Remember the movie "Dirty Dancing"? OK, so maybe I just dated myself, but even if you haven’t seen it, you might be familiar with its leading lady, Jennifer Grey, or "Baby." But whether you remember her face or not, you’ll never see it again. That’s because shortly after that performance, Grey emerged with a whole different face, one in which her once-prominent nose was replaced with a demure little button. Cute? Sure. The problem is, without "the nose," she suddenly looked liked someone else, someone her fans no longer recognized.
"I went into the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous," Grey told The Daily Mirror in 2012.
So why am I going on about the surgically altered appearance of a 1980s actress? Well, because noses aren’t the only thing many women are altering these days, all for the purpose of fitting a supposed ideal. You know what I’m talking about: Your vulva. Well, not yours specifically perhaps. I’m sure it’s perfectly lovely. But even if it is, you probably think it’s a little too uneven, or too fat, or the wrong color ... or something. There’s surgery for that. If you’re really dissatisfied with what you’re packing below the belt, maybe you’ll opt for it. Or maybe you’ll do what the rest of us do and go on hating what you assume is your ugly vulva.
But here’s the thing: It isn’t ugly. It just looks that way.
Different Isn't UglyIn order to assume that you’re ugly, there has to be a standard to compare yourself against, right? If you check out the websites for cosmetic surgeries like labiaplasty, the "down-there" ideal for women looks something like what Barbie’s got going on under that ruffled miniskirt: All tucked up neat and tidy. And completely smooth and whiskerless, of course, like one of those weird hairless cats. If that’s what you’ve got in your panties, more power to you, but there’s something to be said for diversity, especially since the vulva and vagina are such an amazingly diverse structure. (Read more about it in 10 Things You Don't Know About Vaginas.)
In fact, I’d be willing to bet that no two vulvas are alike. It's a little hard to prove it in the locker room, but there's an amazing art exhibit (The Great Wall of Vagina!) by U.K. artist Jamie McCartney. He’s created plaster casts of more than 400 real-life vaginas (well, actually they're vulvas) and displayed them all, side by side, in 10 panels. What you’ll notice right away is how astoundingly different each is from the one next to it; one is a simple cleft, another an orchid. In some, the labia hang down, or the inner labia open out like butterfly wings, or fold gracefully to one side.
"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.
Panel No.1 of 10 from the Great Wall of Vagina by Jamie McCartney
So many vulvas - and they’re all curious, captivating, unique and unexpectedly interesting. But ugly? Not a chance.
It's Just a Vulva, PeopleOf course, the reason that many women struggle to love their lady bits isn’t just about how they look. All those various flaps and folds are probably just something we fixate on because we really have some other, bigger problems with what’s going on down there.
Perhaps you’ve been told that that part of your body is "private," or even "dirty." At the very least, it's generally unmentionable in "polite conversation." Your vulva just like your hands or mouth or heart, is just a part of your body, one that, like any other, we all need to learn to accept, and even love. But boy does it get a bad rap.
Case in point: A Michigan mother recently made news for trying to get the unedited version of "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank banned from schools for being too "pornographic." Here’s one of the offending passages:
"Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn’t realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris … When you’re standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris."
It’s pretty easy to forgive Anne Frank’s father, Otto, for removing that and other personal sections from her diary when he published it after she perished in a concentration camp in 1945. It's a little harder to identify with the mother from Michigan, who said the passage "disturbed" her 12-year-old daughter. Apparently, the rest of the story wasn't disturbing at all.
The problem is, if we can’t even discuss this part of our bodies in an anatomical way, looking at them, liking them and (heaven forbid) playing with them, probably isn't going to go too well. (And playing is a big part of sexual health. Read more in 5 Reasons Why Masturbation Is the Greatest.)
It’s Totally NormalYour vulva looks great. Its shape is just fine. Its smell and taste is totally and utterly normal. And don’t go looking to Google for confirmation on this, ya’ll. It’s filled with waxed, airbrushed and surgically altered bits that (while perfectly lovely), just don’t represent what most ladies have tucked into their skirts and pants. If your labia hang low, that’s cool. If your inner labia hang below the outer ones, you’re beautiful (the same goes for if they don’t!). And no matter what color, shape, size or configuration your parts are arranged in, unless they're causing you pain rather than pleasure, you can rest assured that you’re perfectly normal. ("The Big Coloring Book of Vaginas" refers to vulvas as "a fingerprint." It's also a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.)
When you think about it, your vulva is kinda like a face for your undercarriage. Now, I know that a whole lot of people get plastic surgery on their faces. And maybe they emerge from the operating room as more beautiful versions of themselves. Maybe. But when you think about it, there are two ways to look at your so-called "flaws": You could see them as something that’ll turn some people off your looks ... or you could see them as something that will turn some other people on.
After all, there are a whole lot of things in the world that look just like a vulva - like seashells (see above), and flowers, and trees, and geology and everything on this site - and we call many of those things beautiful without a second thought. But a vulva is ugly? Maybe we just don't always recognize what we've got going for us.
Just as people might be attracted to you for your delicate lips or prominent chin or a good, strong Jennifer-Grey kinda nose, they might just be gaga for what you’ve got going on below the waist too. Not because you "fixed" it, but because the way it is totally suits you. So, if your vulva isn’t a tiny, tucked in, nondescript little slit, that’s totally fine. It isn’t ugly. It just looks that way. Take my word for it. Because sometimes it's hard to recognize something beautiful, even when it's as plain as the nose on your face. (Read more about labiaplasty and other surgery in Can Plastic Surgery Lead to Better Sex?)