Jamie McCartney, The Great Wall of Vagina,Plaster, 2011.
Residing in the beer garden after a long week at work, I was asked by my friend “what’s the biggest change you’ve found in yourself since being a doctor?” My immediate response “I feel more comfortable in myself”. I was quite taken aback by this natural response, as I never quite realised that life in healthcare would have such a substantial impact on my self-image.
When I was younger, like the rest of the general population, I read women’s fashion/gossip magazines (even though I must say Take a Break is still a bit of a guilty pleasure). I had a subscription to Vogue at the age of 18 and I would woefully lust over the pretty dresses and beautiful models. Its only as I got older, that I realised that in the years of my youth I always felt like an ugly duckling compared to these pinnacles of beauty.
I think the most profound thing I’ve found since working as a doctor is the sheer variation in body shapes, how our bodies age and generally how everyone is beautiful in their own little way. I am a great believer that beauty comes from within and some of the most beautiful people I’ve met, I have found ugly because of the way they treat others. This brings me onto my gripes with plastic surgery and my feelings of dismay that people feel they need surgery to ‘correct’ imperfections.
Working as a senior house officer in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, I’ve seen a lot of fannies. I can safely say, hand on heart, I have yet to cry, “bloomin’ ‘eck, what a beautiful snatch”. It just doesn’t happen. They’re not, in themselves, ‘beautiful’ things; designed as they are for the physical purpose of making and excreting babies. Simple as.
So the rise in ‘labiaplasty’ and other gynaecological ‘cosmetic’ procedures sends a shiver down my spine. It’s a fairly simple job, just trimming down the labia minora to stop your flaps being so flappy (correct use of proper medical lingo). However, why are women having this done? I have seen this procedure a few times, and I have yet to think that these women have abnormal-looking vaginas. Furthermore, the risk of a general anaesthetic, infection, bleeding, loss of sensation, and most importantly, a wonky looking fanny doesn’t seem to put women off having this procedure. Neither does the grim realisation that, post-op, you’ll be walking like John Wayne for at least a month. I vividly remember my consultant (who’s seen more vaginas than you’ve had hot dinners) trying to reassure one patient that she was normal, but she was so distressed by the appearance of her vagina and its psychological impact on her life, she was listed for the procedure.
I have similar feelings about breast augmentation. I do feel like a bit of a hypocrite, as a rather busty girl myself, but there is something about having two bags of silicone inserted into your chest that unsettles me. I understand completely that most people choose to have breast implants for themselves, their self-confidence and their own happiness, but why have we developed such a fixation on having enormous bust? We are all different shapes and sizes, the reason being that variety is the spice of life. I have a close male friend who finds big boobs intimidating, as he doesn’t quite know what to do “with more than a handful”. And are people informed that breast implants aren’t lifelong and do have associated long-term complications? I’m not quite sure. Following a job in breast surgery, I can say from my experience, only a minority of breast implants look ‘normal’. A petite size 6 was never designed to have DD’s. It looks unnatural. And furthermore, your back can’t take it!
Designer vaginas and breast implants are obviously symptomatic of a larger problem, but from a medical perspective, the complications can be frightening. And take it from someone who has seen hundreds of people in the buff-there is no ‘normal’ body type. In my experience, if someone is at the stage where they are willing to take a knife to their flaps of their tits, it is not their anatomy which needs attention. As a society, we need to support these women psychologically and try and undo some of the damage wrought by the media, and maybe even try and change the media itself. So please, stop worrying about your vag, and go and have a brew.