BBC News recently reported on a shocking increase in women seeking labia surgery in the United Kingdom.
In response to the fivefold increase in labiaplasty operations in the last five years, research charity The Wellcome Trust is launching an animated documentary, entitled Centrefold, to address the issue and hopefully inspire discourse and debate.
Four women featured in Centrefold discuss their anxiety, shame, and embarrassment surrounding the appearance of their vaginas. It is this anxiety that drove all of them to plastic surgery. Interestingly, many of the total labiaplasties in the UK are carried out by the National Health Service (NHS), although the NHS does not have specific guidelines on how a “normal” vagina is supposed to look. Regardless, most women who seek out labiaplasty — surgical reduction of the inner labia — believe their labia to be abnormally large, long, or as one woman in the film says, “stretchy.”
According to the British Association for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, fewer than 35% of plastic surgery clinics conduct routine psychological checks before operations. But for many, cosmetic surgery is a solution to issues with body image, and therapy should provide the first line of defense.
Women seeking labiaplasty need more opportunity to discuss their concerns, said Dr. Lih-Mei Liao, a consultant clinical psychologist at University College London Hospitals. Dr. Liao believes that a woman’s anxiety or dissatisfaction with certain areas of her life may manifest itself as body image concerns.
“Surgery may have its place, but it needs to be seen as an extreme solution,” she added.
My heart goes out to women who suffer from feelings of inadequacy surrounding any part of their body. I can relate. But, as Dr. Liao says, surgery is extreme and can have serious consequences. And even after the fact, those negative feelings may persist, as one woman featured in Centrefold experienced.
Vaginas are not plastered all over mainstream media in the way breasts, legs, hair, or other female body parts are. No, vaginas are saved for pornography, with no holds barred. Is it right to derive our aesthetic sensibilities from porn? Is that the legacy we want to leave our daughters, sisters, and friends? Leave me your thoughts and comments!