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Summary:Ever since women have been depicted in the media—whether in an oil painting by Botticelli or the latest Victoria’s Secret fashion show—there’s been debate about how those representations impact the way women view their own bodies. The debate becomes even more heated when nudity enters the equation, as in platforms like Playboy magazine. Have the centerfolds in Playboy increasingly drawn the viewer’s attention to an idealized appearance for a woman’s genitals (also known as the pudenda) to the point that they’ve prompted a jump in cosmetic gynecology procedures?

Perfect female body

Labiaplasty’s Rise to Fame

Labiaplasty, which most commonly refers to the reduction of the inner labia for a more discreet look, experienced a significant spike in popularity from 2012 to 2013, with an increase of 44 percent within the U.S. alone. This trend becomes even more apparent when compared to the preceding decade or so: labia minora reduction in the United Kingdom doubled between 1998 and 2004, and then doubled again in 2005.

Along with the increase in cosmetic gynecology has come an increase in discussion as to the motivations behind these procedures. Could the change in grooming trends toward little to no pubic hair play a role in these decisions? Are women in general more aware of potential hygiene concerns that lead them to seek a “tidier” look? One source that often ends up in the blame spotlight is the pornography industry, but do magazines like Playboy create public preference, or only reflect what the consumer really wants?

Determining Playboy’s Place

To answer this question, we performed a recently published study in Aesthetic Surgery Journal to analyze the centerfolds of Playboy magazine, scanning images from the very first issue printed in January 1954 to the most recent at the time of the study, December 2013 to determine if Playboy’s display of (presumably) surgically altered women could be behind the increase in genital rejuvenation surgeries:

  • The full exposure of the vaginal area, or V-line, went from rare (0 instances throughout the 1950s) to frequent (78.6 percent of photos from 2010 to 2013).
  • Any images featuring a fully nude model with a visible V-line in the 2010s also revealed a completely hair-free pubic area.
  • Since 2010, visibility of the labia minora has decreased 48.5 percent, while exposure of the labia majora has increased by 41.7 percent.

Although it’s safe to assume that some of these models have been digitally touched up, the numbers speak for themselves.

Is Playboy to Blame?

So, is Playboy to blame for the sudden focus on the appearance of the vaginal area? Such a question is overly simplistic, and doesn’t reflect the complexity of the situation. A magazine like Playboy will go under if it’s not delivering what the consumer wants, so the centerfolds must reflect consumer demand. At the same time, society typically adapts to conform to the images presented by the media, so the inclusion of more models with less prominent labia minora (whether surgically altered or digitally) could very well inspire more women to pursue that look for themselves. Reflective or directive? It’s probably a combination of both.

As the plastic surgeon who performs more genital rejuvenation procedures than any other practice in the Midwest, I can say that very few women visit my practice whose labia fall outside the normal measurements or appearance range we expect to see. Like many other cosmetic procedures, genital rejuvenation may be performed for aesthetic reasons or functional improvement, but most often fulfills a combination of both. What matters most is making the choice that helps you feel confident and sexy from head to toe—Playboy doesn’t have to enter into that decision at all.

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