Too many women hate their vagina… And I was one of those women.

Today, I am making myself extremely vulnerable to all of you. The only reason I am doing this is because I’ve seen too many woman express a need to read what I am about to write. With tears of fear now streaming down my cheeks, I remember telling my daughter last month, “Courage is not about not being afraid. It’s about being afraid and doing it anyway.”

So, here I go….

Twelve years ago, I was traumatized by an obstetrician. I do not know if it was deliberate and I don’t care anymore either. What matters is how I felt and the burdens I carried as a consequence of his words because those burdens are shared by far too many women in our nation… for one reason or another.

As I have explained over the years on this blog, I had a stillborn child in 2000.

I was at my second postnatal visit after my stillbirth. I had chosen an OB. Obviously I wish that I had chosen a midwife instead.

I was there for a follow up exam and I did not expect to hear the results of my child’s autopsy. My obstetricians’ office had promised to call me as soon as the results made it to their desk, but I never received that call. I sat naked, but for a paper gown, on an exam table as my doctor abruptly told me what caused my child’s death and that she indeed was a girl.

A few moments later, we started the exam.

Keep in mind that he had seen my vagina countless times before that day. Halfway through the exam, though, he told me nonchalantly that incidentally, I had a _____ vagina. He went so far as to explain his opinion of labia.

I’m not going to fill in the blank for you. It was not a word describing a change from the birth process. It was not a clinical term. It was a non-medical, observation based opinion only. To be clear and fair, he did not sexualize it in any way either.

My doctor was very clinical in stating his opinions that had absolutely no medical relevance. I think therein was the reason I did not know to protect myself from his words.

It was just insensitive and pointless.

I’d like to pretend that I am leaving the space blank because of personal boundaries and the inappropriate nature of discussing a private part to that degree on the internet, because I know all of you would accept that excuse. It’s an excuse though. The real reason for the blank where an adjective should be is because I was so traumatized from what would happen next that I still can not bear to write down the words that nonchalantly judged my vagina.

He judged through his non-medical eyes, but expressed his judgment with a stethoscope around his neck.

I believe he didn’t like me or how I regularly questioned him. I believe he didn’t like being wrong about my baby when at around my 19 week appointment I told him I thought she was dead inside of me, and he said I should relax and that everything was fine. I believe he didn’t like that before inducing labor, I made him check one more time that she was dead… just in case. I believe that he didn’t like that I asked for copies of the autopsy results. I don’t know if any of that was why he felt the need to express his judgment of my vagina. I think it’s unfair of me to claim that is was.

Back on the exam table,  he informed me that there were interns that he’d like to have observe the remainder of the exam and asked me if that was OK.

In shock, and trying to be clinical and mature, I agreed to further exposure and humiliation. I should have protected myself, but I was not prepared to deny his request. At this point, I felt none of my previous empowerment. I was thrown off guard.

He left me laying there for a few moments and then returned with a couple of interns. He mumbled something inaudible to them. They did nothing but stand there while he completed the exam, then they thanked me and left. I don’t actually know if they were critiquing my vagina or if I merely felt that way because of what my doctor had said to me moments before. Now, I presume that they thought they were just watching the exam process. At the time though, I felt violated.

After that, I got dressed feeling violated, disgusting and ashamed, all while simultaneously re-grieving the loss of my child that I suddenly and abruptly learned was a girl… My daughter.

I spent the decade following that hating my vagina. I tried to find pictures of vaginas on the internet, tried to find some that looked like mine. I unknowingly inundated myself with images of Hollywood style vaginas that all looked the same and it became clear to me, he was right. My vagina was not normal.

In circumstances where I was once confident, I was suddenly scared and shy. When I would step out of the shower and see myself in the mirror, I felt discouraged and ashamed. I started wearing shorts to the beach because my shame grew into an insecurity about the entire pelvic region. During my subsequent pregnancy, I was embarrassed at every prenatal appointment. There were many doctors at that practice and as I met a new one, I was always waiting for one of them to point out my oddity. Thankfully, none of the other doctors ever expressed their “clinical opinion” of my genital area’s appearance as the offending doctor had done.

Never expecting to actually go through with it, in the years that followed, I read up about cosmetic surgery from time to time. Why? I have no idea. It wasn’t like I thought about my disdain for my girl parts all the time, it’s just that when I did think of them, I felt very bad. I wish I could explain why I bothered to learn about the surgery. I can’t imagine that I would have had it done. That would bring even more shame according to my personal belief system that was previously woman-empowered oriented.

