By Jeri Kopet
“They’re sort of big,” said the voice at the end of the table.
“What?” I asked, genuinely surprised by the seriousness of the doctor’s tone.
I certainly didn’t intend for my OBGYN visit to take this turn. I was already a twitchy, nervous wreck about my lower half- a horny ball of late-teenage sexual neuroses.
“Yeah, these are big. They can always reduce them though,” the doctor said, poking at my inner labia with the speculum, right before she attempted to plunge uncomfortably into my virgin cervix.
At the end of the exam, I took my legs off the stirrups and pressed her with questions, crinkling the paper on the examination bed with urgency. She explained to me that they could do a labial reduction- something I had never even considered an option. I hadn’t even heard of a “labial reduction” until that very moment.
I left the appointment feeling puzzled and concerned by my perceived abnormality. I went home and, in a fit of concern, pulled my pants down and stared. And stared. And stared some more. Were my labia really that freakishly big? I had never paid them much attention, I guess. I poked at them, and they just- well, sat there, being labias. But a part of me internalized the message, at least enough for me to ask my mother if I could go through with a reduction.
As a mother, I think it must be terrifying enough to have a semi-attractive teenage daughter with a functioning vagina, let alone a semi-attractive teenage daughter who wanted to chop part of her functioning vagina off. My mom was a bit incredulous when I asked her about the surgery. I was only 19 or so, so I was still on my parent’s insurance. I think she was honestly just bewildered and confused- I doubt any OBGYN had ever offered her or her friends their opinion on labial size before.
After I asked her, I remember that everything moved very fast- in fact, I can barely recall most of the details. I do remember filling out an insurance form explaining why the surgery was necessary. I made some bullshit up about my labia “rubbing on my pants when I exercised.” In hindsight, with seven years of life under my belt, I wonder what the fuck that even meant- of course your labia rub on stuff. Underwear. Jeans. Sweats. Even people (although it would take me a while to figure that one out, stay tuned).
My mom drove me to the surgery- my dad asked zero questions. Thank God.
I woke up in a blaze of tears and vomit. It appears this was, and still is, my standard reaction to any and all anesthesia. When I went to the bathroom after coming out, there was a streak of blood running down the industrial sized pad they forced upon me. I was horrified and fascinated.
I healed quickly. In fact, so quickly that sometimes I don’t even think about the fact I had surgery. It was like my labia were simply there, and then one day they weren’t. There are very smalls scars on my inner labia, but nothing that’s really noticeable unless you are looking for them.
I suppose I never gave the surgery much thought until articles began surfacing a few years back that questioned the procedure and its sudden popularity.
At first I’d read the headlines filled with buzzwords like “Vaginal Cosmetic Surgery” and “Porn Pussy,” and I would think smug thoughts. “How self-obsessed does a woman have to be to get vaginal cosmetic surgery?” I would ask myself, scrolling down and realizing that they were talking about the very surgery I myself had.
At that point, I began thinking critically about my choice. Then, I started feeling confusion and anger. I felt angry towards myself for not having questioned the OBGYN, and angry towards her for having brought up my labia size in the first place.
I knew by that point, from discussions with my friends and my rabid consumption of feminist literature, that labias came in all different shapes, sizes, lengths, colors- there was a veritable labia rainbow! And I had displaced myself from it, and even done so willingly.
Perhaps it wasn’t self-obsession that led me to get the surgery; rather, it was lack of it. I was terrified of my vagina and its inner workings. I wanted as little to do with it as possible, and it led me, ultimately, to ignorance.
Although I do feel regret for having the reduction, I also am thankful for the perspective it has given me. When I began reading those articles, I felt the first inkling of a personal revolution.
I began paying more attention to my body and my relationship with it. I became a curious and engaged body warrior, in a sense- and it would definitely come in handy, because over the next few years, I’d be headed down the surgical road yet again.