#SWAAYthenarrative

An Investigation Into The Disturbing Rise of Labiaplasty in Young Girls

Health

A distressing trend is on the rise for girls as young as nine years old. Labiaplasty, a risky procedure that involves shortening or reshaping the labia alters the appearance for cosmetic reasons. I know what you're thinking, why in the hell would a nine-year-old need to cosmetically shape their labia?


The American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that labiaplasty is on the rise with over 12,000 procedures performed in 2016. The most disturbing part is that five percent of those procedures were patients who were under the age of 16. While that may not seem like a large percentage, that's over 500 young girls who believe that their body looks disgusting.

Moreover, labiaplasty isn't typically done out of medical necessity. Aesthetics are at the forefront of the popularity of the procedure.

In a BBC article, Paquita de Zulueta, a General Practitioner said that the numbers of patients coming in for labiaplasty have risen only in the past few years. She writes, “I'm seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13…" and they come to Zulueta thinking there is something wrong with their body—it's the wrong size, it doesn't look normal, it's the wrong shape. She says they are “really expressing almost disgust."

You may have heard of labiaplasty before—it's a non-uncommon procedure for altering the labia minora (inner labia) and the labia majora (outer labia), the folds of skin surrounding the human vulva.. It's marketed towards older women or women who have given birth. But trimming and tucking the labia for younger women is on the rise.

“The big thing I tell patients about labiaplasty is that there are a lot of unknowns. The labia have a lot of nerve endings in them," says Dr. Julie Strickland, the chairwoman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists committee on adolescent health care. That means that numbness, sexual sensation, pain, or scarring could be a side effect of the surgery.

When a patient has a previous injury, ongoing pain, or discomfort, labiaplasty can be considered as a pertinent medical procedure. Some patients will often insist that their labia is interfering with sports, daily activities, or sex.

How can we avoid this rise in numbers? How can we encourage young children that their body is still growing, changing and that there is no one singular vision of what a body looks like?

Renee Engeln, Ph.D. and award-winning professor at Northwestern University tells me that the answer isn't telling children and young adults that they are simply “beautiful" to improve their self-esteem. Instead, there should be an emphasis on “teaching girls that their bodies are tools." She continues, “Bodies are meant for doing things. They're meant to help you explore your world and communicate with others. Their primary purpose isn't to be evaluated by others. We should model for young girls what it looks like to care for your body and treat it with respect, and make it clear that your body deserves respect no matter what it looks like."

Where are young people getting information on what a so-called “normal" labia look like? First, sex education still actively abandons any mention of sexual pleasure for women. We discuss erections and penis-in-vagina sex, but never the specifics of what happens to a person with a cervix when they are turned on. Because of this, young children are often at a loss of understanding their own genitals. This body image issue can be carried well into adulthood without a complete understanding of how accurate body functions. Engeln says that because young adults aren't given any reference for pleasure, “it's no surprise that some young girls already view their genitals in an objectified way, that is, in terms of how they might look to other people."

I've heard certain people compare the surgery to creating the lips of a Barbie doll—completely invisible with no protrusion. Another influence on young people (no surprise) is pornography, which young people are viewing more than ever at a younger age. In mainstream pornography, actors are fitting a certain mold that is following a trend—it's not the reality of sex.

Moreover, genital aesthetics and comparisons are more prevalent now that so many young women wax or shave their pubic area. Their genitals are exposed; however, there is a recent surge in body hair being included in the mainstream, and in porn. The internet, and mainstream pornography, introduces a body that is airbrushed and false inaccuracy.

Shape, color, size, and asymmetry come in all varieties, for everybody. Just like the freckles on your back or the shape of your fingernails—we are all uniquely made up of our characteristics, labia included.

But people are fighting back. The Labia Library in Australia is a non-profit organization that focuses on teaching women what a healthy body looks like, no matter how diverse. Their photo gallery features a large selection of images of real labia so that women seeking genital cosmetic surgery are properly informed.

Engeln advises parents to look at what types of messages they are sending their children. If a guardian is vocally stating that they hate their body, or certain types of bodies, then their child will receive this message and internalize it negatively. “These kinds of comments also reinforce the truly destructive notion that feeling shame about your body is just a normal and expected part of being a woman," says Engeln.

It's imperative for guardians—of all kinds—(be that a teacher, guidance counselor, babysitter, coach, etc.) to teach all children about body positivity and to eradicate any notion of objectifying a woman's body.