By this point, I was divorced and I was scared that while my previous husband had never mentioned anything odd about my vagina, I’d have to assume my future mate would hate it. How could my future mate not hate it? It didn’t look like the vaginas I saw online. Those all looked exactly the same. So, obviously, there was good reason for my future mate to hate my vagina.

I was a little caught off guard when my current husband didn’t have any problem with my vagina either. I felt like I got lucky a second time, but it didn’t stop the self-vagina-loathing.

A year ago, I went to a different clinic for a pap exam.  I laid on her exam table in utter shame, just knowing that she was thinking about how ugly my vagina was. When she concluded her exam, she told me everything looked fantastic. I mumbled, “Yeah everything except my _____ vagina.” She was caught off guard and questioned me further. She asked me who it was that told me there was anything wrong with my vagina. She told me my vagina looked perfect. She said it looked pretty average, if there could be an average for a vagina. She told me there was nothing at all noteworthy about my vagina.

And I started bawling.

I told her everything while she hugged me.

Once I got it all out, she was livid. She told me she would help me if I wanted to pursue a civil lawsuit, though she said in reality what he did was criminal. She said that even in situations where a vagina were more unique, provided it functioned properly, there would be no need to ever make a woman feel bad about herself or even point it out. She said she was even more upset because it was a blatant lie and that there was absolutely no way that my OB found anything out of the ordinary with the appearance of my vagina.

She said I was abused by my OB. Her words took almost all the shame off me and placed them on him. I felt unimaginably better.

She told me where I could find real vaginas to compare myself to if I was in doubt but warned me they usually look vastly different than the ones that I saw on the internet. She said that as a general rule, the average vagina looks nothing like those vaginas.

I am ashamed that I fell into a vanity trap regarding my vagina. I am ashamed that I allowed myself to be victimized.  My vagina had always functioned the way it was supposed to. Neither of my husbands issued any complaints or even odd faces about it. I never got strange looks or comments in gym class. I always thought I was fairly pretty naked…. before I was traumatized by that obstetrician.

I am embarrassed that I lived that way for a decade. I am ashamed that I held onto that secret for that long never asking for help.  I’m generally more self aware and more resourceful.

Having now seen way more vaginas than I ever should have had to see in an attempt to heal myself, I am certain that no two vaginas are alike, except when the vaginas’ owners all go to the same cosmetic surgeon. It is clear that both sets of labia can vary widely in color, shape and size. The clitoris can even be vastly different from woman to woman. Even the opening to the tunnel that is clinically called the vagina looks different from woman to woman. Comparing my vagina to other people’s vagina would be like comparing my elbows to other people’s elbows. It doesn’t make sense.

I have seen articles imploring women to not be ashamed of their vaginas such as “Unhappy With Your Gross Vagina? Why Not Try ‘The Barbie’?”, but I couldn’t find any first person narratives that adequately expressed what it is like to feel that way. I’m sure they exist, but in case they don’t, I wrote this.

I wrote it for those of you who have felt this way so that you know you are not alone.

I am ashamed that even now, feeling more empowered as a woman than I ever have before, knowing that that doctor’s words were untrue and abusive, I still can’t bring myself to write them.  I am sorry for that. I hope what I have shared though will be enough to make you understand that regardless of what you see in Playboy-style magazines, vaginas don’t come in a “universally preferred”  shape, color or size.

Your vagina is like any other healthy part of your body in that it is beautifully unique. And so is mine.

 

 

36 Comments

  1. Heather

    So proud of you friend, your sharing always helps others and I am sure there are many people this will help as well. What a giving soul you are, a truly special human being. Love you!

  2. Lyn

    Thank you for your courage!! I always thought there was something wrong with me too!!! You are a blessing to so many women. Thank you. Shame in that Dr!!! I just want to punch him in the face!!! Assets f-n hole.

  3. Amy Shelden

    This is an amazing article, and you are an amazing person to share this.

    I think it’s perfect that you left it blank in a way, when you read it, your own insecurities about the look of your own vagina (or any other physical part) get pasted there. We can each place our own issue in your article and as we read on we can destroy our misplaced criticisms of a unique area; unique to us as women and unique to us as individuals.

    I’m about to over-share– there’s your warning.

    I have a very non-symmetrical vagina. And it birthed another human being, my beautiful daughter. I suppose it’s about time I get over it that, and love it for what it’s accomplished!

