7. 5. 2021

English Version | La vulva en rose

by Pureza Fleming


Now that we have started to really look at the vulva, we become weary of what we see. If before it was because it had a lot of hair, now it is because it is very dark. And from full waxing to brightening the vulva, it was a quick shot - or rather, a laser. An elusive, and very unnatural, laser.


We are experiencing paradoxical times. We have never been so free and yet never, in any time in the history of mankind, have we felt so trapped. In practice, we all live more or less hostages to social networks - we are literally clinging to them and somewhat dependent on the shredder that is the online universe. In theory, we are all more or less dominated by everything that this dictates to us. Make no mistake, dear reader: in one way or another, we live a little bit subdued to the not-so-admirable new world that is the cosmos we inhabit today. The examples that illustrate this reality are many, and the theme that we now present is just one more. Just one more maneuver of the belief system that capitalism applauds, at the expense of our pockets, our mental health or our peaceful and placid coexistence with ourselves - and with our bodies. In April 2018, Huda Beauty, a company founded by instagrammer and make-up artist Huda Kattan, faced a fervent reaction - not necessarily a positive one – because of a post in which it taught women to brighten their "private parts."

The post, published on April 7 of that year, presented tips from Doris Day, a dermatologist and “trusted specialist”, on how to make the vulva lighter and pinker. Despite the negative reactions, the fact is that the issue of the brightening of the vulva remained gradual and in an upward direction, enclosing in itself the inevitable belief: we are free to do what we want with our bodies. But who do we do it at the mercy of? Sexologist Vânia Beliz starts by framing: “We have always seen women concerned with the issue of aging, running for cosmetic surgery, whether to put an end to wrinkles, or to change other parts of the body. But in relation to the genitalia, this movement had never occurred. This arises, above all, with the availability and liberalization of pornography, together with easier access to it. And women start to see that, after all, there are different genitals, which they want to get closer to. Everything is very connected to what we are consuming from the point of view of the image and of a communication that is very stereotyped of what is (or should be) the female body. Most of the bodies of pornographic magazines are retouched - both the breasts and the profile ... And the vulva area, ditto. Because most porn actresses, if have a closer look, are also very stereotyped - they are blond, very white... And this creates pressure to the point that women - and we have many women who have never seen their vulva - from one moment to the next, start to (in the same way that they want to have the pants and bags of others) also wanting the bodies of the others - vulva included.” The era of aesthetics. The era when everything is possible if the purpose is to make each visit to the mirror a pleasant experience. And turn every Instagram selfie in an infallible like hunter. The era when self-esteem is in the outward appearance. In which the interior went from bestial to beast. In which the interior is worthless. Zero. As long as the image is up to the requirements of a society empty of content, but full - full of methods and techniques, tricks and tips, all at the service of the image. Amélia Almeida is a gynecologist at Clínica Endul, a space located in Porto that, among other services, performs the so-called intimate peeling: “The vulva brightening trend occurred due to a combination of several factors, namely the emergence in contemporary society of the need to have a perfect body integrating the antiaging concept. To this we can add the pressure of the media and social networks, and the observation by women that the perineal region presents, in most cases, a darker shade. Brightening the vulva is just an extension of what has already been seen in other areas of the body, such as facial peeling. The increasing adherence to full genital hair removal and the growing knowledge of the intimate area on the part of the woman, led to the inevitable comparison between peers and the images that come to us through the media have increased the demand for this type of treatment.” The reasons for wanting to lighten the vulva will then be varied - or not at all varied: you do it because you do it that’s it. Because it looks good in photography. Because, ultimately, “it’s my vulva and I pink it if I want to.”