“It's never too early to instill some activism in your daughters. I'm angry that we live in a culture that teaches young girls there's something wrong with how their labia looks. I want girls (and their parents) to join me in that anger. Let's raise girls who want to change this part of our culture instead of changing their bodies," says Engeln.

The labia is still growing during adolescence and the appearance will change over time. By the age of 18, the outer labia will have grown, making the inner labia not as prominent (which is typically what concerns most patients). According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, if a young person decides to go through with the surgery, there could be potential scarring which could lead to an asymmetrical labia.

It's clearly important to note, shout, scream, yelp, and repeat that “All vaginas are different" and diverse, and unique, and beautiful. No one labia is the same.

“It's essential that parents push back against the cultural narrative that teaches young girls their bodies are problems to be solved," says Engeln.

6 Min Read
Self

Why Women — Even Successful Women — Doubt What They Deserve

Self-care is not selfish.

What do you believe you deserve? That's a pretty loaded question, isn't it? In more than twenty years working as a women's life coach, I've asked it thousands of times, and I've received countless answers. The majority of responses I've received have been disheartening, and they've revealed a startling truth. Women - even very successful, accomplished women - doubt their deservingness.

Deservingness is not to be confused with entitlement. Entitlement is about believing you have a right to something. Deservingness is about how much you believe you're worth.

When you doubt your deservingness, what you're really uncertain about is whether or not you measure up. Are you good enough? (YES.) You've made some pretty big mistakes. Do those bad blunders make you a bad person? (NO.) Are you a good enough person to deserve good things? (YES. YOU ARE.)

Many women carry around a secret shame that impacts their feelings of self-worth and deservingness.

Our stories are individual, but our core experiences are very much the same.

At some point in your life, someone told you there was something wrong with you. This is inevitable, of course, because there's something wrong with all of us, but it gets to dangerous and disempowering territory through repetition.

If even one person in your life tells you over and over again that there's something wrong with you, well, you can start to believe them. Being rejected or criticized hurts, and it has a cumulative effect. Imagine every criticism you've ever received is a tiny little pin that landed right in your heart. (Seriously bad visual, right? Wouldn't your heart look like a pincushion if that was the case?) Beyond hurting like hell, a heart full of pins holds you back and makes you play small. YOU ARE NOT SMALL. I want you to stop acting like you are.

In life, you always create the results you believe you deserve. If you don't believe you deserve good things, you won't let yourself have them.

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You'll sabotage, procrastinate, and excuse the good right out of your life if you don't believe you deserve it. Happily, you can raise your sense of deservingness, and deepen your feelings of personal worth. I'm going to show you how today. It's time to start believing in you again.

Step 1 – Take good care of yourself.

On the face of it, you'd think this advice would be obvious and unimpeachable. Of course you have to take care of yourself. The problem with this truth is that there are whole communities of people who will try to convince you that prioritizing your needs makes you a selfish person. (And who wants to be seen as selfish?)

I've never encountered a woman who hadn't heard some version of this self-care-is-selfish-nonsense. The thing is, these messages are about control, and they come from people who are happy to keep you down and disempowered. (Which makes it easier for them to manipulate you.) Do not fall for this line of hooey.

Self-care is not selfish. Self-neglect is selfish.

Self-neglect tells you that you don't matter. It asks you to stuff your wants and repress your emotions. When you chronically neglect yourself, eventually, you turn into a repressed, angry, self-doubting zombie (or banshee depending on your anger level). Nothing about self-neglect is attractive. I want you to stop doing it. TODAY.

We need you in top form. There is purpose in your life. To make good on it, you need to connect with your SELF. The most fundamental way to begin that process is to take care of your physical body. When I'm working with a client, we practice four physical care basics. (I practice these guys too. Religiously.)

  • SLEEP: You need seven to eight hours of sleep. Every night. No exceptions.
  • HYDRATE: You need proper daily hydration. Water is energy.
  • NOURISH: You need to eat food that nourishes. Not just food that fills your stomach.
  • RELEASE YOUR STRESS: You need some way to unload your tension. Think working out, meditation, journaling, gardening, prayer, sitting in nature, cooking, or hot scented bathing. Let. It. Go. Girl. ☺

Notice I said, "you need." These are non-negotiable requirements. If you're tempted to argue against your ability to practice them, please pause. I've heard every excuse known to woman. And I don't buy a single one of them. We're in a no-excuses zone now. You don't get to argue against yourself and also be empowered. It doesn't work that way. You have to choose.

