I didn’t realize there was anything wrong with my vagina until I was about 16.
“Can I tell you a secret?” my classmate Sarah* asked. I was intrigued and nodded affirmative because Sarah, as one of the wealthiest girls in my private high school in New York City, had some of the best secrets. She was also one of the first girls in my group to have sex, smoke cigarettes and try a variety of drugs, which we all chalked up to her rebelling against her family’s wealth and whatnot.
“You know how I was absent last week?”
“I was getting plastic surgery… on my pussy.”
I think my mouth dropped; this was the most absurd thing she had told me yet. I managed a “Why?”
“Well, one of my labia was larger than the other. It was gross and wrinkley,” she laughed, “like a monster or a Frankenstein labia. It really bothered me.”
A monster or a Frankenstein labia.
Alone in my bathroom that night, I spent a good hour looking at my nether regions on the toilet, pretending to shit, Sarah’s words in my head. After careful examination, I realized my vagina was like Sarah’s old one; one of my labia minora was bigger than the other. “Gross and wrinkley” and like a monster. Oh god. My vagina is deformed too. How did this happen?
Sarah was able to get the surgery — known as labiaplasty — through her family’s insurance plan by lying to the doctor and saying her larger labia minora caused pain and discomfort. This was in the early 2000s, before labiaplasty became the “thing” it is now.
I couldn’t pull off lying to a medical professional, let alone talk to my parents about my deformed vagina, and I was almost positive we didn’t have an insurance plan that covered cosmetic surgery. After fiddling with my Frankenstein labia and gauging its sensitivity through extensive pinching and squeezing, I determined I could cut off a chunk myself, for free. I was cutting my own bangs at the time, how hard could this be?
Just the tip, to test it out, see if I even bleed that much.
I sterilized some house scissors with hydrogen peroxide and at the last moment, decided against heating them up on the stove; this was before people Googled everything, but I didn’t like the idea of burning my crotch with hot scissors.
It was the sensation of cold metal against my upper thigh that I had a “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING” moment.
A rush of news articles about third world female genital mutilation filled my mind. I recalled how some of the women, who were forced into the procedure by religion, culture, and cranky older women in their families, can’t orgasm anymore. Why am I willingly doing something that could potentially damage my ability to enjoy sex?
Needless to say, I didn’t perform DIY labiaplasty on myself in my bathroom, but Sarah and her surgery gave me a complex.
It got a little better after my mom gave me a hot pink book for teens about changing bodies full of cartoony illustrations of different vagina types and their various parts, but I was still ashamed of my pussy. I even refused oral, afraid the person would see my uneven labia minora and be disgusted. A freak with a mangled cunt, I imagined they’d say. No thank you, I thought, believing I was sparing myself some humiliation.
I, and Sarah, are not alone in being embarrassed by our less than perfect vaginas. According to the booming labiaplasty, or “vagina rejuvenation” industry, insecurities about pussy lips — specifically labia minoras — abound.
In 2010, the American College of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons recorded 2,140 vaginal rejuvenation surgeries, and the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons estimates 5,200 procedures are performed annually. Meanwhile in Britain, women getting labiaplasty increased fivefold in 2012, according to the BBC.
There are thousands of women out there who look at their vaginas and want to cut them up, apparently.
Kirsten O’Regan, who went undercover for the arts and politics magazine Guernica, discovered a large number of these surgeries are in fact done to correct mistakes made by other, inexperienced surgeons performing labiaplasties for “money-farming” purposes (we’re talking 2000 – 5000 dollars a cut here):
[Dr. Gary] Alter estimates that 20 percent of his labiaplasties are performed to rectify the mistakes of previous surgeries. “I’m not mentioning names,” he says, “but some of the famous gynecologists — I’ve done a lot of revisions on their surgery.”
“The problem with this surgery, frankly, is that it looks easy, but there’s a lot of finesse involved. If you don’t know those nuances, you’re going to have dog-ears, or complete removal of the labia when that’s not what’s requested. That’s when the lawsuits occur.”
As for me, I got over my complex without going under the knife, and I can even say I love my pussy, its uneven labia minora and all. How?
It happened in college after I saw a bunch of cocks up close; every guy’s penis I looked at had lopsided balls.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy