The rise of the 'designer vagina'

CRITICAL GAZE: 13 per cent of women have received negative comments from romantic partners about the appearance of their genitals.
CRITICAL GAZE: 13 per cent of women have received negative comments from romantic partners about the appearance of their genitals.

Pre-pubescent and perfect, ''basically what you'd see on a Barbie doll''. This is how Jasmine described her ideal vagina in an interview with SBS.

Insecure about the way her genitals looked, at 19 Jasmine underwent an inner labiaplasty.

Now 31, Jasmine, who didn't want to reveal her last name, said she has deep regrets and still feels insecure about the way her vagina looks.

Labiaplasty is the most common form of cosmetic genital surgery. It involves reducing the size of the labia so they do not protrude.

Similarly, a new study has found one in five women are interested in having ''designer vagina'' surgery.

The study from the school of psychology at Flinders University, in South Australia, found women with greater exposure to pornographic images were more likely to consider cosmetic surgery on their genitals.

The researchers surveyed 351 women aged between 18 and 69 and found 17 per cent were interested in having labiaplasty.

They also found 13 per cent of women had received negative comments from romantic partners about the appearance of their genitals. And 19 per cent of women had discussed genital appearance with friends.

The study, the first of its kind, was conducted by Gemma Sharp. It suggests a worrying trend.

''We think that if women and their partners were made aware of the large variation in normal genital appearance, this might help to alleviate some of their concerns about their own genitals,'' Ms Sharp was reported to have said by SBS.

Similarly, clinical psychologist Julie Malone said the statistics are disturbing. ''The message really is that the more we're exposed to the media's portrayal of how we are supposed to look - [through] pornography or glossy magazines - the more we're going to start comparing ourselves to those images.''

Because the images that women are exposed to are unrealistic or altered, Dr Malone says, ''Of course we are going to start comparing ourselves to those images''.

''We are going to think 'I don't look like that, I better change myself,' '' she says.

Dr Malone also wonders whether the absence of pubic hair has anything to do with the rising trend in genital cosmetic surgery. ''If there was just a bit of natural public hair there, I think there would be less comparison and less focus on the structure of the labia and clitoris.''

But what does a ''normal'' vagina look like?

''The word 'normal' is weird because normal is different from everybody else,'' Dr Malone says. ''But you are normal and I am normal.''

2005 study on female genital appearance found women's vaginas vary widely in genital dimensions.

Helping to alleviate some concerns surrounding what a ''normal'' vagina looks like, British artist Jamie McCartney created The Great Wall of Vagina.

McCartney created a wall sculpture of 400 women's privates which are now on display for the public. The ages of the women range from 18 to 76 and include mothers, daughters, twins, women who are post- and pre-natal and women pre- and post-labiaplasty.

''For many women their genital appearance is a source of anxiety and I was in a unique position to do something about that,'' McCartney said.

While women might feel anxious about their genital appearance, Dr Malone says: ''We are all diverse, we are supposed to be different, we're not supposed to all look the same and we come in all shapes and sizes.''

While Barbie's vagina is prepubescent, Dr Malone says it is unrealistic. ''Barbie has a lot to explain for herself in terms of body image problems.''

Sydney Morning Herald