We’ve come a long way, baby – or maybe we haven’t.
Today’s media and advertising is now showcasing teens, young people and more adults in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, skin tones and types. It is easier now – more than ever – to appreciate everyone’s unique beauty.
However, a growing and alarming trend in teenage girls is the request of plastic surgery to “fix” their genitals and vagina. Yes, you did read that correctly. Teenage girls, some as young as nine years old, are requesting labiaplasty or vaginal reconstructive surgery because they are self-conscious about how their genitals look. Medical professionals, along with Dr. Garritano and Christina, are alarmed.
Why are teenagers requesting labiaplasty?
It’s easy for insecure teens to compare their bodies to others just by doing a quick internet search. It’s much more difficult for them to discuss those insecurities with a trusted adult, leaving them without a knowledgeable reference about what is “normal” and coming to misguided, ill-informed conclusions.
There are a few theories as to why gynecologists across the country are seeing an increase of teenage girls requesting labiaplasty:
- Girls notice their vagina and labia are changing throughout puberty, which may make them feel uncomfortable. In fact, female genitalia begin changing at the onset of puberty and may continue to change throughout their lifetime due to natural maturation, pregnancy and hormone changes. Young women may think that the inner labia should remain completely invisible and the entire genital area should be smooth – some compare it to a Barbie doll, which actually doesn’t have genitals at all. Of course, this is unrealistic and unnatural.
- Pornography is much more accessible due to the internet. Young people are seeing a plethora of depictions of unrealistic genitalia; groomed, surgically modified and photo-edited. These images enforce an unnatural “ideal” that teenage girls may be trying to achieve. As teen boys view pornography, it’s theorized that unrealistic genitalia might be expected when they become intimate with their own girlfriends; they may be voicing their own confusion or criticism when it is different, prompting girls to request surgery.
What does vaginal reconstructive surgery involve?
There are instances, though rare, when vaginal reconstructive surgery may be required for medical reasons, such as severe urinary incontinence or vaginal birth deformities which make everyday activities such as riding a bike or wearing certain types of clothing uncomfortable.
There are different types of cosmetic vaginal reconstructive surgery, but the most common request is for labiaplasty, when the patient feels like the labia minor (the inner skin folds covering the vagina) and the labia majora (the outer skin folds covering the vagina) are either larger or smaller than desired. The plastic surgeon molds the skin folds to the desired size and can remove any unwanted darkening of the labia that occurs with maturation, hormonal changes and pregnancy.
This type of surgery requires general anesthesia, with at least a six-to-eight-week recovery time. Patients will experience vaginal swelling and discomfort and must also monitor their sutures for signs of an infection.
The issues with elective vaginal reconstructive surgery
First and foremost, any elective surgery involving general anesthesia comes with risks including fluctuation in blood pressure, heart attack, breathing disorders, muscle damage, blood clots, stroke, and in some cases, death. These are very serious risks to “fix” something that isn’t “wrong” in the first place.
Labiaplasty is especially harmful for teenagers or young women. As forementioned, female genitalia continuously change, especially in the years before, during and after puberty. A 13-year-old girl’s vagina will not look the same when she is 19. Elective vaginal cosmetic surgery, especially done prior to the completion of puberty, will affect how the tissue around the vagina grows and may cause serious damage. The genitalia’s appearance will also continue to change after surgery, sometimes prompting a second, medically necessary surgery in the future.
Talk to your child
As your daughter approaches puberty, begin talking about the changes she’ll experience. If this makes you uncomfortable, start by giving her books, such as the American Girl series, and letting her know you are there to answer her questions. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about answering her questions, make an appointment with Her Wellness. We will be delighted to talk with both of you, or in a private confidential appointment with your child.
Explain to your child that, just as no two people look exactly alike, no two genitalia look alike either. Just like a face, everyone has the same parts arranged about the same, but they will look very different.
If your daughter expresses concern over her genital area’s appearance, do not panic or judge. Listen to her, making sure she is comfortable being honest and open with you. Ask her questions to get to the root of her concern: When did she start to think this is a problem that needs correcting? How does she think her vagina should look?
Encourage your daughter to research the topic using reliable, medical sources (click here for a very helpful article) and hopefully, your daughter will realize that every part of her is beautiful and unique.
If not, make an appointment with Her Wellness. We’ll answer her questions thoroughly and compassionately, without judgement, shame or embarrassment.
Our girls and women should joyfully accept and celebrate every part of their body, no matter what the size, shape or color!