Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest beauty fad is vaginal steaming and labiaplasty surgery numbers are up 80 per cent. But vaginas are already clean and perfect just as they are, say experts
Yesterday a plastic surgeon commented in a national newspaper that the ‘normal’ length of labia minora – that’s the inner lips of the vagina – should be one centimetre and that some women dislike having ‘asymmetry’ in that part of their bodies. It was just one of the reasons, he explained, why the number of women having surgery to reduce the size of the inner lips of their vaginas had risen by 80 percent.
surgery to reduce the size of the inner lips of their vaginas had risen by 80 percent.
I woke up the next morning and took a long hard look at my downstairs while I was on the loo. They were indeed asymmetrical – I won’t say anymore – except that although I haven’t always been enamoured by the size of my breasts, thighs or bum, my vagina has always been something I have quite liked about my body. I’ve certainly enjoyed what it can do. Now, I was scrutinising it in the same way that I scrutinise parts of me that are on show to people other than my partner. Whatever the surgeon’s reasons for saying such a thing, he had planted a seed of insecurity in my mind about my vagina. I wondered how many other women who had read that piece in one of the highest selling papers on the planet woke up this morning and felt the same way.
It took me back to the first time I ever wrote about labiaplasty – about ten years ago (believe it or not, that’s how long predominantly male doctors have been telling us our vaginas aren’t quite right and they’re here to help). It was a doctor with a fancy office in Harley Street who sat behind his big mahogany fuck-off-I’m-a-doctor desk and with a straight face went through his portfolio of before and after vaginas – all of which looked fine to me. I asked him what he thought a vagina should look like. ‘A peach,’ he answered, a little terrifyingly.
As long as it’s functioning healthily, there is no normal way your vagina should look
But I don’t see many vaginas on a day-to-day basis. Other than my own and my mum’s, a couple of exploring-my-sexuality moments at university and a small penchant for the occasional tasteful porn flick, I haven’t seen many. So I spoke to Dr Jennifer Berman, a high profile US urologist and sexual medicine specialist who said: ‘Vaginas are like fingerprints – everyone’s is different and unique,’. I can’t quite remember anymore about her exact words after that that but the gist of it was hey, guess what? As long as it’s functioning healthily, there is no normal way your vagina should look. Indeed, some argue that everything looks so neat in pornograhy these days that women might watch that and feel inadequate. But even when I do watch the odd porn film (Erika Lust is very good – arty), even those vaginas all look quite different from one another to me.
This insidious invasion of our nether-regions by so-called experts extends to popular culture too. Gwyneth Platrow’s latest beauty fad is vaginal steaming. Paltrow, 42, admitted recently that she swears by the £132 Muworth V-steam treatments which she enjoys at a spa in Santa Monica, on her lifestyle blog, Goop.
‘You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne and a combination of infra-red and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus,’ Paltrow said. ‘It is an energetic release that balances female hormone levels.’
You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne and a combination of infra-red and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus,’ Paltrow said
What exactly are the logistics of that then? I asked Colin Webster of the British Association of Beauty Therapists and Cosmetologists (BABTAC): ‘Vaginal steaming is a treatment which stems from the Far East and has been used in many developing countries for years. It is essentially the application of steam to the external area, claiming benefits including cleansing and softening of the skin. The UK is only just catching on to this, though this is no new thing for our American cousins’.
But why would a vagina that has been bathed and washed daily need steam cleansing, softening or balancing? How much more can we sterilise and desensitise and desexualise our bodies in the name of beauty or so-called cleanliness. In fact, aside from being great at giving us orgasms, vaginas are also perfect self-cleaning machines, they don’t need steam or douches or even, if you don’t fancy it, soap.
‘The vagina is designed to keep itself clean with the help of natural secretions (discharge),’ the NHS explains. Douches and vaginal wipes are not necessary to maintain a healthy vagina.
aside from being great at giving us orgasms, vaginas are also perfect self-cleaning machines, they don’t need steam or douches
‘Vaginal discharge is not always a bad sign’,’ Dr Suzy Elneil, consultant in urogynaecology at University College Hospital, London told the BBC website. ‘There is a myth that copious clear or white discharge is associated with sexually transmitted infections.’ She said changes in the amount of discharge can be hormonal – linked to the menstrual cycle, for example. The bottom line is, even if you found soap irritating, which many women do, the inside of the vagina would clean itself with natural vaginal secretions, the NHS explains.
Look I’m no prude and do my own grooming down there to help me feel confident in the same way that I shave my legs, get my nails and hair done. But the idea of going under painful, expensive and dangerous surgery or putting steam inside my vagina to make it look or feel a certain way that is someone’s idea of clean or normal makes me bristle. And this isn’t just me being an angry old feminist. I mentioned it to a 22 year old intern this morning. She threw back her head, waved her hand in the air and shouted: ‘God, there are so many people out there trying to make money from women’s bodies. It pisses me off.’ Says it all really.
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