The Vulva Gallery is a series of illustrations of all kinds of vulvas - celebrating the vulva in all it's diversity all over the world. The Vulva Gallery was initiated in 2016 by Hilde Atalanta, an Amsterdam based illustrator.
In the past decade there has been an enormous increase in labiaplasty surgeries. At the moment it’s the world’s fastest growing type of cosmetic surgery. In 2016, 45% more labiaplasty procedures were carried out than in 2015, according to data gathered by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS). Last summer the BBC published an article about young girls seeking for labiaplasty surgery online: “Leading adolescent gynaecologist Dr Naomi Crouch told the BBC girls as young as nine were seeking the cosmetic procedure because they were distressed by the appearance of their vulva. More than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS (National Health Service) in 2015-16 – more than 150 of whom were under 15, according to the broadcaster.” (source: independent.co.uk)
Labiaplasty is cosmetic surgery to partly or entirely alter the size of the labia minora, the inner folds of the vulva. The performed labiaplasties are often not medically indicated, and are merely done because of cosmetical purposes (Goodman, 2009). Many individuals who undergo this procedure are unhappy with the way their labia look, especially their labia minora (inner labia). They think their labia minora are too large, and therefore they perceive them as ugly and disturbing. Their ‘genital self-image’ is on average more negative than that of other women (Veale, Eshkevari, Ellison, Costa et al., 2013). Especially private clinics make a lot of money with these procedures (Pauls, 2007).
Hilde: "In my opinion, labiaplasty because of cosmetical reasons isn’t a good development. No vulva-owning individual should have to undergo this just because they want their vulva to look like the ones they see on the internet (for example in porn), or like what they think other people expect them to look. I find it very difficult to see how far many individuals go to reach the ‘perfect’ looks. Of course, plastic surgery is something that we’ve seen growing in the past decades. But to have a surgeon cut away such a delicate part of your body - a part that is so sensitive, that gives you sexual pleasure, a natural part of yourself - just to look ‘pretty’; it’s hard for me to grasp that this is happening so often. Not that I don’t understand why it happens; like so many teenagers growing up, I’ve also been insecure about my own body - but still, it makes me really sad to see that the pressure so many individuals feel from the outside world is so big that they feel they need to undergo surgery.
One way to change the way individuals experience their bodies is to educate them, and others, about natural variety. Showing them that there are so many different body types, in many shapes, sizes, and colours. And also including people of all kinds of genders in the gallery - because having a vulva doesn't define your gender.
I aim for The Vulva Gallery to contribute in changing the way people view vulvas, by showing them that all vulvas are perfect just the way they are. Because diversity is beautiful.
The reason for using the word 'vulva' instead of 'vagina', is that the vagina is only the internal part of the female genitals. The vulva consists of the external part of the genital organs: the mons pubis, the labia majora and labia minora, the clitoris and the clitoral hood, the bulb of vestibule, the vulval vestibule, urinary meatus, greater and lesser vestibular glands, the vaginal opening, the pudendal cleft, sebaceous glands, the urogenital triangle (anterior part of the perineum), and pubic hair. We shouldn't reduce the vulva just to it's birth canal, when there's so much more to it than that!"