top of page

Designer Vaginas, ‘Vagacials’ and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Is there a common intent?

As far as trends go, genital-based ‘grooming’ and surgical ‘enhancements’ for women could be considered a boom industry that, for over a decade now, just keeps giving... or is that taking?

In 1996, a Californian surgeon (Dr Matlock) patented Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation (aka the Designer Vagina), aimed at ‘tightening’ the delicate vaginal tissues, ostensibly for female pleasure. A flurry of glamorous magazine articles ensued and by 2005, another surgical craze had emerged. This procedure became known as ‘The Barbie’, a specific type of vulval or labial surgery that gave that body’s owner a plasticised, pre-pubescent ‘clamshell’ appearance. What followed was aggressive marketing, superficially offering women ‘tweaks’ and aesthetic improvements of what were essentially, normal anatomical variations.

And yet, on a much deeper level, this movement gradually sought to psychologically separate a woman from her connection with, and appreciation of, a powerful organ – her vagina.

Despite the vociferous backlash to this ‘porn star chic’ trend [1-2], it would seem younger and younger women are now regarding their vaginas as all about form and function (the doing), a plaything for themselves and others. In truth, they are resisting accepting the vagina and cervix for the sacred organs they are, a gateway to the much deeper holding quality of stillness and connection for the woman herself (the being). Only one of these paths empowers the whole woman to express truly and freely, independent of social pressure.

Fast forward 10 years and there are now some very sobering medical statistics to ponder:

  • In 2011, the British Journal of Medicine found that 40% of surveyed women would now undergo a labiaplasty/vulvoplasty even after reassurance that their anatomy was normal. [3]

  • More than 2000 British women had labiaplasties on the NHS alone in 2010, with unknown numbers having the procedure privately. [4]

  • In Australia,labiaplasty under Medicare increased more than threefold over the last decade (444 in 2000 to 1,605 in 2013). Again, the true numbers are not known, as the rates in private practice would probably be higher.

  • In New South Wales a 64.5% increase in genital surgery over the same period had knock on effects for C section rates [5], perhaps because ‘designer vaginas’ are not well suited to opening up for vaginal delivery of a baby.

Now in 2017, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has declared labiaplasty is world’s fastest growing cosmetic procedure. [6]

Clearly these are squirm-inducing statistics and these side-effect heavy procedures often require redo’s – enough to put most women off. But now there are also insidious ‘gentler’ trends, with seductive ‘fun’ names. A trawl of the internet and Women’s TV ‘segments’ exposes the following offerings:

  • Vajazzles (circa 2010): the ‘fun’ trend of gluing (hard, sharp) Swarovski crystals onto your labia to highlight your ‘special’ sexiness. A surf of You-tube shows little mention of the pre-requisite for an extreme ‘Brazilian’ wax (or similar laser hair removal) on your most friable, delicate vaginal tissues, to achieve “the effect” nor the consequences (annoyance?) of painstakingly removing these stones.

  • “Vagacials" (Circa 2013): exfoliation, warm steam cleaning and moisturising of your naturally self-cleaning vagina. Sounds tempting. Again, no mention made of them altering vaginal pH or natural flora changes (as a side effect) that predispose women to infections such as thrush (candidiasis) or bacterial vaginosis.

  • Vaginal ‘Sparkle’ Dust (circa 2017): a glittery concoction of starch and sugar, worthy of Barbie herself, inserted and absorbed (yes, absorbed) by the vaginal fluids resulting in a sparkly sweet experience for anyone coming in direct contact with them. And rather peskily, an almost inevitably high risk of itchy thrush infection for the woman afterward.

Ok, so maybe these seem harmless and are laughable. But are you truly ready to dismiss them as mere frivolities?

What if the underlying INTENT behind so-called harmless ‘beautification’ trends, cosmetic genital surgery and the cultural practice of FGM is one and the same?


Is it coincidence that just as the WHO’s global efforts to abolish FGM have gained momentum in the East, there is rising mass acceptance in the West of well-marketed genital alteration trends?

Female genital surgery is not without far-reaching physical and psychological consequences. As an Imaging doctor specialising in women’s health, I understand well the delicate physiology and vulnerability of vaginal tissues following surgery. This awareness was highlighted for me very personally, when in 2008, I underwent emergency genital reconstruction for a traumatic forceps delivery, followed by 6 months of protracted healing. The delicate neural networks that supply the feeling of the labia, vaginal walls and clitoris are often forced to ‘re-wire’, leaving patches of numbness or altered feeling. So….

