Labia liberation! The movement to end vulva anxiety for good
Women have long been taught to be ashamed of their vulvas, with increasing numbers turning to cosmetic surgery in pursuit of genital ‘perfection’. But a new generation is fighting back
When Florence Schechter opened the Vagina Museum – the world’s first museum dedicated to gynaecological anatomy – in London in 2019, it was partly a response to a dramatic rise in labiaplasty surgery. Instances of such surgery more than doubled in the first decade of this century, then carried on climbing. Zoe Williams, the spokesperson for the museum (who shares my name), says part of the problem is that most women have not seen other vulvas. “Quite a lot of people have never even seen their own, so it’s hard to have a concept of what’s normal. Certainly, throughout art history, the pictures of nude women very seldom had any protruding labia; you just had a neat little cleft.”
Labiaplasty is surgery to alter the appearance of the vulva – generally by trying to reduce the size of the labia minora, the inner genital lips, so that they don’t hang below the labia majora, the outer ones. The reasons for such surgery are not solely cosmetic – they could be related to childbirth, or chafing during sport – yet the rise is staggering. The number of labiaplasty surgeries in 2016 was up 45% on 2015 – the biggest growth of any cosmetic surgery procedure, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.