Is A Designer Vagina Worth The Risk?

Take a minute to read this before you schedule your next bikini wax. While it might not cause you to alter your grooming routine, perhaps you’ll pause and think before baring your goods on the esthetician’s table.

A 20-year-old Australian woman was presented to our emergency department (Austin Health; Melbourne, Australia) with high fever and swelling of the external genitalia…

Two weeks before presentation, the patient had undergone a “Brazilian” bikini wax at a beauty salon that involved removal of all hair from her mons pubis, vulva, and anus with hot wax. The patient experienced significant pain and some vulval bleeding during the procedure, which was performed by a trainee beauty therapist.

During the subsequent four days, worsening vulval swelling, redness, and pain were noted, as well as a copious vaginal discharge. On the day of presentation, the patient reported excruciating perivulval pain, severe dysuria [painful urination], fever, and a diffuse erythematous rash (Severe Complications of a “Brazilian” Bikini Wax).

You’ve probably gone for waxing a hundred times and never had an incident, which is great, but I’m not sure just how many of us are paying sufficient attention to how well and hygienic the procedure is being performed beyond whether they’re using a new stick in the wax with each dip. According to the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, “waxing . . . is the most common method for extensive depilation [hair removal], and complications include burns, mechanical folliculitis, infectious folliculitis, other infections of skin and soft tissues, and contact dermatitis and/or vulvitis.” Ouch.

I could sit and ponder why women would put themselves at risk for such painful and inconvenient infections but I know all too well what we endure in the name of attaining certain physical standards – eyebrow threading, stiletto heels, girdles and corsets, hair relaxers, extractions and more. This trend toward beautifying our vaginas, however, feels somewhat different and appears to be the result of a shift in cultural norms. Ladies, we are living in the era of the “designer vagina.”

More than ever before, we’re hyper-aware of what other women’s vaginas look like. In more modest times, women (or men, for that matter) didn’t have many opportunities to see their neighbor’s hoo-ha, vajayjay or whatever Oprah’s calling it these days. Now, however, we’ve got porn on demand wherever there’s an internet connection, nude pictorial magazines (pubic hair is almost nonexistent in Playboy after 2001), and – in an odd, chicken-or-the-egg kind of way – the more women remove their pubic hair, the more we’re exposed to the heretofore hidden land of labia below. Still, for all of the “down there” we’re getting to see these days, it’s a severely limited portrayal. In the collective imagination, then, we make little room for diversity in vaginal appearance.

Even more extreme than the pain and danger of infection that accompanies waxing is the trend towards vaginal cosmetic surgery. In an effort to achieve that tucked in, tight, “clean slit” look portrayed in most mainstream pornography, women are going under the knife. Due in part to the cultural shift mentioned above and the consumer market creating a new worry (‘does my vagina look normal?’), what was once considered totally natural is starting to feel woefully inadequate.

I know that I’m not going to stop shaving my legs or armpits anytime soon and I do like a “clean” bikini area when it comes to being beach ready or for sexytime. That doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with the motivation behind it or the cultural implications. I’m super concerned about the health hazards related to Brazilians, however, and the more extreme measures some women take to obtain that perfect vagina. Speaking of which, check out this 2008 UK documentary about the uptick in women seeking out the perfect vagina across the pond.

The perfect vagina from heather leach on Vimeo.

How do you feel about the look of your ladybits?

Last 5 posts by Nakia D. Hansen