Heather Leach – The Perfect Vagina (2008)
What began as a wander through the wacky world of genital plastic surgery became a passionate documentary about modern femininity.
In an age where boob jobs, liposuction, tummy tucks and botox are now commonplace it would seem that women have found a new part of the body to worry about… their vaginas.
Vaginal cosmetic surgery on the NHS has doubled in the UK over the past five years and in the private sector there has been a 300% increase in labiplastys, making it the fastest growing form of cosmetic surgery in the UK.
In this honest, witty and compassionate film Lisa Rogers tries to find out why more and more women are considering vaginal surgery for either aesthetic or cultural reasons.
Through meeting a variety of people including her friends, family, girls who are considering surgery, sex therapists and plastic surgeons, Lisa tries to understand why girls as young as sixteen are requesting this surgery on their labia and in doing so will not only reveal how British men and women feel about vaginas but she will also be forced to confront her own feelings about her own vulva.
However, after seeing one woman undergo vaginal plastic surgery under a local anaesthetic Lisa is determined to encourage women not to go under the knife, but to seek alternative methods. ‘I’m trying to understand why a growing number of women seem to hate their vaginas’ she says, ‘I want girls to love their bits, not cut them off!’’
Lisa Rogers: If you’d told me three months ago that I’d let a plastic surgeon examine my froufrou, that I’d show it to another woman (who wasn’t a doctor) and then allow an artist to take a cast of my Mary, I’d have laughed you out of the house. But it’s extraordinary how documentary-making changes your mind about even the most concrete of things (I’m not saying my fanny is concrete – that would just be weird).
When Channel 4 approached me to make this documentary, entitled The Perfect Vagina, to investigate why vaginal plastic surgery is the fastest-growing cosmetic procedure in this country, my reaction was sceptical. So the next time I was at my GP’s (about something entirely unrelated – my toddler’s rash, probably), I enquired whether she ever had female patients coming to her expressing concerns about how they looked “downstairs”. Bear in mind I live in rural Wales, not in some metropolis that might house exotic dancers and porn stars.
My GP, the lovely Dr Christmas, amazed me with her response. She told me she has 14, 15 and 16-year-old girls in her surgery, wracked with embarrassment and fear, worried that their genitalia is somehow disfigured or malformed. When she finally persuades them to undress and to let her have a look, they’re virtually always absolutely fine. And this is a phenomenon that’s only really taken hold in the last five years.
That was it. I was on a mission to assure young women that their bits were fine as they were, and not to start chopping them about because they didn’t look like porn models, or because of some ill-informed, insensitive comment by an ignorant boy (or girl). I was on a quest to get my gender to question their insecurities, and see if I could find alternatives to surgery.
The journey I embarked upon was extraordinary. I found myself having an imaginary conversation with my own vagina, in the company of a holistic sex therapist. I discussed whether my clitoral hood was too big with a plastic surgeon. I held the hand of a 22-year-old as she screamed in pain whilst having the stitches taken out of her labia, and I discovered a 19-year-old who had considered re-stitching her own hymen, so desperate was she to appear a virgin on her wedding night. What had started as a something funny had ended up somewhere far more serious.
I have come to the conclusion that we desperately need to talk about these issues, and that the secrecy that surrounds the vagina is the breeding ground for the insecurity that accompanies it. Even saying the word “vagina” was difficult at the start of the process, and now I’m looking for a universally recognised euphemism for it. As Dr Christmas says, every little boy calls his willy his willy. There isn’t a similarly recognisable term for the vulva, because actually the vagina is the passage inside, and the word means “somewhere to sheathe your sword”! Yes, even the word means our sexual organs only exist in relation to a man. How depressing is that?
I don’t want to come out of this as some militant man-hater, in fact I really don’t think men are the problem. It’s consumer society’s use of the perfect image to sell us everything. “If your boobs are perky and big you’ll be happy, if your hair is long and blonde you’ll be cool, if your vulva is small and pink you’ll be attractive.” It’s the ultimate sales pitch – complete bullshit, but as a society, we’ve fallen for it. Stupid us.
The last word has to go to my father, the wise oracle on all things (and a Welsh dairy farmer). “The thing is, Lis,” he said, “if you’ve got a house you want to do up for a prospective buyer, you don’t start by decorating the cellar.”