“A new study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) found that women's perceptions of what is considered normal and desirable in female genitalia may be influenced by exposure to modified images of the vulva seen in movies and magazines.“

Great Expectations

Hollywood A-listers are speaking out against the unrealistic beauty ideals created by digitally manipulated images of women. Recently, Keira Knightley posed topless for Interview magazine under the condition that the picture not be altered by Photoshop.

Posted: 3 December 14

“I think women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame. You need tremendous skill to be able get a woman’s shape and make it look like it does in life, which is always beautiful. But our society is so photographic now, it becomes more difficult to see all of those different varieties of shape.” –Keira Knightley

Most of the conversation involves dramatic facial surgery (think Renee Zellwegger), and in my-cup-runneth-over breast enhancement (think Victoria Beckham). One part of the female anatomy that’s been overlooked by the red carpet set, however, is a woman’s genitalia.

A new study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) found that women’s perceptions of what is considered normal and desirable in female genitalia may be influenced by exposure to modified images of the vulva seen in movies and magazines. The study was conducted at the University of Queensland School of Psychology and included 97 women aged 18 to 30.

“Our results showed that exposure to images of modified vulvas can significantly influence women’s perceptions of what is considered a normal and desirable vulval appearance.” – Claire Moran, Lead Researcher

This research is the first to document the extent to which exposure may impact women’s genital dissatisfaction and underscores that more needs to be done to promote awareness and education around genital diversity in human society.

Here’s What Happened

The study was conducted at the University of Queensland School of Psychology. Ninety-seven women, aged 18 to 30, were divided into three groups.

Screening One

  • One group saw images of surgically modified vulvas
  • One group saw images of non-modified vulvas
  • One group viewed no images

Screening Two

  • Each group viewed the same series of images of both surgically modified and non-modified vulvas. The women were asked to rate the images according to their perception of ‘normality’ and ‘society’s ideal’.

The Results

Women who initially viewed the modified vulvas identified the modified images in the second screening as more normal than the non-modified vulvas. The control group, who initially viewed no images, was 18% less likely to rate the modified vulvas as normal. 

Furthermore, when asked to rate the images according to society’s ideal of genitalia, perhaps most shocking is that women in all three groups rated the modified images as more like society’s ideal than the non-modified vulva images.

Why This Matters

“The conclusions of this study may explain the increase in requests for female genital surgery in the NHS,” observes Pierre Martin Hirsch, the BJOG’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief. “(It may be) why some women feel the need to seek labiaplasty and other unnecessary gynaecological procedures for aesthetic purposes.

ScienceDaily.com notes that there are currently no data on the clinical effectiveness of these procedures or the longer-term physiological and psychological effects on women.

Mental and physical healthcare professionals are concernedbecause genital enhancement is a major surgery with risks from anesthesia, as well as bleeding and wound infection.

Join the Conversation

  • VERA says:

    Everyone has different needs to feel good…in an ideal world, things would be very different…this subject wouldn’t even rate a mention…however, life is not as it should be, or could be, therefor, it is really up to the individual persons, personal acceptance level, and what makes them feel secure about themselves.
    It’s easy to say that they should look into why they feel this way, but if it were that easy, none of us would have any problems changing our thinking….whilst it would be better if we were all happy and accepting of all bits, that’s just not how it is…so all i can say is be fully informed, and don’t ever go into any unnecessary procedure unless you are also prepared for the worst…it may happen, but it may not. You always have to ask yourself the right questions, will this matter in 10 years time? And, is it worth the real risks that may be involved…is it worth the risk of possible major complications or even death..?