If you haven't taken care of yourself in a long time, this topic can feel totally overwhelming. I understand, and I want you to do it anyway. Remember, I'm your coach. A loving boot-in-the-butt will sometimes be required in our relationship. Consider this my velvet tipped toe, making contact with that booty of yours.

Take a deep breath and start tackling your care basics. You DO have time. You are NOT selfish, and there's no wrong way to do this except not to do it at all. Practice makes powerful. SO PRACTICE!

Okay, time to up the ante a little bit. This next step is harder.

Step 2 – Be someone you can count on.

You can't think your way into believing in your own worth, but you can act your way there. As it turns out, keeping the commitments you make to yourself increases your feelings of worth and deservingness, and strengthens your confidence too.

Think about it. You make countless commitments every day. The trouble bis that most of them are for other people. When you don't have a strong sense of your own worth, you agree to most incoming requests. Which means you're probably way overcommitted.

When your calendar is crowded, and something's got to give, you're the one who usually goes. Because it's easiest to break commitments to you, right?

WRONG!

Every time you break a commitment to yourself, what you're really doing is showing yourself, through your own inaction, that you don't matter. NO! Bailing on yourself is like giving your hopes and dreams a big middle finger. (Please stop doing it.)

It's time to start following through FOR YOU. Don't panic. I'm not suggesting you stop doing things for other people. As a woman, you're a natural-born nurturer. Of course, you're going to do it for other people. I just want you to add yourself to the list of people-you-do-for.

The best way to get a handle on showing up for yourself is to start paying attention to what's going on when you don't. What causes you to cross yourself off your own list? When you bring your triggers into your awareness, you'll notice a pattern, which will give you the power to make changes.

Take things one choice at a time. Whenever possible, choose to follow through for you. Every time you do, you remove one of those tiny little heart pins and strengthen your sense of worth and deservingness.

Now for the hardest part…

Step 3 – Stand up for yourself.

When you don't believe in your own deservingness, you become an earner. Meaning, you spend your time and energy earning love. This can show up in a lot of different ways. We'll talk about three of them here.

  • You could be a PLEASER. You say yes when you mean no. You do a ton of favors. You're secretly annoyed the entire time you're doing them, but you keep doing them anyway.
  • You might be a PERFORMER. You're the life of the party and an overachiever. You use material items and accolades like money, degrees, titles, and awards to prove your worth. (I used to be this girl.)
  • It's possible you're a DOORMAT. This pattern is most damaging because it means you're allowing other people to treat you poorly. On the extreme end of the spectrum, this could look like allowing people to demean, degrade, or disrespect you. Even on the lesser end of things, it means you allow people to get away with passive-aggressive comments, or take advantage of you. On any end of the spectrum, doormat behavior is toxic.

It gets worse. When you live as an earner, you attract users. (That's just as bad as it sounds.) There are unfortunately people in the world that will live at your expense without giving it a second thought. If you're willing to give it, they'll take it, and even talk themselves into believing they deserve what they're taking. These kind of people like to keep you small, scared, and doubting your deservingness. (Then you do whatever they want. Whenever they want you to.)

YOU MUST STAND UP FOR YOURSELF.

Start by catching yourself in the act of playing the earner. What and who triggers the earner response in you? What are you afraid of? What are you trying to prove? If you feel drained or bad about yourself after you're with a specific person or in a certain place, you need to think twice about being with that person or in that place.

I know this is easier said than done. It's possible the people who make you feel bad are co-workers or family members. It's not like you can just stop seeing them, right? If you find yourself in this position, there is only one path. You need to speak up for yourself. Stat.

For help, you can check out three of my other blogs. They'll show you how to stop living like a pleaser, set some boundaries, and say no like you mean it. Will you be uncomfortable? Yep. You will. Can you handle it? Yes. You can. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Speak up. Stand up. Stop accepting less than you deserve.

Every time you speak up for yourself, you remove another pin from your heart, raise your sense of deservingness and you deepen your own sense of worth. You also show other women what it looks like to know your worth and live like you know it. Which encourages them to do it too. (THAT is female power.)

You are good, and you deserve good things. You deserve acceptance, belonging, and love. There's no mistake in you, my sister. YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH. Just as you are.

My mission is your empowerment. That's why I'm here. If you haven't already joined my community, please do it by entering your email (www.kimberlyfulcher.com). Until we meet again, know that life is happening for you.

You've Got This!

Kim

Originally published at www.kimberlyfulcher.com

This article was originally published November 25, 2019.