Way back in 2012 I wrote this:
Back then I lived in a hopeful place where sex work (both by and for women) was becoming increasingly accepted and I felt that as a society we were making real progress around issues of body image, sexuality, and acceptance.
Now it’s 2022, much of the western world is busy trying to go back to the 50’s socially and here we are again…
I’m less naive today than I was ten years ago when when I hoped that my words and efforts might have a wide impact on the issue of body image and unnecessary labiaplasty, but I think that it is still worth speaking about this subject.
To cut to the chase – my message last time was:
“Ladies, whatever shape your genital are, there are men who adore them. Please don’t go cutting them off.” – unless it’s for medical reasons.
My message this time is much the same.
If you are feeling embarrassed, or ashamed, or unhappy with the size, shape, or colour of your labia (or any part of your body) but they don’t cause physical discomfort or other medical problems, then you don’t need to get cosmetic surgery for it – you need to get help to change how you perceive your body.
Because – lacking a physical medical problem – that’s what it’s about – perception, not reality.
From the article about botched genital surgery:
“Since I began puberty at around 12 or 13 I started developing longer labia minora, and when I started comparing my vagina to those I saw in porn, I started feeling really self-conscious and like I wasn’t normal,” she says.
“I never told a soul that I had larger labia because I was honestly so embarrassed and upset by it growing up. I didn’t let my boyfriends or anything growing up look at it or touch it and I refrained from actually having sex until I was 18 in my first serious relationship.
“I have never once had anyone tell me that it was ugly or bad throughout all my relationships and sexual encounters, but in the back of my mind I always thought they would be thinking about how ugly and awful it was.”
As in my previous post on this subject I think that what this woman is experiencing is “body dysmorphic disorder” or BDD – “a mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one’s own body part or appearance is severely flawed and therefore warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it” (from Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_dysmorphic_disorder).
I’m not a doctor or mental health professional so my advice is – talk to one. Ideally one who understands and has experience with BDD.
In the past I have specifically suggested seeking out positive validation to combat these sorts of issues, but the woman quoted above had those positive validations and it didn’t fix the problem for her. So while I still think that positive validation of body image is useful and important, I think that it is necessary to see a health professional who understands BDD and can help get to the root cause of the mental distress and change that.
The other thing to note here is that even young teenage women are comparing how their bodies looks to the bodies of women that they see in porn. Which brings us to how we might prevent these problems from developing in the first place. Education.
There is no way to put the Internet/porn genie back in its bottle – just as printed porn couldn’t be regulated away. Young people will continue to see it. So the only realistic option available is to educate young people about their bodies (and porn) and what is “normal” so that when they do look at porn they are able to make better judgements about themselves and what they are seeing.
I’m not holding my breath for this sort of frank and in depth education to happen – but we have enough evidence just from this article that it is necessary.