An Open Letter to Anyone Thinking of Getting Their Labia Sliced Off

Don't let the world make you feel so damn unpretty.

There are certain parts of the human body that make me feel a bit... weird. Mainly I’m referring to the really, really soft bit on a man above where an ovary would go. This patch, along with the silkiness of their hips, fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure. I suppose it’s sort of like how teenage boys feel when they’re finally allowed to be near breasts; it’s just too delicate for me to be permitted to touch. It makes me feel clumsy and mad with power, I love it, I’m scared, I don’t deserve this, etc. Some other body parts that confuse me: inner ears, the “gullet” and the hard bits on my big toe that don’t feel like they belong to me.

One body part that I don’t spend much time considering, is labia. No one really spends much time considering labia, there’s not that much to consider. There they are, they aren’t necessarily enthralling, nor are they odd. Sure, everyone has a different set, but everyone has a different set of everything, remember? I think everyone did remember that for the entire history of time, until a few years ago (well, it started in the 80s but it hit the mainstream pretty recently) when people decided to start shearing their labia off with very little explanation. Hey, ladies and doctors, what’s with all the snipping? You don’t see me cutting my earlobes off to make my cheeks look fuller (ugh, that’s actually a brilliant idea). What I'm saying is: I don’t get it. What does this achieve? From my quick scan of pros and cons, the positives include absolutely nothing, and the negatives clock in at vaginal numbness, a decrease in sexual pleasure and “stitch splitting”, which is when your labiaplasty pops open and spills blood and pus everywhere. Delicious.

You could argue that, with all cosmetic procedures, there are individual cases in which it can have a huge effect on somebody’s self-confidence. If there’s anything I learned from this (really good) documentary it’s that, duh, every case is different. But when surgery starts filtering through into the realm of, like, getting your ears pinned back, people start to assume that there is a sort of general standard – and that's a plastic surgeon's dream; a body part with no specific purpose, in a sensitive place, that nobody has anything to compare to. And don't they know it. The silent appearance of the labiaplasty as fairly common practice is frightening. As frightening, maybe, as you might suddenly think your labia are, if you have only a Barbie doll to compare them to.

Oh yes, “The Barbie”, a procedure widely reported on last week, which has been coined by an American surgeon who wants to give your vagina the smooth, “athletic” totally non-threatening appearance of a genital free mound of plastic. The problem being now that the more we shout about how stupid it is, the more attention it gets. Hence my description of body parts that I find frightening. The labia have now become a part of the female anatomy that we regard with insecurity: do we have “too much”? Is it “too visible”? Should we have our tender niblets – :( – sliced off because they don’t look inviting? It sounds painful and it makes me squeeze my legs together in fear, but then again I don’t want to be the girl squatting on her bedroom floor sobbing into a hand-mirror because I didn’t sort this issue out with my brain and it lodged itself in there permanently, like a really bitchy cancer going on and on about how weird my vagina looks.

It's not that "ridicule it until it goes away" press isn’t effective; I just think there needs to be, pardon the phrase, a neutral body. As much as I want to consistently balk in horror at the sound of labiaplasty until I finally puke, and then FedEx my puke to the surgeons, I can’t deny that I don’t kind of get it. I think we all get it, because it’s pretty inviting to be offered a “neat, athletic” anything, especially when that anything lives between your legs in secret, hidden from everyone except the few people who you love more than anything in the world and whose opinions of you you care desperately about. I know that’s not just me, you guys.

There is one way to combat these pangs of insecurity, and that is somebody telling you over and over again that your body is beautiful just the way that it is. I know we haven’t met, but today, I want to be that person. This is not an issue, you do not need surgery and the people who get to fumble in your hidden realms are people that should feel as thrilled and terrified about you, as you do of their delicate soft, special places.

Follow Bertie on Twitter: @bertiebrandes

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