Rush for 'Barbie' vagina has experts stunned


A rush of women going under the knife for designer genitals has taken even plastic surgeons by surprise and divided medical professionals on the ethics and benefits of "labiaplasty".

'Vaginal rejuvenation'

In 2015, more than 95,000 women worldwide underwent the procedure, according to data from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).

Most often, labiaplasty involves trimming back the inner "lips" or labia minora flanking the vaginal opening, in a procedure that is also known as nymphoplasty.

It was the 19th-most popular surgical procedure in 2015, followed by "vaginal rejuvenation" – usually tightening of the vaginal canal – in 22nd place with just over 50,000 procedures.

"I trained in the '80s, and if you had told me that you could imagine that this is happening now, I would think you were crazy," Renato Saltz, a plastic surgeon from Utah and ISAPS president told AFP.

In the United States alone, 2015 saw nearly 9,000 labiaplasties – a 16 percent increase from the previous year, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).

Older data is not available – growth in the sector has been explosive in the past few years.

Read: 5 most surprising cosmetic surgery trends across the globe

"Women have become much more concerned about the appearance of their genitalia," ASAPS board member and New York plastic surgeon Nolan Karp told AFP.

Why? The internet!

"How many nude women, before the internet, would a woman see in her lifetime?" he asked. "Not many, you know, very carefully looking at... genitals."

"People today," he added, "understand what is pretty, what is normal, what looks good, what doesn't look good."

Much of what men and women see, however, does not in any way resemble the variety of shapes and sizes in which the female genitalia exist.

The 'Barbie look'

"It's very concerning," said Dorothy Shaw, former head of the Society of Obsteticians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), referring to the "standard" being pursued.

Designer vulva resemble those of a young girl.

"They have no hair and they're very flat, so you just see sort of a slit," Shaw explained.

In reality, "it's not as though the majority would look like a young girl. They don't."

A study published in 2005, found "far greater diversity" in genital shape and size than had ever been documented in scientific literature.

In the 50 women studied, labia minora length varied from two to 10 centimetres, and width from 0.7 to five centimetres.

Read: Cosmetic surgery tourists may get wrong breast shape

Given the variety, the authors said, it was "surprising that surgeons feel confident that surgery has the potential to achieve a 'normal' female genital appearance".

Yet, the fad has taken root like many others before it.

While women can suffer real discomfort from protruding inner labia chafing, many use it as an excuse, the experts said.

"We know that in about 40 percent of cases when women ask for a nymphoplasty to relieve pain... they lie," gynaecologist and plastic surgeon Nicolas Berreni told AFP.

"What they really want is the 'Barbie' look. On Barbie, you don't see the inner labia," he said on the sidelines of the IMCAS aesthetic congress in Paris.

Chronic pain

It's not just a question of personal taste – there are health risks too.

"I have colleagues who see women who have chronic vulvar pain" after labiaplasty and other cosmetic procedures, said Shaw, a retired gynaecologist.

"Any time you cut off a piece of tissue, there's a chance of bleeding, of infection and then subsequently of scarring," she explained.

"When you get scarring... you have a risk of catching nerve endings in that scar tissue which will then cause pain or discomfort going forward."

Shaw expressed particular concern about teenagers having labiaplasty before their physical development is complete.

"The inner lips in normal development become much more prominent (in adolescence), and as the outer lips grow, that changes," she explained.

Read: Brazilian model dies after cosmetic procedure

"We need a way to help particularly young women understand that their bodies are still developing, they may not look like that in a few years, and that they may be harming themselves in a way that could be permanent."

Shaw helped develop guidelines for female genital cosmetic surgery for the SOGC.

The document stresses there is little evidence of surgery improving either sexual satisfaction or self image.

And it warns such procedures must "not contravene laws regarding female genital mutilation".

FGM involves the removal of the clitoris and labia, sometimes of very young girls against their will, in a misguided effort to reduce libido and keep women "chaste".

It is often performed in the name of religion, and is controversial in countries trying to save girls and women from genital mutilation – some of the same countries where labiaplasty is becoming a fashion statement.

Read More:

Is Renee Zellweger lying about plastic surgery?

Butt surgery on the increase in America

Plastic surgery won't improve your looks

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 809 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 9259 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1086 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.