Sadly, no part of a woman is exempt from unrealistically high body image standards – and that includes labia size. Thanks to many porn films featuring hairless women with 'perfect' tucked away, small labia, both men and women alike have adopted an expectation that this is what every vagina should look like, with large labia seen as 'abnormal'. But in the same way our faces look different, so do our genitals, and it's completely natural for them to do so.
The rise in labiaplasty surgery - an operation to reshape or shorten the lips of the vulva - is worrying confirmation that, for young people especially, the aesthetic of their vagina and labia is a source of low self-esteem. While some do undergo the surgery for medical reasons, like daily discomfort, for many, it is for cosmetic reasons.
According to BAAPS - The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons - labiaplasty was the 10th most popular surgery for women in 2022, with 907 procedures being reported. They also detailed that it was women who underwent 93% of all cosmetic procedures that year, too.
In order to tackle this concerning issue - and reassure women that no vulva looks the same - it's vital that we understand exactly what is and isn't 'normal' when it comes to the vagina and labia. As Dr. Hana Abu-Hassan from the Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic explains, "There are no exact measurements for the 'ideal' labia. It's important not to assess and compare your body parts to online images, or see surgery as the solution for image satisfaction."
She adds that unless your vulva is causing you physical discomfort, then there's absolutely nothing to worry about. "If the labia start hurting from friction or rubbing on your clothes, then you could consider getting them assessed."
"There's also no guarantee that changes in size will boost your self-esteem, so whenever you're considering these procedures, counselling could be a good first call," she says.
It's a topic dominating threads on Reddit too, in which people who would describe themselves as having large labia were asked how they feel about them, whether they're self-conscious about how they look and whether it's normal to have large labia.
Here's what they had to say...
1. "I had no idea that large labia were totally normal and common"
"I read that apparently 50% of women have visible/larger labia which made me feel a lot better. I had no idea that it was totally normal and common and I just thought I was an abnormal disgusting freak after I saw jokes about it online and stuff. I'm trying to learn to love and be more kind to my body now as I'm very insecure in general and have very low self confidence."
2. "Anyone who makes a negative comment does not deserve you"
"My labia are uneven, one is tucked inside my vulva, and one is pretty long and hangs out. Not one single person has made a negative comment about how they look, and I’ve had men and women tell me that it looked beautiful. Anyone who makes a negative comment about your appearance at all does not deserve you.
"One thing that helped me out a lot as a teenager was using a hand mirror to really look at my body parts. It was definitely uncomfortable at first, but over time I grew to love them and find them beautiful."
3. "It's incredible to be free of the constant shame"
"I never wanted to have sex because my labia disgusted me so much, then I met someone who I really liked. We hung out for a bit, got to know one another and I was reassured in him as a person to be vulnerable enough to expose myself (literally). It's been amazing. He says it's cute and I have lost all my insecurities. It's incredible to be free of the constant shame that I carried with me!"
4. "No-one has ever commented or complained"
"I don't really care. I'm not self-conscious because no-one has ever commented or complained and if they had then there wouldn't be any more sex for them."
5. "Watch enough female friendly porn and you'll see labia of all shapes and sizes"
"I used to be [self-conscious] but then I realised mine aren't as large as I thought. When you watch enough female friendly porn you see lots of different women's bodies and labia of all shapes and sizes."
6. "I'd never seen large labia like mine"
"I used to be [self conscious], when I was young and first becoming sexually active. I'd never seen long labia like mine and thought they were freakish and deformed. I was terrified of letting anyone see them.
"Then I learned that my labia are in fact totally normal, that vulvas come in an incredible array of shapes and sizes and all of it is just fine. I also learned that every sexual partner I had enjoyed my labia quite a lot. From there, I found my self-consciousness totally disappeared."
7. "I never heard labia shaming until I was past an impressionable age"
"Neutral. I'm not self-conscious about them because that's what a normal vulva looks like. I think it's fortunate for me that I never started hearing about all this labia shaming nonsense until I was already an adult and past the impressionable age where I would have worried about it."
