genitalia are. For example, maybe something like this informational page from Our Bodies, Ourselves would be useful.
We might also take more time to explain and illustrate to enable them to learn about vulva diversity. And in general it would be super helpful to encourage girls to be less judgmental and more accepting of their bodies in general. Not just their “privates,” but the whole deal.
I like Jamie McCarthy’s artwork, “The Great Wall of Vagina,” which is a display of 400 actual plaster cast vaginas, “each one as unique as the women who posed for them.” Its point is to “change female body image through art.” Here’s one panel of the piece:
The discussion Sam and I had made me start wondering when “tidy vaginas” became a thing. I mean, back in the day there was pubic hair too, so things weren’t quite as “exposed.” Nowadays people shave. Sam suggested that, pubic hair aside, today’s porn is way more up close and personal, with closer camera shots.
I have no idea what the actual turning point was. But I do know that we never worried about. Now it’s a thing. And that is another step back, especially for today’s young women.
When do you think this attention to “tidiness” took hold and what do you attribute it to? I get that this sounds more like an exam question than anything else, but I really am curious to hear people’s thoughts on this and I didn’t really want to ask readers to divulge their personal experiences with their own labia.