This subject matter is of interest to me as I speak to more and more people about the rise in discontent of particularly younger women with their vulvas. This trend has a number of relevant factors including the Brazilian wax, the rise of pornography depicting the ‘clamshell’ single fold vulva as ‘normal’, Australian magazine censorship laws and an obsession in our culture to acquire the perfect body.
Speaking to a midwife recently, she was commenting on the almost total absence of pubic hair now being the trend for young mothers. It seems that waxing, shaving or removal of all pubic hair is now the norm for Gen Y individuals, both men and women, and I must admit I had great difficulty finding a vagina sporting any such growth on a recent scan of porn sites. I understand this is what is presented to everyone as normal, when 20 years ago it just wasn’t the case. Comments from young people that pubic hair is somehow dirty or ‘gross’ seem to be common and removal a requirement if you want to fit in. What comes with a hairless pudenda is full disclosure. There it is, in all its labia glory, unprotected from rubbing against underwear and absolutely nowhere to hide. A good thatch of pubic hair covers and protects and I grew up never questioning my perfectly functioning genitals, but then again I had nothing to compare them to either. Perhaps ignorance was bliss.
But the numbers of women seeking to surgically trim their wayward lips is definitely on the rise according to public healthcare figures, with surgery in Australia doubling over the past ten years rising from 640 claims in 2000-01 to 1565 in 2010-11, though the real number of procedures is thought to be much more.
Here is the cry of a 22 year old woman, taken directly from a public discussion board online. She outlines what so many women of her age are expressing:
I desperately need labiaplasty. I’m 22 and it has got to the point I hate them so much I just won’t have sex. Potential relationships always break down because when we get to the point of having sex, I’m too embarrassed to show or even explain my situation. My life is becoming a living hell. I spend all my time trying to research surgeons and thinking about how ugly I am down below. I’m the most pathetic person when it comes to blood and needles, and my willingness to undergo this surgery shows just how much of an issue it is in my life. I genuinely think it might lead me to depression.
This so saddens me to read that a young woman finds her beautiful vulva ugly. That leads me to the next issue which is Australian pornography magazine censorship laws that prevent the publication of any images of vulvas that don’t comply with the single crease, clamshell style with no protruding lips. My observation of pornography sites shows a bigger variety of labia styles, but there is a definite preference for small inner lips. Where is the broad cross section that shows a multitude of women’s vulvas? Who suddenly decided that this model becomes the stereotype of ‘normal’ and that women must feel shame if they don’t comply?
This Australian Youtube clip entitled “The Vagina Diaries” is very well done and follows the story of Louise who chooses labiaplasty after years of hatred of her vulva. The presenter attends surgery with her and the viewer is able to see what actually happens with labia reduction surgery. The first time I watched, I cried for the young girl as the surgeon neatly sears off her lips, cauterising as he goes, laying them out side by side on a piece of gauze like slices of fillet steak. Mutilated is the word that comes to my mind, though I know many women will disagree with me. Cosmetic surgery is what the industry calls it, but my tears were for the emotionally distraught 19 year old who deemed her body disfigured for not conforming with something the media told her was normal.
It is certainly agreed that the average woman has little opportunity to see a range of different vulvas. We are limited to the air-brushed magazine images that meet censorship laws or the often designer snipped porn industry standard that rejects the myriad of vulva and labia shapes, colours and sizes.
Jessie Fiveash is a Gold Coast artist who has created a giant art piece assembled from the plaster casts of 100 woman’s vulvas. She says “For too long now, the porn industry has reigned supreme when it comes to how both women and men view the vagina (or more correctly, the vulva). These nipped, tucked and photoshopped images fill our magazines, websites and ultimately, our minds. But this is not reality. In reality, every vagina, every vulva, is unique. Just like a fingerprint, every woman’s yoni is uniquely her own – no two are the same, each beautiful. Yes, I said beautiful. I want to change the way women view their vaginas – and hopefully when they walk away from my piece, they see it as sacred and begin to treat it as such.” Jessi’s artwork will be launched at The Celebration of the Female Form Exhibition in Windsor, Brisbane (Aust), Saturday 28th June 2014.
I applaud lifting the lid on vulvas and if all women could see the true variety out there, I wonder if there would be such an issue about needing surgery to conform to one style that is probably not even representative of the majority. It doesn’t hurt to tell the truth about the human body, but if we keep it hidden like a dirty secret, what message are we giving to our daughters?
Viva la vulva, I say!
Kerri Ryan is a woman of goddess, an international workshop facilitator, speaker, writer and author teaching and sharing on sacred sexuality, the goddess and the divine feminine. She is a qualified kundalini and chakra dance facilitator teaching through the medium of dance how to awaken and utilise kundalini and shakti energy. She is an initiated Priestess of the Goddess with the Order of the Pomegranate Grove and offers a 13 month journey in priestess training entitled Path of the Priestess. She wrote her masters thesis on HIEROS GAMOS: Sacred Sexuality Ancient and Modern”.
As a speaker she has been interviewed for American and Canadian radio and magazines and presented workshops for numerous organisations including GAIA, School of Shamanic Midwifery, Bayside Red Tent and Women’s Wellbeing. In 2012 she presented on sacred sexuality at the Goddess Spirit Rising Conference in Malibu, California. She has published numerous articles in national magazines and is currently publishing her first book on the channelled memories of a past lifetime as a priestess, entitled “Mandipa, Priestess of Ishtar”.