Soft, vanilla scented, pink, silky, velvet. We’re not sure about you, but those words are doing a better job of making us want to pop down to the local bakery for a cheeky slice of Victoria sponge, more than they make us think about our vaginas. But alas, that is exactly what they are describing. Having snooped through the internet and found way too many ‘what does the perfect vagina look like?’ pages (oh-so-thankfully answered by men, of course), these are just a few of the adjectives that have been used to try and define the ultimate vagina. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where our bodies and personalities are not compared to one idealised version of the ‘right’ beauty? Unfortunately, this is only what day-dreams are made of. We are literally bombarded with barbie-doll like images guiding us down the narrow and unrepresentative path to ideal beauty, that we barely even notice it anymore. These ‘idealised’ images are something everyone has to deal with on a daily and growing basis. Idealised women are on the cover of every magazine, walking the red carpet and making their way onto our instagram feeds (yes, we know, we should unfollow that one account that is for pure vanity purposes, but we continue to tell ourselves it’s motivation to get healthy and active while we lie in bed refreshing our Insta feed for the 10th time in the last 5 minutes). We’ve only recently seen some feats in the media that have brought more ‘real’ images of women to the forefront i.e ASOS and their bid to no longer photoshop any of their leading ladies (definitely a score), but are we really being asked to wage a war in honor of our vaginas now too?
Let’s begin with the sex education models in schools that are totally simplistic that continue to use anatomical and photographic material that shows one type of vagina. A vagina that is symmetrical, with small and hidden labia minora – nice and modest, because god forbid we get too graphic in sex education, right? Combine this with the porn industry which Dr. Dines (a professor of sociology) claims demands that women “hypersexualise and pornify themselves”, and you can see why the aesthetics of the ‘perfect’ vagina is becoming a real and hot-topic. The porn industry perpetuates the ideal woman as one who is seen as sexually desired, and whose worth is validated according to the beauty and sexual standards that are set in the porn industry. This not only has huge effects for beauty standards generally, or the kinds of sexual performances expected in the bedroom (no, the jackhammer does not leave me swearing by a new religion with your name all over it), but has now trickled down so far as to create the golden ratio of vaginas. This contributes to growing insecurity amongst women and girls from a very young age, not just concerning pubic hair or the way it smells, but it’s now going so far as to impact how we view the size, shape, and colour of our vaginas.
Back in 2013, Cosmopolitan released stats detailing the fact that demands for labiaplasty in the U.K have multiplied by 5 in the previous decade, with the Independent announcing a 45% growth each year. For those who haven’t come across this term, labiaplasty is the cosmetic surgery that women undergo in order to reshape their vulvas. It’s basically the medical term for the nip-and-tuck of your lady bits, and often entails reducing the size of your labia minora, which are the folds of skin lining the vaginal opening, and the labia majora which are the outer protective lips (ouch). According to the NHS, in 2015 200 girls under the age of 18 opted for the surgery, with around ¾’s of them being under 15 years old. Unfortunately, this has recently become an all too real experience for young women, and it doesn’t just stop there. In an interview with the BBC, Naomi Crouch (a gynecologist for adolescents) spoke about girls as young as 9 years old who were coming in and asking for labiaplasty because they were ashamed or disgusted by the aesthetics of their own vulva. She too believes that social media, sex education, as well the porn industry have a leading role to play in the way that the most intimate parts of young girls are being compared to the unrealistic and undiverse images of women portrayed in society. It’s not just the media that is encouraging women to opt for the new designer vagina trend, but the comments made by our friends, loved ones and partners who have fallen into this trap. It’s not that this singular image of the vagina is fake but it’s that these images are not varied or representative of the millions of different kinds of vaginas out there. Literally no two are alike, and there is no one that is more optimal than the other. If your labia minora hangs lower than the lips? SO, normal. If your labia minora is totally exposed? Also, totally normal. If you’re concerned about the shape of your lips? Don’t be! There is no such thing as too anything when it comes to our vaginas. Cliche line, but they really do come in every shape and every size. Seriously, check out these wicked hand painted vulvas by Hilde Atalanta in The Vulva Gallery alongside loads of personal stories about self-exploration and vulva love. She completely nails the diversity here and boy, we do we want one of those posters. Of course we completely get that feeling of insecurity you can’t always shake, and we’re so in the game for taking healthy steps towards sexual confidence and feeling empowered by your body, but we see this as problematic when it is the direct result of a singular conceptualisation of female beauty. What we should really be concerned with is whether or not our vaginas are happy and healthy, and not whether we should start investing in labia dye (this product is unfortunately, not a drill). Instead, get to know your body and your vagina so that you can compare it to itself. The more you learn about the in’s and out’s of what makes it tick, the more you’ll be able to identify and recognise any signs when it doesn’t seem to be acting normally.
So let’s do a little self-exploration, build each other up, and celebrate the beautiful diversity of our bodies.
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels