This is an interesting small study of Greek adolescents (10-18yo) seeking labiaplasty, and their views about their perceived “abnormal” labia. Download the PDF article here (3 pages, 1.2MB)
“There is a wide variety in the appearance of normal female external genitalia. Nevertheless a specific prototype is promoted by the media, leading to a false sense that all other appearances are abnormal. As adolescents become sexually aware at an earlier age, most of them are worried about the appearance of their genitalia, especially when labia minora protrude beyond labia majora.”
Lina Michala, Sofia Koliantzaki & Aris Antsaklis (First Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Athens, Alexandra Hospital, Athens, Greece), Published in Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2011
THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF OBSTETRICIANS & GYNECOLOGISTS ADVISES AGAINST COSMETIC VAGINAL PROCEDURES DUE TO LACK OF SAFETY & EFFICACY DATA
Washington, DC — So-called “vaginal rejuvenation,” “designer vaginoplasty,” “revirgination,” and “G-spot amplification” procedures are not medically indicated, nor is there documentation of their safety and effectiveness, said The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) today in a new Committee Opinion published in the September issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Moreover, it is deceptive to give the impression that any of these procedures are accepted and routine surgical practices, according to ACOG.
A research paper published in February 2009 showed some interesting
insights into how women perceive their genitals. The paper, “Genital
appearance satisfaction in women: the development of a questionnaire and
exploration of correlates”, by Ros Bramwell and Claire Morland, was
published in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. This
research began with an approach from a gynaecologist concerned at the
increasing numbers of women referred to her seeking surgical reduction of
their labia minora. Further investigation highlighted the increasing
popularity of the procedure. However, a literature review revealed that
there is almost no research on how most women feel about the appearance of
their external genitalia or the causes and how this affects their
A paper by Rouzier et al. (2000) suggest that the reasons given for surgery
requests were: dissatisfaction with the appearance 87%, discomfort in
clothing 64%, discomfort when taking part in sports 26%, and painful sex
43%. Bramwell and Morland noted though that these reasons should be
interpreted with care, as women may have presented the reasons they thought
were most likely to be treated seriously by the surgeons (and receive
health insurance or Medicare/NHS benefits), a phenomenon also noted amongst
women accessing other cosmetic procedures (Davis, 1995).
Laws (1987) said that “many women nurture fearful fantasies about the
abnormality of their genitals” (p. 9), and Chavis et al. (1989) comment
that such fears may remain hidden, perhaps due to women not having the
opportunity to actually see the genitals of other women [hooray for the
Large Labia Project!!! - Emma], and that they have been socialised to think
their genitalia are “off limits” for discussion. Labia minora which
protrude from the labia majora, although actually very common, may be seen
as “abnormal” because within our culture women’s genitals are represented
as an “absence” and described as being “internal”, contrasted with the
“presence” of male genitals and that they are described as “external”
genital organs (Braun & Wilkinson, 2001). Consistent with this, pictures of
women naked or in tight clothes will usually either conceal the pubic area
or show a smooth curve between the thighs (Bramwell, 2002).
Bramwell and Morland’s research showed the following:
- 50% of women feel their genitals were always of normal appearance.
Therefore 50% did not.
- 28% felt their genitals were sometimes or always unattractive
- 79% of women never feel physical irritation when exercising or walking.
16% did sometimes. 3.5% often/always felt discomfort.
- 31% of women sometimes/often/always felt their labia were too large
- 3.5% often/always felt their genital area looked asymmetric or “lopsided”
Half of the women surveyed felt that their genital appearance was other
than normal at least some of the time. Poor self-esteem may be seen as both
cause and effect of poor body image, and women are trapped in a negative
cycle of always seeking and failing to attain an appearance which matches
an idealised ‘norm’ they believe will offer them power and control in their
However, if women’s insecurity about their genital appearance is because
they find their appearance “abnormal”, what has formed their view of the
“normal”? For many women, the only place they can see another woman’s
genitals may be in pornography, where images may be selected or digitally
altered to give an unrepresentative picture of the reality of the varied
nature of women’s genital appearance e.g. in softcore magazines like
Playboy, Picture etc. But it is not clear that these are an important
source of information for most women, though anecdotal evidence through the
Large Labia Project suggests many young women are using more porn and
believe in the myth of the “perfect porn pussy”. Is the “normal”, in fact,
the invisible? Female genitals are regarded as private and “hidden” within
our culture. And the idealised pictures of women presented in women’s
magazines provide an image of women with no visible labia minora showing
under swimwear or underwear (Bramwell, 2002), it seems that a “normal”
acceptable appearance for female genitals is to be hidden or totally
Barbie-Doll absent [is it any wonder a female genital cosmetic procedure
involving labiaplasty is called the Barbie?]. In this sense, the mythology
around female genital appearance is, unsurprisingly, linked to a more
general idea of female sexuality as passive, modest and receptive. Male
sexuality on the other hand is aggressive, outgoing, full of bravado, and
laced with pride in genital size and appearance. There’s also the 19th
century historical context, which shows how longer labia were historically
and falsely associated with African racial inferiority and black female
promiscuity – see my post about “Hottentot Apron”. The associated mythology
of large labia meaning a woman is loose or promiscuous, or somehow the
result of masturbation, still persists today.
