Today’s guest blog is the third in a series by Scarlet Ladies Talk – aka Sarah Beilfuss and Jannette Davies. They run events and workshops to help women explore and discuss their bodies and sex lives, and one of the things they focus on is bodily autonomy: learning to love your body just how it is. In their latest post, Sarah Beilfuss is tackling ‘designer vaginas’, and asking the question: just what exactly is wrong with my vagina?
What’s wrong with my vagina?
Cosmetic surgery is big business – there is money in it. Lots and lots of money. The industry thrives on our insecurities. Crooked nose? Boobs too small? Want to wake up looking like a photoshop specialist has been working on your appearance all night? As long as you have the money, anything is fixable. God forbid we’d actually learn to accept and love ourselves. Oh no.
It was only about 10 years ago that I first heard of fancy fannies and designer vaginas. Oh fuck, it had not even occurred to me that there could be something wrong with that area of my body, too. Great, as if I didn’t have enough insecurities already. And not only that, but what is it meant to look like? It’s not like I got to see a lot of vulvas on a daily basis.
So I decided to start watching porn, just to see some examples. I enjoyed the amateur stuff more than the professional porn and so got to see a variety of pussy and couldn’t quite make out what it was meant to look like to be beautiful. They all seemed to look so different and I didn’t find any of them particularly ugly. Or beautiful, for that matter.
When I hit puberty, one night I went to bed with that perfect little line between my legs and I swear I got up the next morning and bits had fallen out. I don’t know when or how it happened, but all of a sudden there they were – my labia minora, the inner lips. They had no interest in staying “inner”. They wanted to see the world. They’d come out and were there to stay.
I started to look into whether that was a good thing or not when I heard about labioplasty – there seem to be different answers. Over here in the West, the neat line with no hair seems to be desirable. A recent vulva beauty pageant confirmed this.
But travel a bit and the story is a different one. In parts of sub-saharan Africa girls are encouraged to pull their inner lips to make them as long as possible. Girls even meet up to help and pull each other’s’ lips. Now, I am all for girls getting together and I even like the fact that they interact with each other and their vaginas, normalising the conversation and possibly reducing shame around it.
However, putting the girl bonding while labia pulling aside, what disturbs me about the practice of LMW (labia minora elongation) is that it takes girls’ bodily autonomy away from them. They are told to do it, often not understanding why. I read in a scientific paper that the practice of labia pulling has “no perceived harms to women’s health”. Not physically, anyways. Because the message is loud and clear: “However nature intended you to be is not good enough. You are not good enough. You need modification.”
In a medical report, Williams (1969) reported that: “Flaccid enlarged lips also increase the potential control over intercourse for the defenceless woman. If she wishes to protect herself against intromission, the rolling up of the loose labia into the vagina effectively closes the [external orifice of the uterus].”
REALLY? Let’s just try to picture that for a second… I will hold on to the hope that the ridiculousness of that statement is obvious to more people than just me.
Over here we seem to go with the pre-pubescent look with not a hair in sight. And if going under the knife is too much, there is vagina contouring, or “Vontouring”. Also called Intima Protege, it is a non-invasive, non-surgical labioplasty, using intensive heating on the vaginal opening to tighten it.
A little personal note: anyone here considering to apply “intensive heat” anywhere near to my vagina and my flappy labia minora will slap your hand so hard that your fingers are going to fall off!
We are bombarded with messages of how we are not good enough as we are. And the way we look is all that counts, right? Just look at the media coverage of the recent Olympics. The men are being asked about their athletic achievements, the women are asked to “give us a twirl”… So it does not come as a surprise then that in 2015 women accounted for 91% of all intrusive plastic surgery (this excludes little lunch break procedures like botox, meaning this figure could be even higher).
I don’t know about you, but I had just about enough of it. My thighs touch, my inner labia are hanging out, my nose is knobbly, my teeth are neither straight nor perl white, my legs are stubby, my… FUCK YOU! I have decided on being a rebel: to love myself fiercely and embrace every little part of myself. Lips and all. I wear shorts even if I have not shaved, I go out without a bra, my mid 30s boobs flapping in the wind. And if that offends anyone because I refuse to be bullied into an unrealistic standard, then buy a Barbie doll and look at that instead.
I am a human being with flaws and perfections. My skin wrinkles around my eyes when I smile and my shit stinks. I am beautiful. Just as I am.
So in answer to the question “what is wrong with my vagina?” or yours: absolutely nothing. Whether you have a neat line between your legs or lips long enough to wrap around yourself, let’s be rebellious and accept our vulvas for the thing of beauty they are.
This is a sponsored post by Scarlet Ladies Talk – they run an online community and in-person events for women to discuss all aspects of sex and sexuality. Their upcoming events include a discussion on different kinds of relationships on October 5th, and a panel discussion – Girl Love – on November 2nd. Check out their website for more details, and you can also pick up their free ebook on solo sex.