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a green, leafy bush with lots of pink flowers

The Independent today reports that there has been a five-fold increase in NHS genital cosmetic surgery over the past decade, with more than 2000 women undergoing a procedure in the last year. In an admittedly very small study of 33 women seeking an operation, all were found to have normal sized labia, but 40% still wanted surgery to “improve” appearance. The group included teenage girls, one as young as 11.

Researchers have linked the increase to internet pornography and advertising, as well as TV programmes on cosmetic surgery (as illustrated by Bellavita’s article on Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, from 2009). I think this is a pretty fair conclusion, given that prior to the Internet and these kinds of programmes, unless you were a particularly lucky-in-love lesbian/bi/pansexual woman, you probably wouldn’t have seen that many other vulvas and may not have really thought much about what they “should” look like. Now there’s 1000s of images available at the click of a mouse – many of which conform to a particular hairless, small-labiaed ideal – and that can lead to all sorts of paranoia. I’d absolutely hate to be a teenage girl right now, knowing that whoever was first going to see me naked would probably have seen goddess knows how many other naked women already, and I’d sure as hell be worrying about what I looked like down below.

We all know that female insecurity is a money-maker’s wet dream, so it’s no wonder cosmetic surgeons have been quick to cash in (though why this is happening on the NHS is beyond me). As if our skin, body hair, wrinkles, boobs, faces, legs, bums and tums weren’t enough to worry about, we should now start attending to the length of our labia too. I find it so incredibly sad. The more we hate our bodies, the more we spend to try and “fix” them, and the less time, energy and confidence we have to enjoy our lives and change the world around us for the better.

So, for anyone worrying about their friend downstairs, here’s a website celebrating vulva diversity (NOT safe for work, obviously). Remember, “normal” is nothing more than what’s normal to each of us as individual women, and there’s certainly no such thing as “perfect”.

Do something radical: stop hating your body.

Photo of a flowering bush by 60North, shared under a Creative Commons licence.