In an age where women have greater freedom about their bodies than ever before, elective genital enhancement is a new-age cosmetic-surgery procedure on the rise. Here, Jenna*, 31, shares her story of why she underwent labiaplasty.
I was 10 years old when I first noticed that there were different kinds of vaginas. Standing completely naked in the changing room of our local pool next to my friend, I saw for
the first time what another girl’s genitals looked like and was genuinely shocked
to see they weren’t at all similar to mine. “Mine is on the outside, but yours sits on the inside,” I said, as I noticed her neatly folded-away labia.
That was it. I hated that mine was different, and that feeling of disgust and anxiety at being unusual, or so I thought, followed me right into adulthood. My inner vaginal lips were considerably larger than my outer lips and stuck out. And it ended up affecting my relationship. My boyfriend never once mentioned having a problem with how I looked down there, not that I mentioned how I felt about it, but there was so much tension when it came to intimacy that it became our undoing.
My insecurities stopped me wanting to have sex and I’d get angry if he initiated it just to deflect the real problem, my troubled psychological relationship with my genitals. “What have I done wrong?” he’d ask. But of course, he’d done nothing wrong. So, after we split, I made the choice to have cosmetic surgery on my labia.
After some research I found a surgeon I was comfortable about approaching, Dr Ashley Granot at the Me Clinic. I just couldn’t bring myself to properly research what the surgery entailed, nor what any other cases looked like. The only reference that I had of a ‘normal’ vagina was what I’d seen that day as a nervous 10 year old.
Looking back now, I realise I was in a sort of denial. I think I knew deep down that if I’d had a good look at images of other vaginas, I’d have found mine wasn’t so bad. That it was normal, even. But that would have meant facing the reality that I’d wasted years sacrificing love in favour of physical self-loathing. I couldn’t face that prospect, so I held onto the idea that I would find my confidence in surgery. It wasn’t until my consultation that I saw pictures of other women’s vaginas. It turned out my instincts were right and mine was normal. But, my desperation to have the procedure remained. It turned out I was suitable for surgery as my labia protruded enough for me to be a candidate. All the medical staff took great care to make sure that I was taking the surgery seriously.
As I stood naked from the waist down in front of my surgeon, exposing what I’d been ashamed of for so long, I realised it was the first time in my entire life I wasn’t self-conscious about my genitals. To some people that might seem ironic or a little sad but to me, it proved I was doing the right thing. Within a month of that consultation I was booked in for the procedure, which can cost between $5,000 and $5,500. From consultation to surgery was a month and the procedure took 90 minutes.
It was so painful afterwards. I couldn’t sit down, I had ice between my legs for a week and on top of that, I walked around like a cowboy for weeks following on from that. My vagina had been sliced, so of course it was never going to be pleasant. Six weeks on and the pain has basically gone away, but I can’t have sex yet and even just the thought of it hurts. I still have the stitches in, so every time I wipe myself after going to the toilet, I’m still finding it to be extremely sensitive down there. Thankfully, I’m not squeamish, so when I first had a look after the surgery I managed to see past the bruising, scarring and stitches. As it’s healing, I can see my labia is as I’d always hoped it would look.
I wonder sometimes that if I had been exposed to real images of what a woman’s genitalia looks like at a young age, maybe I would have felt differently about my own. Maybe. But, unless you actively seek it out, your only basis for comparison is the clean, non-confrontational, smooth, altered images we’re fed by advertising and porn. My vagina didn’t look like that.
I didn’t tell my ex-boyfriend about the surgery until after I’d had it done.“Why the hell did you get that done?!” was his inital response.He didn’t judge me, he just couldn’t see what was possibly wrong to begin with. I told a few of my girlfriends about the surgery, too, and received very mixed reactions. One was encouraging. She said I should do what I had to do, but my best friend had the same reaction as my ex.
Labiaplasty isn’t just a sensitive subject for the person getting the surgery. There’s something about a woman’s genitals that ignites a reaction in people. What we do with our genitals, reproductive organs and sexuality affects others personally. I’m still trying to get my head around that. If it were my ears protruding instead of my labia, I wonder if anyone would be so critical of my choice? Would they suggest that I should have sought psychological help instead of surgical? I understand the issue of what this procedure says about society and women. I’m a feminist, and I get that the porn industry’s representation of womanhood has a lot to answer for.
But I believe feminism is about choice. I don’t feel like I, or anyone, should have to feel insecure just to appease other people’s opinions on what we should do with our bodies. My vagina was a part of my body I didn’t like and I couldn’t change it by any other means than labiaplasty surgery.
It’s such a personal thing; I wouldn’t advocate it for other women. I’m not exactly proud of it, but I don’t regret it.