There are lots of reason I give myself; I'm not sure they all stand up to scrutiny. Surgery involves a general anaesthetic, so it's life-threatening. Ok, but I'm not going, "botox seems like a great idea! Let's all go out and get some!" The main thing it comes back to is the reasoning behind it. Tattoos are personal; this kind of marking is about differentiating yourself. Getting cosmetic surgery is about conforming to a norm, making yourself look closer to 'societies' view of what beautiful should be. But there are sub-sections of society: I know enough people who got tattoos as teens only to later have them removed or covered up. Just as I know plenty of women have surgery to change something about themselves and remain happy with that decision. It's not so black and white.
Prompted by this huge rise, a short animated film explores the reasons 3 different women chose the surgery, and how it affected them. Linked videos show surgeons discussing the procedure and the women who ask for it.
All of the participants mention the problems caused by their long inner labia. Cosmetic, but also causing pain and problems with sex. It was obviously something that preyed on them heavily - one mentions recurrent nightmares, the others avoiding sex and feeling embarrassed and ugly. What was equally striking though, was that only one of the women seems happy with the results of the surgery. One says she still hates her genitalia, while another is waiting at least a year to decide - healing after the surgery takes a long time. While I don't want to make light of the anxiety and discomfort these women have experienced, there are cultures and people who deliberately stretch the labia minora in order to enhance sexual pleasure - it's not a given that long labia will be problematic. At what point do we start to blur the line between surgery to relieve physical problems, and purely cosmetic surgery?
One thing that really jumped out at me, watching the film, was the woman who talked about her quest to find genitalia that looked like hers - and she couldn't, no matter how many magazines she looked in - proof, in her eyes, that she was a freak. It's true we're surrounded by images of women, but it's not true that we know what women look like, really. The mistake we make is thinking that magazines and films are a representative sample of women's bodies in general, not an airbrushed, well lit, tucked in ideal.
There are some wonderful projects online to explore the variety of women's bodies. The livejournal community VaginaPagina created the Everyday Bodies Project, asking their many members to provide photographs of various body parts - bellies, thighs, genitals, bums... The results were collated in large albums, attracting comments from thousands of young women astonished and glad to see people who share their physical characteristics. VaginaPagina is members-only, but there are similar projects elsewhere. My Body Gallery allows you to search for women of certain heights and weights - and see how much variation there is in shape and size. XO Jane have put together the Real Girl Belly project, and the Great Wall of Vagina art project [nsfw; and they are vulvas, not vaginas, but I suppose that doesn't pun so well] gives a much more realistic portrayal of female genitalia than any magazine.
I went to see the Great Wall of Vagina last year, and a woman had brought her two young daughters. Lots of people were visibly shocked - but isn't it healthier to let our children see variety and understand how much bodies differ than to allow them to grow up thinking everyone looks like the women in Nuts? Some women do - there's just a whole world out there.