In recent months, plastic surgeons have seen a huge influx of patients hoping to get plastic surgery because they want to look good on social media, have arms like Michelle Obama, or even make their exes jealous. Now there's another procedure increasing in popularity: labiaplasty.
Also known as labia reduction or vaginal rejuvenation, the procedure itself isn't new, but since 2011 increasing numbers of women in the U.K. and U.S. have elected to go under the knife in an attempt to boost their self-esteem and self-confidence (though some women do undergo the procedure to correct medical conditions such as intersex, vaginal atresia, or other similar conditions).
One procedure women keep requesting is the "Barbie," which can be performed two ways. One involves cutting a "wedge"-shaped piece of tissue from the central section of each inner lip and then stitching the two lips together for smaller inner labia. The second technique is trimming or amputating the entire labia minora. The end result is a smooth, unlined "clamshell"-type genital area in which the outer labia appear sealed together with no labia minora protuding.
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The "Barbie" is becoming so popular that in January Guernica's Kirsten O'Regan went undercover as a woman seeking labiaplasty to investigate the world of this surgery. She visited several plastic surgeons, including Red Alinson, M.D., the urogynecologist in L.A. who invented the "Barbie" in 2005.
“I had been doing more conservative labiaplasties before then,” he told O'Regan. “But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”
Some experts have expressed concern about the increasing demand for labiaplasty, suggesting that many women are pursuing "designer vaginas" in response to the increased exposure to Internet porn. Others worry that there's too little oversight when it comes to vaginal cosmetic surgery. In 2007, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) officially opined that vaginal rejuvenation needs further scientific study to determine efficacy and that none of the cosmetic vaginal surgeries are considered "accepted, routine procedures" by the ACOG.
Moreover, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology doesn't recognize cosmetic gynecology as a valid sub-specialty, so there's no certification or accreditation process for it, meaning that surgeons don't need to undergo any additional or special training in order to perform the surgery.
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In her piece, O'Regan talked to Gary Alter, M.D., a urologist and plastic surgeon who practices in both Beverly Hills and Manhattan, who told her that 20 percent of his labiaplasties are to rectify mistakes.
"I’m not mentioning names,” he told O'Regan. “Some of the famous gynecologists—I’ve done a lot of revisions on their surgery.” Dr. Alter also says that many women are given the "Barbie" without their consent.
Dr. Alinson echoed his sentiments.
“The Barbie’s a great procedure if that’s what the patient wants,” he told O'Regan. “The problem with this surgery, frankly, is that it looks easy, but there’s a lot of finesse involved. If you don’t know those nuances, you’re going to have dog-ears, or complete removal of the labia when that’s not what’s requested. That’s when the lawsuits occur.”
Would you or have you ever considered labiaplasty? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @Shape_Magazine!