Can we all stop talking about penis size for a minute and discuss the vagina?
When I was younger, discussing a girl’s genitals was left purely for sex ed with a woman named Margie, where she would draw pineapple people on the whiteboard and labelled their body parts with a texta.
Sure, Margie taught us about the vulva, and fallopian tubes, the uterus, and even the infamous clitoris. As kids no older than 12, we were pretty impressionable. What Margie failed to tell us was that there’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ looking vagina. They’re all different, and they’re all great.
Apparently Margie was not the only gal out there who left out this important detail. We’ve all had a Margie at one point in our lives. Be it a sex educator, a guardian, or the sealed section in Dolly Magazine. Over the years I’ve done my fair share of growing, reading, and of course – chatting with my mates. In this time, I have found that a great deal of my friends are insecure about the way they look ‘down there.’
This made me feel quite uneasy and prompted me to wonder why so many women, irrespective of age, feel this way about their genitals.
It was actually pretty easy to find my answer. One swipe to ye olde Pornhub answered my query in a jiffy. Within the porn narrative, regardless of whether you’re a naughty schoolgirl or an insubordinate nurse, there seemed to be one type of vagina. Who knew that only some vaginas are considered fashionable? Apparently, this pretty, perfect vulva has a name.
The ‘Barbie doll’ is where one’s labia minora (inner lips) is tucked and hidden from sight. We’ve condemned comparing ourselves to Barbie in all other aspects of our lives, yet we seem unable to do this when it comes to our genitals. Ken doesn’t even have a penis, for god’s sake. So obviously dolls are not what we should compare ourselves to.
As I delved deeper into my research, I realised it was not just my friends who shared these thoughts about their nether regions. Some women, have even taken the drastic measure of opting for a labiaplasty.
Labiaplasty surgery is one of the fastest growing cosmetic procedures in the world. Author Peggy Orenstein, found that between 2014 and 2015, labiaplasties grew by 80%. Further, one third of women requesting this surgery, are under 18.
The problem lies not just within the porn industry, it seems. The National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US found that 30% of women who opt for labiaplasty have experienced genital teasing by either their family or peers. It is an issue that occurs within our midst, way closer to home than you may think.
This is not to say that a labiaplasty does not have its benefits for some. Women who have elongated inner labias are often more prone to UTIs, and even discomfort when playing sports or wearing specific clothes. One woman was sexually assaulted as a child and this resulted in the elongation of her labia. Every time she looked down at herself she was reminded of the assault she endured.
For cases like this, it is not only understandable, but completely justified why these women want a labiaplasty.
Other women, have a great deal of anxiety surrounding the way their genitals look. In these instances, this insecurity too often stems from societal norms and what they have been conditioned to believe is ‘normal’ looking.
There are too many stories, both within my personal circle and on the internet, of women who are so self-conscious about their vaginas that it has a detrimental effect on their sex lives. Which can often lead to greater intimacy issues and harm on one’s self-esteem. It breaks my heart and angers me that women do not have confidence in themselves due to both the sex industry and their peers.
This is evident in cases like the censorship of Sydney University’s student magazine, Honi Soit. In attempt to erase some of the stigmas surrounding vulvae, 18 students’ vaginas were featured on the cover of the magazine. These were then quickly censored by the Students’ Representative Council and taken off the shelves for fear this content would be seen as offensive. So much for breaking the stigma, right? Mainstream media, are also responsible for airbrushing labias off their front covers and striving for the ‘Barbie’ effect.
Yet there are those who are fighting to erase said stigma. Fiona Patten, MP of the Victorian Sex Party, has made it publicly known she does not support the act of airbrushing vulvas, known as clamming.
Instagram account, The Vulva Gallery, is working towards boosting women’s confidence regarding their genitals all over the globe, one drawing at a time. Drawing vaginas of all different shapes, races, and sizes – Hilde Atalanta, an Amsterdam based illustrator who owns the Instagram account is tearing down the mirage of a ‘perfect’ vulva.
This is a societal issue that needs to be collectively refuted. It is not solely Margie, the sex educator’s responsibility to make girls love their bits. It’s up to parents, romantic partners, friends, the media, and ourselves to recognise that every vagina is both awesome and unique.
Words by Mona Chatskin
IG – @mona.chatskin
Art by Phoebe Roberts