Disclaimer: This post discusses genitalia and matters of a sexual nature. May not be appropriate for readers under 15.
As I write this first sentence I’m wondering what this post is going to become. I know how what I want to say feels, I know what I want to convey; and yet, I’m not sure how I’m going to actually pull it off. So, here goes. Coming?
As the title says, this post will be about vaginas. This isn’t a comedic piece and yes, I’m being completely serious (as the title also says). My boyfriend and I happened to stumble across the subject of vaginas tonight. More so, how completely unique they all are. How there’s a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors, amount of hair, etc. Me being the feminist I am, our conversation quickly turned towards how society pushes women to believe that unless they have a post labiaplasty vagina, they are ugly. Here is a link to a Wikipedia article on labiaplasty. It has a lot of information (some of which, I find very sad) that I will reference in this post.
As the Wikipedia page states, “Images of vulvae are absent from the popular media and advertising:19 and don’t appear in some anatomy textbooks, while community opposition to sex education limits the access that young women have to information about natural variation in labias. Many women have limited knowledge of vulval anatomy, and are unable to say what a “normal” vulva looks like.”
In short: women have no idea what the average, healthy vagina looks like. To make matters worse, the most common place to see a vagina is, you guessed it: pornography. Porn stars often get labiaplasty (among other genital surgeries) and many pornographic images are digitally manipulated to make the vagina appear more even-toned, with smaller labia minora and majora, and nonexistent clitorises.
So where does this leave us? With a culture of women who believe that their genitalia is “wrong”, “gross”, or “ugly”. Most of the vaginas we’ve seen have been manipulated in some way or another and yet, we don’t want ours to look different. We’ve created a culture of genitalia shaming. With words like “loose”, “roast beef”, “sloppy”, etc. We have young women who are completely aesthetically “normal” and hate themselves. We’re self conscious, under educated, and going under the knife at alarming rates. Why? Because we don’t know what “normal” looks like. More accurately put, that there is no normal. Yes, there are many malformations and genetic conditions but that’s not what I’m referring to in this particular post.
On top of the unrealistic expectations that pornography and surgery have placed upon us, we’re also battling with all the demeaning terms thrown at completely healthy vaginas. We’re not raised to love every part of ourselves. We fight sex education in a worthless attempt to maintain our children’s innocence. We discourage masturbation. We judge sexually active people. We sex shame, genital shame, slut shame, and judge ourselves into a corner. We are failing ourselves, as a society. And our women are suffering because of it.
I remember growing up seeing porn and thinking “Wait, mine doesn’t look like a lot of these. What’s wrong with me?” I remember being ashamed and feeling different. I remember being terrified of having sex. It didn’t matter that I was physically and emotionally comfortable with the guy, because personally, I thought my “parts” were ugly. THAT is what I was most worried about swimming amidst the sea of nerves that is losing your virginity.
What. The. Fuck?!
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s and in a strip club that I realized that there was nothing abnormal about me. If anything, I looked better than most of the women there. But that last sentence has one fatal flaw. “Better”. By whose standards did I make this judgement? The short answer: our society’s. The long answer: the porn industry’s, the plastic surgery industry’s, and sadly, what my own mind had pieced together over the years of seeing altered vaginas. I myself had an idea of what the “perfect vagina” looked like when the absolute truth is this: THERE ISN’T ONE. There are two kinds of vaginas: real vaginas and “designer vaginas”. The latter being a catch phrase for cosmetically altered genitalia. Neither is better than the other. They just are. And they should all be accepted, without criticism.
Maybe I’m rambling here but my point is this: it makes me incredibly sad to imagine a teenage girl feeling self conscious of her own genitals because of industries she has no part of. It makes me angry that we did this to ourselves. It breaks my heart to know that according to a 2008 study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine 37% of women getting labiaplasty did it for purely aesthetic reasons. They had no deformities or medical reason to get parts of their bodies cut off, besides the fact that they didn’t like the way that they looked. Now it’s none of my business what a woman decides to do with her own vagina. If that makes you happy, then by all means, do you boo boo. What makes me sad is that so many women are doing this without enough information. According to the American Society of Aesthetic Surgery there was a 48% increase in tissue removal and restructuring surgeries between 2013 and 2014. That is a lot of cut up cookies, people.
It’s not for me to tell anyone what to do with their own genitalia. That is a very personal choice and not one I pretend to have any say in. I can only hope that if we are more proactive about informing women that maybe, just maybe they will learn to love themselves, as is, just a little bit more. This was a process for me personally but I love myself and all my parts today. I will raise my daughters to do the same.
In the midst of all this, there is one man who I believe deserves recognition. While I’m sure there are many others, this man, Jamie McCartney, did something I find quite admirable. He casted and displayed 400 vaginas with the sole intent of informing women of vaginal variations. His project is called The Great Wall of Vagina. I will include a link below. PLEASE take a moment to look at the site. Read their “About”, look at all the vaginas (under “Images”), educate yourself. Because God knows no one else is going to.
Vaginas are awesome. Love yours.
by Ashley Hebner
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