8. "I thought everyone else was porn star smooth"
"I have large labia and I'll put it this way. There was a guy I was sexting with a while back, who asked me for photos of my vagina, after he'd sent me photos of him. I said no initially, but then I did actually go and take a bunch of photos and videos for him, because I thought it would be fun and sexy, and I liked him. I took one look at them, and just sat there crying because of how disgusting I thought it looked and ended up deleting everything. I'm really self-conscious about it.
"I didn't even know other women had vaginas like mine for the longest time. I thought they all were porn star smooth/perfect curvature etc. Because that's what you're exposed to as a teen. No sex ed class or book tells you there's a wide range of vaginas, or shows you pictures of them. Or they didn't when I was growing up. Everyone called them 'beef flaps' or made jokes about how nasty it is. That's what I grew up with."
9. "I've had guys compliment my large labia before"
"What exactly constitutes having 'large labia'? My inner labia are quite visible but I personally think it looks nice? I've also had guys compliment it before (not that it matters but hopefully this will make some women realise that there are partners out there that will love your vagina)."
10. "I used to be so insecure, but men don't really care"
"Mine peek outside of my vagina, not sure if that's huge or normal. I used to be so insecure because I thought they were huge, but now that I think about it, men don't really care."
11. "People don't care when you're about to have sex"
"It's awful to have to read so many rude comments about them. Add that onto the fact that almost no porn shows them, and you feel kinda like a freak. Luckily most people don't care when you're about to have sex."
12. "I feel for younger women today"
"I never really thought about my large labia until I saw a plastic surgery show. I thought, 'wow, my labia are ugly and I need to have corrective surgery'. Really, I don't, but after seeing porn stars' vaginas which are perfect and beautiful, I felt that way.
"That's the problem these days, people expect every woman's labia to look like that but it's impossible. Like 95% of those porn stars have probably had surgery. I've never had any complaints about mine, but I feel for younger women. It's no wonder they have such low self esteem. Tell your partners how beautiful they are and compliment their body parts! It will go far."
13. "If they aren’t into it, that’s on them not on you"
"I’ve realised that a man will rarely not be down to interact with a vagina bc of appearance alone (most people aren’t sitting there inspecting your bits). If they aren’t into it, that’s on them not on you, and it’s probably a red flag that they’d not be 'into' a natural part of the human body."
14. "Everyone's are unique"
"I have never given the length of my labia a seconds thought in my life. Half the population has them and everyone's are unique."
15. "A lot of people are far more oblivious than you think"
"The difficult thing about many of our insecurities is that they're often pointless and unfounded. I promise you, a lot of people are far more oblivious than you think."
16. "It's totally normal"
"I always hear waxers/beauty therapists etc. say they see more women with 'outies' than 'innies'. So my conclusion is it's totally normal and a silly thing to actually stress over."
17. "All unique and beautiful"
"Unless it's causing physical pain or disrupting everyday activities, I assure you, your labia is perfectly normal. So many kinds, of varying lengths, all unique and beautiful. I've learned that other people don't care, especially not the people who are close enough with you to get to see them."
18. "When I was a teenager I was extremely self-conscious"
"When I was a teenager I was extremely self-conscious and had even wanted to get labiaplasty, but once I started having sex I realised I was perfectly normal. Now I love the way I look. It’s not as big of a deal as we tend to believe it is, and longer labias are more common than you think."
19. "They’re all normal and beautiful"
"Labia come in all different shapes and sizes, just like every other part of us. In the same way that we all have different facial features, we all have eyes, ears, nose, and a mouth. You’ve got a clit, inner, outer, vagina, etc. They’re all normal and beautiful."
20. "I didn't even know this was something to be self conscious about"
"I didn't even know this was something to be self conscious about until recently. All labia and vulva are different, which is something I've always accepted and known. My labia are just labia, just part of an organ that can bring life and pleasure. I never think of my vulva as beautiful or sexy, it just is. Think it's the only part of my body that I have no real standards for besides 'it gives me some damn good times'."
Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.
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