    Obviously her daddy loved it too!

    HA!

  4. Jenifer Dunkle

    I think leaving it blank helps to not feed others insecurities. If you had used the descriptive word then I might have looked at my own and gone through the same cycle, but you didn’t use it and what I learned is that all vaginas, breasts and every part of our bodies are normal and unique in their own ways. Heck I’ve got breasts that area cup size and a half different from each other, but they are mine. I have had an amazing gyn and a few great partners who have always made me feel special and loved. I am so glad that your partners never made you feel bad about all of your beautiful features.

    • Dawn

      I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t said their breasts are different sizes from each other if that helps. Though, you don’t seem insecure in any way.

      I think I’m lucky that it was my doctor and not a partner Jen, and that brings up a good point. I have heard a few women who have said that some random man they’d been with made a remark about her vagina, but three points are brought to mind with that. 1.) Maybe he really didn’t like her vagina. I think it should be noted, that through this, I’ve gotten many many comments from men (all decent, nonperverted, nice looking men) who said they just feel happy to see a vagina and that they don’t know any man who would say otherwise. But, it is of course possible that some men don’t like the look of some vaginas. That’s fine. I prefer men who have dark hair to blonde hair. You prefer men who have lighter hair. I spent a while thinking no hair on a man was like the best thing. Of course, I was watching Smallville at that time and boy… that Lex was a cutie. I think you get my point. Even if it’s true that a particular man doesn’t think a particular woman has an attractive vagina, that doesn’t mean there’s not going to be five hundred men who conversely will prefer hers to someone else’s if they ever had the chance to see it. 2.) It’s also entirely possible that a man who makes a remark about a woman’s vagina is just trying to be hurtful and doesn’t even mean it. There are humans that are like that. 3.) It’s also possible that he is simply used to pornography and has never seen an actual non-cosmetically altered vagina. That’s not the woman’s fault and she should not take that upon herself to feel bad about herself. One man mentioned to me that vaginas are great in general, and that expectations out of Hollywood are absurd, but also requested that women keep that in mind when it comes to them too, because apparently, the “imagery industry” has some men feeling less attractive as well.

      Which brings me to another point….

      Another point that was made to me in a different discussion that popped up as a result of this post is that never-the-less, some women still think, “Yeah, but since that whole industry features one type/color/size of vagina, it is obviously ideal. So, no matter how many women in real life have vaginas that vary, if their don’t look like that, they are “less than ideal.” To that point a man countered that he knows the history of how this all came to be. It surprised me. It may not be true, but it seems accurate and in searching to validate the statement, I found much evidence to support it. It’s not appropriate for me to link it, but if you don’t want to take my word for it, it can be found with minimal digging by searching for the “history of.”

      So, apparently, Playboy, back in the days when obscenity laws were common, in an attempt to avoid censorship attempted to make the vulva area less noticeable. While Playboy was certainly controversial in the beginning, it never showed photographs of pubic hair or genitals in the early days. Hugh Hefner managed to keep the censors at bay by choosing more ‘respectable’ photography. As it started to push the envelope, women who were to be in the full naked spreads were chosen for their “less noteworthy” vaginas. Labia was considered too erotic. Any color or distinction in a vulva at all was also considered way too erotic to be acceptable for Playboy, which wanted to be less than XXX to keep sales up and censors away.

      Since that was the most common imagery for a long time, when cosmetic surgery brought the possibility for women to look more uniform as they had seen thus far, industry models went for it. It’s not so much that men “preferred” a particular look, but that women were already feeling the pressure to look a particular way… a way that was only established so that Hugh Hefner could sell magazines with less censorship.

      The MAIN point is that vulva are regularly different colors, different shapes, different sizes and also regularly not symmetrical. More or less hair. Different colored hair. Different textures of hair. No hair. Fancy hair. Contrary to what cosmetic surgeons would like for us to believe, vulva don’t all look the same, and from the feedback I’ve gotten from this, cloned vulva is not what is desired anyway. Not that that matters. Our genitals are functioning organs. If they are functional, they are perfect! And if they are not functional, that’s STILL nothing to be ashamed of. There are many ways to find intimacy and many paths to motherhood; I’ve walked a few of those paths myself. 😉

  5. Maria Fahlsing

    I used to think that something was wrong with mine, too. When I got the courage to ask my doctor about it, she assured me that I, too, was normal. A weight was off my shoulders.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. Thank you for this. I think women physicians tend to be more sensitive about these issues. My situation was different than yours after having my twins I knew something was wrong, but two paps and another baby later he kept telling me nothing was wrong. I finally went to a women and told her of the trouble I was having and upon exam she stated she could see what I was talking about but it requires surgery to fix but can’t be done til we are done having kids. I was so glad my concerns were valid and that I wasn’t crazy. As I had been made to feel in the past.

