Why do girls want labiaplasty? They’re told to hate every inch of themselves
By Jessica Valenti
Despite all the feminist progress we’ve made, women and girls are still subject to mixed messages about how their bodies must be perfect
It would almost be easier if there were a specific moment that sparks self-loathing in a young girl. A particularly nasty comment made, maybe. Or an advertisement that inspires just the right amount of doubt in her appearance and forever shifts the way she thinks about herself. If only it were that simple, if there were just one moment we could help our daughters avoid.
The truth is much more complicated – and much more intimate. For all the feminist progress made, there is still a shocking amount of disdain for women’s anatomy when it is not firm, tucked, primped and waxed.
As labiaplasty – surgery to change your vulva’s appearance – has become increasingly popular among women, it’s also become the surgery of choice for an ever-growing number of girls. So much so, in fact, that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a set of recommendations for doctors on how to talk to adolescent patients seeking the procedure. Hopefully, guidelines for parents considering allowing their minor daughters get the procedure aren’t far behind.
“The first step is often education and reassurance regarding normal variation in anatomy, growth and development,” the guideline reads. In other words, girls need to be told that not everyone’s body looks the same. The ACOG also outlines possible reasons for the increase in girls getting surgery, like pubic hair removal trends and “exposure to idealized images of genital anatomy” (a polite way of saying “porn”).
Apparently it isn’t enough that 80% of 10-year-old girls in the US have been on a diet, or that the celebrity best known right now for having her lips plumped with artificial filler is a teenager. Now teenagers are worrying about their genitals being too fat or long or uneven.
It’s easy to be outraged; some girls hating the most intimate parts of their bodies enough to seek out surgery is incredibly distressing. But it shouldn’t be surprising. We live in a country where the mere act of saying the word “vagina” can get you fired, or barred from speaking, as Michigan representative Lisa Brown was after using the word in a speech against an anti-choice bill.
When I spoke to Miki Agrawal, co-founder and CEO of Thinx period panties for an upcoming podcast, she recounted how New York City’s public transit system initially refused to carry her ads on the subways because one of them featured a picture of a peeled grapefruit that too closely resembled a vagina. (Using grapefruits for ads about breast augmentation, however, was fine.)
It’s no wonder girls would feel they need to keep their bodies in check, trying to look the way that will bring them the most praise – or the least amount of negative attention.
And so we tell our daughters that they are beautiful, but also that looks don’t matter. We enroll them in sports and try not to talk about dieting in front of them. But even with all the proactive parenting we take on, it’s hard to be hopeful when women are constantly finding new and innovative ways to hate every inch of themselves.