So You Want To Get A Labiaplasty

December 14th 2015

A recent headline in The New York Post is still shocking readers as it continues to make the rounds online.

“Women are getting labiaplasty to look good in their yoga pants,” the publication declared in October.

A jaw-dropping revelation

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Surgery, there has been a steep rise in the number of labiaplasties performed in the U.S. — up 49 percent from 2013 to 2014. Plastic Surgery Portal, an online network of professional healthcare sites, describes a similar jump, suggesting that the “market for vaginal plastic surgery has skyrocketed.”

For a procedure that’s reached the level that some call an “alarming trend,” however, it seems ironic that first question that needs to be answered in most discussions is: What is labiaplasty?

Labiaplasty 101

The “designer vagina” has been coveted by some women since at least 2000, when Salon reported on the Designer Laser Vaginoplasty clinic in Los Angeles and Dr. David Matlock’s Sunset Boulevard office where women had their “vaginas [...] redesigned, labia modified, vulvae reconfigured.” Since then, the industry has grown to include multiple styles of the procedure. Chief among those procedures is the rim labiaplasty, the Barbie labiaplasty and the labial puff. (Some women also undergo vaginal surgery to correct functional impairments, but a 2011 study found that 87 percent of vaginal rejuvenation surgeries were conducted for purely aesthetic purposes.)

Rim Labiaplasty

This procedure involves trimming labia minora that the patient feels protrude too much so that they better match the overall aesthetic of the vulva. The inner vaginal lips are still visible after this surgery.

Barbie Labiaplastry

In this form of vaginal cosmetic surgery, the labia minora are shortened (or removed entirely) to the degree that they are almost invisible, creating a “clamshell-like” or Barbie doll appearance — no inner lips with the outer labia sealed together.

Labial Puff

Considered a non-surgical route to labiaplasty and vaginal rejuvenation, the labial puff involves injecting the labia majora to increase their size, giving perhaps a more youthful appearance. In some cases, this is also done to help hide inner vaginal lips that the patient finds too prominent.

Notably, all three procedures usually involve in some way limiting the visibility of the inner vaginal lips. Some credit the rise of this aesthetic to porn, while Dr. Norman Rowe, a Manhattan-based surgeon and American Board of Plastic Surgery member, attributes the increase in labiaplasty to athletic brand Lululemon: “I can’t tell you how many women come to me worried about how they look at the gym.”

So why should I care that people are puffing up and pruning their vaginas?

But before we get too hung up on if people should go under the knife (or the laser) to change the appearance of their vaginas — including whether or not this is equivalent to female genital mutilation as some have argued — let’s talk terminology. If labia minora, labia majora, vulva, or any other labels for the various parts of female anatomy involved in a labiaplasty threw you for a loop, you’re not alone. (They also confused the cosmetic surgery center above that explained the procedure by referencing the "labial menorah." No, this has nothing to do with Hanukkah.)

In Buzzfeed’s “Men Explaining Vaginas,” we get to watch a group of random guys answer questions like “Where is the cervix?” They’re woefully unprepared, lacking even a basic understanding of how female anatomy does anything.

Cisgender women are often equally lacking in knowledge. According to the Daily Dot, 50 percent of U.K. women between 26 and 35 couldn’t identify their vagina in a diagram in a 2014 study. "Orange Is the New Black" also poked fun at the issue in their second season when Sophia Burset (played by Laverne Cox) taught the other inmates about female anatomy, including that urine does not come out of the vagina.

OITNB tackles vagina myths.Orange Is The New Black -

The state of sex education has something to do with it.

Only 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education. Worse, only 19 states require that sex education, if provided, "must be medically, factually or technically accurate." John Oliver of "Last Week Tonight" captured the ridiculousness of the situation perfectly when he said:

"[This] is crazy. You wouldn't accept a history class not being historically accurate. Prince started the American Revolution in 1984 and his Purple Reign lasts until the present day. Class dismissed."

The majority of American youth are left to their own devices to learn about their bodies or are taught self-shaming via prevalent abstinence-only education. When female anatomy is omitted from school classrooms around the country, it seems only logical that women may have trouble determining if their vagina (technically, the vulva) even look like.

(For an educational look at the wide variety of labia, check out the Labia Library. Be forewarned, however, that this gallery is definitely NSFW.)

ALSO: Feminist Moments From 2015 That Deserved More Attention

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