    • Dawn

      I did have one amazing male OB though once. He just acted like pregnant women were divine goddesses or something. It was really neat to see him.

      Best of luck with your surgery, I think I know what you are referring to. I’m glad you were able to get that validation and some hope for repair.

  7. Tara

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is a reminder to me to share with my children that appreciating our physical differences goes beyond faces skin colour & body types. Such a vast variation of normal. No one should be made to feel ashamed of their bodies & no one should make someone feel that way. Thank you again.

  8. Anita

    You are perfect, you are beautiful, you are normal, and you are wonderful. Believe it in your heart, and no matter what anyone calls you or any part of you, you will know it is a lie.

  9. Sherry

    I had an experience very much like yours. I was one of those who raised to be ashamed of my body anyway,but when I had a nurse midwife at a hospital practice actually put some horrible comments in her notes in my medical file, I was devastated. Then, at the homebirth of that baby, a daughter, my midwife told me ” You have a marvelous body, and have passed that on to your next generation.” When I cried, and she asked why, I told her. She rolled her eyes and said ” Honey, I”ve seen a lot of vaginas, and although each is a little different from the next, they’re still beautiful- and that includes yours. Who knows, maybe she’s never seen a “normal” one and didn’t know what to think of it.” I think I smiled for the rest of the day over that.

    And thank you for sharing what happened to you. I wish it had never happened, but by sharing it, you are probably healing every woman who reads it, who has been led to believe that something is “wrong” with them, too.

    • Dawn

      I had already healed so much, let go of most of the shame, but yes, writing this and getting such wonderful feedback and hearing from others has made this become an empowering experience. Thanks so much!

  10. winters123

    Dawn, I just want to say thank you. I’m only 17 and a few years ago my body began to change, transforming me into a woman. My period, I could handle. My breasts, I could handle. My vagina…not so much. I remeber being so naive, searching up “normal” vaginas and what was wrng with me. I remember ghastly trying to mutilate my body because I didnt want to be a freak anymore. A few years later, I’ve learne that my body was no disformed, my views were. I want to have sex, i really do. And I understand that my body is not damaged, but I just can’. t find the courage or confidence to let someone see my naked body. It.terrifies me that my partner will take one look at me and be disgusted. I guess because my generation is the growing up with technology, we are easily more persuaded on what is “normal”. My insecurities have gone so far that I refuse to date and be a carefree teenager because at some point, I will have to face sex. Which ultimately means the.exposure of the.very th

    • Dawn

      Well, your welcome. I guess, if it helps, I waited much longer to have sex than you have. It wasn’t from insecurities about it though, it was because frankly, I wasn’t at a place where I felt like I could handle possible ramifications of having sex. I hope you know that most young men you could ever engage with will likely be even more insecure in their ability to perform adequately. They’ve also been raised in a very “technological” society, for lack of better words. It saddens me deeply that our young adults have been exposed to so much falsehoods about what is normal and what sex is actually like.

      For the time being, I do absolutely agree with your refusal to have sex, but wish it were for a different reason. If you do wait a bit though, more young men will have been exposed to REAL vaginas and yours will seem just as perfect as it sincerely is. That’s, I guess, a good benefit of waiting as well. The only boys who would possibly think your vagina/labia/clitoris are strange in any way would be if they were inexperienced with real women. Sadly, young men with no experience in real life may be taken aback because of the charade that is the porn industry… But I can tell you for sure that by the time you are older, men with genuine experience will not see you that way. Most boys though, even with no real experience would simply consider you a longed for gift– and will probably be too scared themselves to ever even consider judging you. Though, if they feel they somehow failed, a young man might just lash out and try to blame you, but that’d be THEIR insecurities talking. It would have nothing to do with you. On behalf of the older generation, I am brought to tears as I extend you my sincerest apology for what the adults who have gone before you have done to your generation’s view of sexuality and the human body. I am so sorry. I will not stop fighting until we normalize normal again.

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