What is labiaplasty?.. Perhaps you’ve heard of it by its more common name of the “designer vagina or the barbie doll.” Well, the procedure involves “the reduction of the size of the labia minora so they do not protrude beyond the mabia majoria.”
This is to give the illusion that there is a smooth curve, just like barbie’s genitals.
It may surprise you to know that this is fast becoming one of the worlds most sought-after treatments.
… and with the rise of accessible porn and social media platforms, promoting false narratives of womxns bodies, is it any wonder.
But what drives someone to undertake such an extremely invasive procedure, and what are the repercussion?
We spoke to Lauren Bell* a young student from the Midlands about the extreme measures she was ready to take for a designer vagina.
What made you have the surgery?
Growing up, I had an outgoing group of friends. We spoke openly about everything, including vaginas, the shape, look etc. Going through my teens, it became apparent to me that I was different. My friends would all laugh about “disgusting” looking vaginas, that had “protruding lips.” I became paranoid about my own vagina. Most of my friends at this point didn’t know the difference between the vagina and the vulva. But those playground taunts and jibes really knocked my self-confidence, says Lauren.
I met my first boyfriend at an impressible and vulnerable age. I was already insecure about the way my body looked, but this insecurity was further cemented when he told me how horrible “it” looked. I was convinced I wasn’t normal. I convinced myself I would be unworthy of meeting any potential partner because of the way “it” looked.
I remember being so paranoid, and disgusted with my body that when I would have a shower I would change under my towel before I had a chance to see everything underneath it. This became the norm for me. In my early teens, I started going out on nights out with friends, and when getting changed, I could see I was different. It made me feel more isolated.
One of my friends went on to become a nurse, and would often come home talking about other vaginas that she had seen and how they looked, commenting that she didn’t know how they managed to find partners “looking like that.”
I became obsessed with googling images of vaginas and labia’s. I came across a site, which had a labia library of “Nice v Horrible labia.” Looking through this I was able to identify mine was as horrible. I also watched porn and saw that all the porn stars had barbie shaped vaginas.
All these experiences confirmed, that vaginas are meant to be “tucked in” and I was the only one with problems. I also felt that this may have been my own fault because I started having sex at an early age. The lack of sex education in our school, made it easy or myths like this to become a reality for girls like me.
I decided to find out what I could to “sort it out.”
Shortly after I went to my GP to speak to him about everything I was feeling. He told me that my problems were purely psychological. I remember leaving the appointment, disappointed and full of rebellious rage.
I came across a private clinic that offered labiaplasty. I decided to book a consultation. I kept this to myself, none of my friends or family knew. The first appointment with this private clinic was like my experience with the GP, in that they asked me to undergo counselling. I felt dismissed.
So, I found another provider to help me, this time they were a high street cosmetic surgery specialist.
I booked in with them instead.
Looking back, I know this wasn’t a wise decision, but I was desperate to have some peace and confidence in my own body. I met with the consultants on the 4th November. I was hysterical and struggled to show them my vagina. When I eventually allowed them to perform their checks, I clearly recall them saying, “your inner labia are protruding, I can see why you would want the surgery.”
This further added to my insecurity and determination to have it sorted. If a medical expert was confirming this, then surely I wasn’t normal. I remember sitting on the train back from my appointment, devastated. The website for the my chosen organisation had before and after surgery pictures, it made me feel as though this procedure was routine and normal.
I was told to take 2 weeks as cooling time off before booking in for the surgery. But this time only reinforced my disgust at my body. I booked my appointment and was due for surgery on the 1st December. I was informed due to my age I needed a chaperone, so I had to come clean to one of my friends. I took her with me and disguised the surgery as a girls trip.
The clinic ask you to stay a day and night after the surgery for recover, and in case there were any complications that need to be dealt with. However, as I had hidden this trip from my parents and family, I had to return the same day as a surgery and act like I had a good time away with my friend.
I remember as soon as I walked through the door, my dog jumped up at me to greet me, and it tugged at one of the stitches. I became faint and ill suddenly and had to take time out to rest. A few weeks later this stitch came undone, and I began bleeding profusely at work, having to leave in the middle of the day and go back to the hospital. They managed to stop the bleeding, but the lump caused by this accidental knocking is still there, so despite paying £5,000, my vagina is still not perfect.
I felt scared, and isolated. I couldn’t open up to anyone properly about this, and constantly blamed myself throughout this time.
I was never informed about the risks and side effects of the surgery, I felt I was sold a dream about how a normal female body should look.
I constantly had Thrush and BV following my surgery, and I am on a 6-month suppressive treatment plan, to help combat the pain I am in. Due to the pain in my pelvic area, multiple counts of thrush and BV my GP continuously refereed me for HIV tests, all would come back as inconclusive. It was humiliating having to explain constantly that the issues I was having were down to the surgery. I was always brushed off by the GPs, and it took 7 months to be referred to a gynaecologist.
My life is now ruled by oral tables, thrush pessary’s and antibiotics. I have frequent time off work with sicknesses due to being on so much medication. I haven’t been able to be open and honest with my employers.
What I want YOU to know.
When undergoing procedure as invasive as this, you are at a higher risk of infection. I only learnt this once I had an infection myself. No one spoke to me about the risks.
You won’t be able to give birth naturally, without it distorting the original “work” that was done. I have had to now opt for caesarean should I ever want children in the future. I had no idea that this would happen.
They state that the recovery time is around 12 weeks however I am still on the path to recovery.
Influenced by porn and myths, I thought that having this procedure would enhance by sex life, however nothing changed. What did change, was my own attitude to my body, I have slowly begun to accept and love my body. This in turn has increased my confidence.
Please get psychological support before having this procedure. Be honest with yourself about your reasons for wanting the surgery. They may be able to support you with a coping mechanism or help you unlearn those toxic body “norms.”
Do not be influenced by the media. I was engrossed in celebrity designer vaginas, online reviews for models and porn. My social media feed was full of toxic and harmful body messages. This is not reality.
If you are still determined to have this procedure, then look at everyone’s reviews and forums online. Try and get in touch with someone who has had the procedure through these and ask them to give you an honest opinion of the procedure.
* Name and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.