Amélia Almedia confirms this non-theory - non-theory because it is almost always a matter of desire: “Most cases are related to self-esteem and the concept of beauty that a woman has for herself. Contrary to what one might think, pressure from partners almost never occurs. Most women just want to present a uniform skin tone. She does not like to see the perineal region with a phototype that is darker than the rest of the body. It is an aesthetic issue, as it happens in any other part of the body. And like any other aesthetic procedure, its successful completion raises the woman's self-esteem and gives her a sense of well-being with herself.” The type of public that seeks this type of procedure, clarifies the gynecologist, is vast: “Many women have always wanted to lighten the vulvar region and now, with the existing offers, they are making the decision. In other cases, they are women who, due to pregnancy, hair removal in the groin area with recurrent inflammation, weight gain or aging, intend to have the previous phototype again. We still have the group of women who just want to brighten it for the bathing season, to feel comfortable in a bikini.” And everything is fine. After all, “it’s their vulva and they pink it they want to.” Sexologist Vânia Beliz points to another topic: “The pink, lighter vulvas are also a little associated with childhood. Just like completely shaved genitalia. The presence of hair gives a reference to adulthood. When the hair is removed, the vulva becomes infantilized. Hair is also associated with dirt. And I think the big problem is that we are talking about a sexuality - and I don't know if you can call it that - hygienist. In which everything needs to be very clean, washed and smelling good. I think hygiene is extremely important, but it doesn't have to be excessive. Foot smells like foot, penis smells like penis and vulva smells of vulva.” And she continues: “There are some myths associated with the genitalia. For example, that having bigger lips means that women have more sex. Even though there are cultures - because this issue of our connection with our genitalia is very influenced by culture - in which women even practice the so-called 'pull pull', a practice in which they [women] try to pull the lips out of the vagina because the bigger the lips, the better. And here [in our culture], what do women do? They try to cut their vulva’s lips. They try to make their lips smaller. There are even authors who defend the following: 'So we are fighting against female genital mutilation and then the more “evolved” women (many quotes here as it refers to so-called developed versus underdeveloped countries) end up submitting to these procedures? A surgeon appeared on Instagram some time ago, who had removed almost the entire structure of a woman's vulva at her request. And there were a number of women and activists who said, "This is genital mutilation". Well, let's say there are cases and cases. And there are, therefore, cases where an invasion in that intimate area is, above all, a necessity: “There are some surgeries that are needed. Women who have very large vaginal lips, for example, may experience difficulty in sexual intercourse, since the lips can enter the vagina and can cause fissures, and there may even be a need to rectify it. It can also be the case of women who have a much larger lip than the other and who are uncomfortable with it. But, in these cases, we are discussing correcting congenital issues in relation to the genitalia”, underlines that sexologist. Not being one of these cases, it is advisable to think once, twice, ten times, before giving your dearest away to medicine: when a woman looks for a surgeon to cut the lips of the vulva or to lighten it, what is worrying you? What is it that makes you feel unwell? As the gynecologist at Clínica Endul recalls, whitening this area can have side effects: “Some can be transient, such as irritation, edema, burning, inflammation and infection. Or definitive, as is the case of scars, changes in sensitivity and pain. These effects depend on the area covered, the type of bleaching used (the laser tends to be safer) and the frequency with which it is performed. That is why it is essential to explain to the woman that presenting a darker phototype in the vulvar region is normal, due to the constitution of the skin in this region and its genetics. The evaluation by a gynecologist or dermatologist, when they decide to carry out the treatment, is essential.” And what is the positive part of all of this - besides the body image achieved by the woman who undergoes this type of surgery? The fact that you are thinking about the vulva. Paying attention to the vulva. The size of the penis has always been talked about, but the vulva has never been talked about. Now, “it is very important that we explain to women that there are many types of vulva and that they are all different. It is important that women really start to think about their vulva, but they should never feel this pressure”, suggests Vânia Beliz. And she maintains: “I think that we have to make peace with our genitalia. First of all, we have to know it. Take the mirror and meet her. There are still many women who have never seen their vulva. This is because there are still many negative connotations in relation to the vulva and the vagina. The female genitalia is still a target of prejudice. And that creates a lot of stigma and makes us uncomfortable dealing with our bodies. And if we can't deal with our genitalia, how are we going to have pleasure?” It's just that a vulva doesn't need much to be happy. It just needs to be respected by her owner. And if her owner wants to brighten it, that's fine. Each person does with her body whatever she wants. But it is important to reflect: "If my vulva is functional, why do I feel the need to touch it?"

Translated from the original on the "Pink Issue", from may 2021.
Full credits and story on the print version.