A little nip or tuck here and there isn’t hard to understand, but what of the rise in genital cosmetic surgery? An investigation.
When it comes to sexy trends, I think we can all agree that vajazzling failed to live up to its hype. A couple of years ago, it looked as though every fashionable young woman would soon be artfully draping crystals south of the border. Mercifully, that fashion statement has largely receded from the public’s imagination.
But while there was a reassuring flash-in-the-pan quality to vajazzling, the same cannot be said for another vulval trend that’s currently gathering speed—one that’s decidedly more permanent.
Doctors in the U.S., Britain, and Australia are reporting a rapid spike in the number of women electing to give their genitals a surgical makeover. And here in Toronto, where we have just a handful of clinics, staff have reported a marked increase in procedures in the past three or four years alone.
Of course, the actual number of ladies seeking a so-called “designer vagina” is relatively small, with most Toronto clinics only performing between 50 and 100 procedures a year. But the growing demand is surprising. (One receptionist I spoke to claims to field more calls about genital surgery than tummy tucks on any given day.) And because most of those who opt for the surgery in Toronto are under 30, the work literally has to last a lifetime.
The majority of women are after something called a “labiaplasty,” which alters the external appearance of the genitals. The two flaps of tissue on either side of the vaginal opening, which vary naturally in shape and size among healthy women, are essentially trimmed back to be smaller and/or more symmetrical. Usually, the surgery is performed for purely cosmetic reasons, but some women have it done because of pain during sex, or natural irritation. The result is an outward appearance that is either neat and attractive or disturbingly Barbie doll–like, depending on your point of view.
Jerome Edelstein, a plastic surgeon who runs a clinic in Midtown, says the operation is relatively straightforward: It takes about one hour under local anesthetic and two weeks to heal. (Oh, and no sex for six weeks afterwards, ladies.) According to Edelstein, labiaplasty is low-risk as far as surgeries go, and most patients are very satisfied with the results.
However, not everyone sees it that way. Jennifer Blake, chief exec at the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, fears women may be creating health problems for themselves in the future. She points out that the procedure is irreversible, and there is scant evidence on how women fare over the long term, particularly later in life when menopause kicks in.
Blake sees the societal impacts as particularly disheartening. “For years, men have had genital insecurity. As women, we’ve had insecurity about almost every part of our bodies, but the genitals have really been off-limits. It’s so sad to see women being made to feel insecure about [themselves] when, really, there’s no need.”
In the media, the finger of blame has invariably been pointed at the porn industry for peddling an unrealistic vision of what a woman’s body should look like down there. Some medical professionals, like Dr. Kyle Wanzel, who runs a clinic in Etobicoke, disagree. He has patients flying in from all over Canada for the procedure, but has yet to encounter a woman who is modelling her private parts after those of porn stars. “The vast majority of women have been online to chat rooms, found out about the [surgery], and then just looked it up on my website,” he says. For his part, Edelstein attributes the increased interest in labiaplasty to modern mores that rule against an abundance of body hair, which render everything a bit more, well, visible down below.
In truth, while some women are prepared to pony up between $3,000 and $7,000 for the op, many have only a very hazy idea of what they want it all to look like in the end. (Perhaps that’s because, by a quirk of anatomy and bathroom-stall design, straight women generally see each others’ bits a lot less frequently than guys do.)
Proponents of keeping it natural and working with what your genes gave you have begun to push back with various celebrations of morphological diversity. The most famous of these is artist Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina, which is a series of genital casts from 400 women volunteers. Another fun endeavour is by Dr. Debby Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University, who has paired bodily drawings with quotes from women about what they like about their vulvas. In both cases, the aim is to show the world that when it comes to the female body, they come in every shape and size—and that goes for every part of them.
And, anyway, if you really think you need a new look down there, you could always opt for some tasteful vajazzle-style jewellery. I would imagine there’s a lot of it kicking around on Kijiji right now.
Need a primer? Good For Her sells anatomically correct vagina puppets (175 Harbord St., 416-588-0900, goodforher.com).