If there is a pervasive social construction that “normal” female genitals
are hidden inside the body, then the women in this study who reported
dissatisfaction with their appearance may, at least to some extent, be seen
as simply responding to social pressure.
Existing psychological research and theory does not suggest that labial
reduction will have an important impact on self-esteem. On the contrary,
there is evidence that many patients undergo multiple plastic surgery
procedures without ever achieving satisfaction (Knorr et al., 1967). It
seems unlikely that labiaplasty for cosmetic purposes will produce
long-term improvements in self-esteem. It is also unlikely that General
Practitioners (who field requests for referrals) or gynaecologists will
feel that they have the skills or resources to respond to women
dissatisfied with their genital appearance. So they refer those women on to
the cosmetic surgeons for whom considering the psychological impact goes
against their business model. Why counsel when you can cut for a profit?
The number of scientific studies into normal female genital appearance, and the appropriateness of labiaplasty surgery are few and far between. It’s interesting to read these extracts from learned articles and peer reviewed studies. Emma
A widely acknowledged study “Female genital appearance: ‘normality’ unfolds”, conducted in 2005 by Ms S. M. Creighton, Department of Gynaecology, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, University College London Hospitals, in London (UK), sought to describe variations in genital dimensions of normal women. Extracts from the paper show:
“Some women with no underlying condition affecting their genital development also seek surgery to alter the appearance of their genitals, for example, labial or clitoral reduction. Reasons for such requests are far from understood. But implicit in a woman’s desire to alter genital appearance may be the belief that her genitals are not normal, that there is such a thing as normal female genital appearance, that the operating surgeon will know what this is, that he or she will be able to achieve this for her and that this would somehow improve her wellbeing or relationships with
Hi Emma, So, I was checking the internet again for women with large labias.. But again, I couldn’t found any photos or women until the internet brought me to your blog. Sometimes I do that, checking the internet so I could find women who feel like I do..
I am a girl who is very happy with her body.. well, not for a very long time, I think I finally started to accept my body this year.
I was very uncertain about my legs, I thought thay they were ugly, and big, and fat and purple-red.. But I got over it, infact I show them off now, because I fell in love with them. But when I finally started to feel satisfied about my body, I also started to feel bad about my labia..
I don’t know how it’s possible or why I started to feel like this, I think it’s because of that movie we saw in biology class. There were a lot of women in that movie, and they all had very pretty vagina’s. Tiny, perfect and pink.
Now when I look at myself, I see two slabs of meat hangin’ out of my vagina. And it really makes me feel so ugly. I already feel like this for months. I was thinking about a correction, because when you see the results of women who did that, it really pays off!
I am normally so against surgery, but this would be the only correction I would like myself. I want that too, I really do. Because I hate it so badly. But I’m only 17.. I can’t do surgery!
I wouldn’t mind if there were two little slabs, but these are big, and they look heavy too.. Sometimes they even hurt. Like when I’m on my bicycle.. It really makes me feel like I want to cry.
And I know what you and other people are going to say: “it’s unique, it’s beautiful like every labia.” But that doesn’t convince me, it still makes me feel so bad about myself.
And on top of that everything, I have a boyfriend for almost three months..And there will be a moment we both want to have sex.. I think that moment is already there, and first I enjoy it, but then I start thinking about my labia and I stop, I block, I can’t enjoy it anymore because I’m too scared..
I really hate this.. And I feel so helpless!
I’m sorry you feel that way. You are actually normal and attractive. All I’ve got is common sense, facts, science, comment from the medical community about how common large labia are, survey results and public opinion from many many men and women backing that up. I hope you’re able to see the reality of things. I’ll help if I can - and this site is a good start.