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body image, vulva

Barbie’s vulva not medically optimal way to address yoga-pants-camel-toe conundrum

The New York Post is reporting that women in New York are getting labiaplasties to look and feel better in tight athletic wear. They quote a patient, Veronica R., as wanting to “look like Barbie.”

barbie

According to the Post on the Upper East Side in New York there are apparently “a large number” of women who want to look “sleeker in so-called athleisure wear, made from Lycra-like fabrics which often compress the area.” They are “keen to avoid” camel toe while “working out at top exercise venues such as SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp and the Fhitting Room.”

I think it is very important to note that camel toe (or labial cleavage) is not the result of an anatomic abnormality. If a woman pulls fabric really tightly between her legs her labia majora and minora will overhang as women, unlike Barbie, have a vagina and labia.

To prevent camel toe/labial cleavage with surgery requires flattening not just the labia minora (what we usually think of with labia reduction surgery) but the labia majora as well. I am not a plastic surgeon so the idea of operating on anatomically normal tissue without disease isn’t for me, but I do understand that cosmetic surgery helps many people feel more comfortable with their body. However, making the vulva a flat surface so skin-tight Lyrica fits better isn’t a modest reshaping of the labia minora it’s the equivalent of cutting the nose off so you don’t have a nasty bump in your scarf. Reducing the labia to prevent camel toe in these kinds of overly tight clothes would have to involve significant reductions of both the labia majora and minora – essentially creating an anatomically pre-pubertal vulva.

The labia majora and minora (the outer and inner lips) have lots of nerve endings, that’s why they feel good when touched in the right way. Could drastically reducing the size and altering shape affect pleasure or sexual function? The labia also provide physical protection for the more sensitive skin at the vaginal opening (the vestibule). When these are essentially removed we don’t know how that might impact susceptibility to vaginal infections. We know before puberty the vestibule (vaginal opening) is at greater risk of getting chronically irritated due in part to the lack of labial coverage. We just don’t know the long-term (or even the short-term) ramifications. This surgery isn’t a small trim of the labia minora, it can’t be with what the surgeon and patient have described to the New York Post.

WonderWoman1I’ve worn some pretty tight Spandex in my day and am anatomically average (as a GYN I am qualified to make that call) and have only experienced camel toe when clothes have been seriously ill-fitting or clearly too small. If I can make my Wonder Woman bottoms fit without the dreaded camel toe I just have to wonder exactly how tight these clothes are? And if they are that tight how does one exercise in them?

If you are worried about camel-toe as a gynecologist who specializes in vulvar conditions I would recommend following the advice of a stylist and not a surgeon.

Keep in mind that Barbie has no vulva (no mons or labia) or vagina, so considering a genitally neuter toy as an anatomic ideal is pretty scary. Meanwhile, I wonder what the plastic surgeons who specialize in flattening the labia to prevent camel toe in Lycra would say to a woman who wants to remove her nose?

Discussion

15 thoughts on “Barbie’s vulva not medically optimal way to address yoga-pants-camel-toe conundrum

  1. Ouch. What the heck is wrong with women?

    Posted by marlenedotterer | October 30, 2015, 9:00 am
  2. It’s the men who want to look like Ken who worry me most.

    Posted by petermbenglish | October 30, 2015, 9:47 am
  3. I don’t get this. If your clothes are too tight, your parts will not fit in them smoothly. This is true of jeans, bras, and yoga pants. It seems like an easy problem to fix without surgery.

    Posted by Melanie McNeil | October 30, 2015, 10:26 am
  4. Okay…..some women are truly stupid……..

    Posted by trutallytoe | October 30, 2015, 10:59 am
  5. It’s a horrifying concept.

    I’m curious, though, why camel toe is so awful. Boob cleavage is a sought after look. Butt cleavage via super tight jeans is A-OK. So why does labial cleavage make birds fall from the sky and make people claw their eyes out?

    Posted by Laurie Brown | October 30, 2015, 11:08 am
  6. #firstworldproblems

    Posted by araikwao | October 30, 2015, 2:53 pm
  7. Maybe the surgeons are seeing dollar signs.

    Posted by sweetsound | October 30, 2015, 6:03 pm
  8. Exactly Sweetsound. All these surgeons say is “Did the check clear?”

    Posted by cmrnga | October 30, 2015, 7:43 pm
  9. I’ve seen many labia’s like this as a WHNP.
    All after FGM. Is this where we are voluntarily?

    Posted by Cordtx | November 1, 2015, 9:35 pm
  10. I have a cameltoe in underwear and leggings whether they’re tight or not, unless the crotch of the pants hangs really low, like harem pants. My shape isn’t weird if I compare to those artworks of vulvas you van find online (the “wall of vaginas” etc), although I do have some anatomical abnormality due to a disorder. But I think the biggest factors are shaving and the placement and size of the clitoris.

    Without shaving, the mass of hair would prevent my shape showing through fabrics, unless they are pulled really tight like you said. And a larger clitoris that is placed at the start of the labia, will “block off” the crease behind it. I know this because this used to be my shape.

    But I’m starting to think that the cameltoe is a sexist concept. Men’s genitalia can be seen all the time, especially through sports wear and tighter jeans. It isn’t necessary though, because in some pants the shape is mostly obscured. So why can men (or people with penises) wear clothing that shows everything but women (or people with vulvas) can’t?

    (Before anyone is critical of shaving: it feels much much more comfortable to me to be shaved. This has nothing to do with the disorder because my armpits are the same. I didn’t start to shave until between 25-30 years of age, and it was such a discovery! I don’t think I’m the only one. Also, the shaving is practical for me because of ointments I use, which is of course for treatment. But I’m not the only patient that has to use ointments, so this is also something that more people have going on.)

    Posted by Souris Gris | November 1, 2015, 11:58 pm
  11. (Love the Wonder Woman dressup!)

    I have a cameltoe in all kinds of underwear, tights and leggings, loose or tight (unless they’re not form fitting at all, like harem pants). Judging by online images like the “Wall of vagina’s”, my vulva isn’t weird. It has changed anatomically because of a disorder, but this has not pushed it out of the pretty broad “normal” range.

    It seems to me that cameltoe is influenced mainly by the shape and placement of the (exterior part of the) clitoris and the presence/absence of hair to fill/obscure the cleft. if the clitoris is placed to the very front of the inner labia and is sufficiently big, it will obscure the cleft and block fabric (unless it’s tight enough to push the clitoris to the back/closer to the body). This has been my experience with both having my clitoris larger and to the front (had no cameltoe then) and smaller and more to the back (have cameltoe now).

    Same story with the hair. I started to shave somewhere between 25 and 30 years of age. It meant having my shape show more through (thin fabric) clothing. Before I shaved, my hair was coarse enough to provide extra volume that hid the shape.

    But of course the real question (like you say as well) is: why is it bad to see that genitalia are present? Men sometimes wear clothing that doesn’t hide anything, while they do have options to hide their shape. So why aren’t we shaming them when they’re wearing tight bicycle shorts or skinny jeans?

    (Before anyone wants to criticise shaving: I’m shaving because it is infinitely more comfortable for me. This has nothing to do with the disorder, because I feel the same about my armpits. I’m not talking about feeling more comfortable emotionally (if anything that would be less because more cameltoe is showing), but physically. I know it is more comfortable bacuse like I said, I have only been shaving since somewhere between the ages of 25 – 30. It is also convenient because of ointments I have to use, but I would shave regardless. Doubtless there are other women who feel the same and/or who shave because of a treatment.)

    Posted by Souris Gris | November 2, 2015, 1:54 am

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