Ella Wills talks openly about her private parts, vulva selfies and cosmetic surgery
Whilst I may be approaching 21, and nearly a real life adult, I still have a lot to learn about my own body.
Sunday morning began in rather a compromising position, splayed out on my bed, legs akimbo. There was not however a beautiful boy between my thighs, rather my iPhone. I had decided it was time to get acquainted with my vulva, and how better to do this in the age of the front facing camera but a selfie.
In recent months I have come to hear more and more accounts of insecurity over the appearance of the V, and this got me curious. How my vulva might look when face to face with someone’s face has never been high on my list of daily worries, but it seems that vulva-shame is commonplace.
I was shocked then when a friend of mine revealed that her sister was undergoing female genital cosmetic surgery.
The labia, or ‘flaps’ as they are so devastatingly termed, can apparently be a serious cause for embarrassment when a partner chooses to move down south. I must admit, however, to having been ignorant to the fact that one vulva looks entirely different to another.
I was shocked then when a friend of mine revealed that her sister was undergoing female genital cosmetic surgery. Say hello to the so-called ‘designer vagina’. This particular girl had been criticised for being too flappy, and so turned to the knife. De-‘flapping’ requires a labiaplasty, an operation to remove skin from the inner labia – just like ‘shortening a hem on a dress’ according to the NHS.
There is no one way of doing this, it depends on your particular lips. Skin can be cut, lasered or cross stitched, one way or another it is coming off. Short term effects include bleeding, infection and scarring of tissue. Women can go on to experience pain during sex, or conversely to lose sensitivity in nerve endings. There is no certainty that the surgery will be effective. Big risks for the sake of a vulva-lift.
NHS figures show that the number of operations performed by them “has risen five-fold over the past 10 years” with “over 2,000 labial reduction operations in 2010”
In the case of the sister, her insecurity was born out of an attack on what is her most private and sensitive area. Societal pressure to attain the ideal female form is a longstanding issue, and no aspect of the body is overlooked. Go to page 3, look to porn, lads mags, they all feature hard copies of a perfect vulva.
It is a strong woman that doesn’t feel inadequate against these idolised images. But it’s surely impossible to know what a vulva should look like? Vulvas spend most of their time tucked away in knickers.
The ‘designer vagina’ is fast growing in popularity in the UK. Transform Cosmetic Surgery revealed in July 2014 that around 1,150 women between the ages of 18-24 were undertaking the operation. NHS figures show that the number of operations performed by them “has risen five-fold over the past 10 years” with “over 2,000 labial reduction operations in 2010”. They say the reason for this increase is “unclear”, yet being one of these 18-24 year olds myself, I can only link this demand to the culture of porn, and the prevalence of casual sex.
Speak to any woman my age about sex, be it sex with their partner, or the sex they intend to have after a night out, and they will undoubtedly make some comment on preparation for that sex. The vulva needs to be primped, presentable and in good working order before it can be approached. With such pressure to look good, it is only natural that women seek operations.
What we have here then is an image problem. There are of course arguments in favour of the surgery. A labiaplasty offers a way of overcoming discomfort and blistering caused by chafing of the exterior labia, and also difficulties with penetration. I am not therefore about to penalise anyone for choosing a difficult procedure in order to gain a better quality of life. There remains though female genital cosmetic surgeries that are purely cosmetic.
Enter the next subject of your 4am anxieties – is my vulva a nice vulva? It’s hard enough having to judge whether your so-called ‘love handles’ are creating a ‘muffin top’ over your jeans, let alone whether your flaps are sufficiently sucked into your vagina.
A nose gives you character, and I wouldn’t expect anything less of my vag.
Through Facebook timelines, Tinder bios, Instagram filters and Twittercisms we tweak and monitor every aspect of our lives, why not also our genitals? We craft the best projection of ourselves, and are fascinated by the lives of others – who hasn’t once found themselves on their best friend’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’ cousin’s wall…
Artist Jamie McCartney tapped into this fascination deftly with his Great Wall of Vagina exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale. The piece shatters taboo by confronting the viewer with ten spectacular panels of vulva. Real female genitals, so long the subject of unrealistic images, are cast and displayed unedited. The final product is a wall to wall demonstration that there is no perfect vulva. A brilliant source of education for a novice such as myself.
Perhaps then turning to the selfie in the instance of the vulva is no bad thing. There is a lack of genital education in place – all we were told in Year 6 was that a lot of blood would erupt from there soon, but they couldn’t give us an ETA. Exchanging an informative snapchat could save women a whole lot of confusion (and perhaps break the monotony of the dick pics).
Treating the private parts as private, something to be kept hush hush outside of the bedroom, is outdated. The absurd pursuit of the ‘designer vagina’ would become all too apparent with a quick survey of what’s happening in our friend’s pants. Nothing major, just a sneak peak. That’s all it would take to realise that your vagina is as individual as the nose on the front of your face. A nose gives you character, and I wouldn’t expect anything less of my vag.
Images: Nick Kocharhook, Hey Paul Studios, James Mutter and ✩ Gower ✩