Why would a woman voluntarily undergo such procedures without dire medical need?

To answer this fully, let’s return to the UNICEF and the World Health Organisation’s take on Female Genital Mutilation: [7,8]

An estimated 200 Million women (15-49 years) have undergone FGM, predominantly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where strong cultural/ethnic expectations are held:

  • “Variants” of FGM include ‘nicking’ (type IV), clitoridectomy (Type 1), clitoral excision (Type II), and infibulation (severe genital excision (Type 3), frequently resulting in death.

  • FGM is performed to control women’s sexuality and pleasure, to fulfil social beliefs regarding hygiene, aesthetics or womanhood (to please men) or to satisfy quasi-religious ideas and as pre-requisite for marriage or inheritance (money-related).

  • Most girls and women suffer long term nerve pain, secondary infection, difficulty walking and passing urine and psychological distress.

What this highlights is that separation of women from true autonomy over their bodies, whether by insidious cultural pressure or by violence, is an entrenched and dominating FORCE in both the East AND the West. And it is much older than any of us want to admit. Is it any wonder that, in 2014, Theresa May (now British PM) sought legal counsel on whether NHS cosmetic genital surgery fell into the same category as FGM? [9]

What if, just like the ‘Eastern’ practice of FGM, vaginal surgery and its offshoots are no more than a well-marketed attempt to control a women’s sexuality with a touch of ‘glamour’ to numb the willing victim, disguise the intent and gain easy compliance?

Systematic commoditisation of the female body into ‘parts’ is not new but the methods are ever changing. Fake Breasts (so 1999), De-aged faces (botox, fillers, laser), Body contouring Buttock inserts etc. etc. are just some of the ongoing trends. Are women going to hand over their most intimate parts to this force as well?

There is a dark thread that links these practices and it is this. When a woman views herself in “parts” she is power-LESS. Only by fully accepting and living in the whole of her body, from within, including her most sacred ‘parts’, does she fully embrace her true power.

Whether you are a Somali girl beholden to a marriage custom for survival, a Californian actress looking to gain that lead role in a Weinstein movie, or a mum of two wanting to fit in with your social set, the force behind ‘genital beautification’ will try its best to facilitate your full disconnection from what naturally holds your body in stillness and sacredness.

Wouldn’t it be power-FULL if the hidden intent of this force became the focus of our attention rather than the individual practices themselves?

And would it not be healing if we were to embrace the beauty of ourselves, including our intimate parts, just as we are, with no need to change them to fit into some picture of what we should look like or how we should behave. Women have a grand responsibility to live sacredness, the stillness at the heart of all motion, and offer it to all aspects of life. The entrance to this passage is something to be deeply treasured and embraced for the beauty that it is….and it is for no-one, man or woman, to force their ideals or beliefs on another. Especially in this way, for whether it be for aesthetic, sensational or spiritual motivation, it is all female genital mutilation.

Written by Dr Fiona Williams, MA (Oxon) MB BChir (Cantab) MRCP FRCR (London)



  1. The porn body backlash: Surgically enhanced breasts and ultra thin body is women's least desired shape 28/1/2015

  2. The Perfect Vagina 2008: http://www.topdocumentaryfilms.comAccessed 28/1/2018

  3. Clinical characteristics of well women seeking labial reduction surgery: a prospective study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Crouch, N., Deans, R., Michala, L, Liao, L.M. and Creighton, S. (2011), 118: 1507–1510.

  4. Designer Vagina Surgery not to be Carried out on NHS; 28/01/2018

  5. Vulvoplasty study in South Wales, 2001–2013: a population-based record linkage studyAmanda J Ampt, Vijay Roach and Christine L Roberts Med J Aust 2016; 205 (8): 365-369. ||doi: 10.5694/mja16.00512

  6. International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: Demand for Cosmetic Surgery Procedures Around the World Continues to SkyRocket. Accessed 28/01/2018

  7. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) 28/1/2018

  8. Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting: Accessed 28/1/2018

  9. Designer vagina surgery could be as illegal as FGM, Theresa May warns Accessed 28/1/2018


bottom of page