In heartbreaking news that only further confirms how hellish it is to be a preteen or teenaged girl, new data from the UK shows that young girls are increasingly seeking out labiaplasties — a vaginal surgery that alters the appearance of the vulva.
As reported by the BBC, the NHS numbers show that more than 200 girls under the age of 18 had labiaplasty between 2015-16, despite the fact that the NHS also says labiaplasty shouldn’t be carried out on women younger than 18. More than 150 of those girls were under age 15, and the youngest patient in their data was only nine years old, or hardly even a preteen.
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Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, ‘I just hate it, I just want it removed.’
While labiaplasty can be a necessary procedure for women who find their labia getting irritated by clothing or caught during sex, it’s frequently performed for purely cosmetic reasons if a woman simply wants to alter the appearance of her vulva. Noami Crouch, an adolescent gynecologist in the UK, told the BBC she’d yet to see a girl in her practice come in for a labiaplasty who truly needed it.
“Girls will sometimes come out with comments like, ‘I just hate it, I just want it removed,’ and for a girl to feel that way about any part of her body — especially a part that’s intimate — is very upsetting,” Crouch told the BBC.
The data from the UK mirrors a similar trend among younger women seeking out labiaplasty in the US, which the New York Times reported on in April 2016. As the Times reported, so many teen girls in the US were seeking cosmetic vaginal surgery that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued guidance to doctors urging them to suggest alternatives to patients seeking the surgery that might alleviate any discomfort they reported feeling, and screen patients for a psychiatric disorder that causes “obsession about perceived physical defects.”
Doctors can only guess as to the steady uptick among young girls in cosmetic labia surgery, but they link the increased interest in labiaplasty to things like shaving and waxing away pubic hair (exposing the vulva), and coming of age with an internet full of photos of vulvas and vaginas that may or may not look like their own.
Even without a diagnosed “psychiatric disorder,” it’s extremely common for young girls to feel distress about their changing bodies and compare them to other bodies. Chalk it up to the confusion of puberty, made even worse by the pressure put on young women — even as young as preteens — to be perfect, sexy, and, more than anything else, “normal.”
So while the increased interest in labiaplasty, often misleadingly branded as “vaginal rejuvenation,” may be new, the idea that young girls can hate something about themselves so much they want it removed or changed is not. This is just the latest visible (and deeply upsetting) symptom of how difficult it is to be a girl coming of age.
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