I meet Dr. Amir Marashi in a stark white lobby where women in lingerie and shortened lab coats are handing out half full glasses of rosé champagne. Making probing, friendly eye contact, he tells me, “My job allows me to say the word ‘vagina’ whenever I want and no one can say it’s weird.” “Same,” I reply and we both laugh. It’s nice to bond with a fellow professional.
Born in Iran to a surgeon father, Dr. Marashi has been experiencing life in the operating room since the age of 10. In adulthood, he’s become an accomplished OB/GYN who boasts having never taken more than 15 minutes to finish a C-section. He’s handsome, with a pristinely shaved head and—as revealed by the deep V of his shirt—an equally manicured chest, and extremely personable. Several of his clients seem nearly at tears as they tell a small group of journalists about how the charismatic doctor has improved their lives. One woman tells us that she would have become sterile had it not been for Dr. Marashi diagnosing her endometriosis. Now she has a beautiful daughter who’s about to model in a children’s fashion show for Target.
But it’s not birth that Dr. Marashi is here to tell us about. No, he’s here to sell new vaginas.
Scheduled in the midst of New York Fashion Week, the event—titled a “Designer Vagina Showcase”—took place at the iHeartRadio offices in midtown, where guests were promised “a glass of sparkling rosé, sushi and cupcakes.” They delivered, both on the libations and on the “designer” pussy, the creation of which Dr. Marashi, a practitioner in cosmetic gynecology, has come to specialize in.
“Women are so ashamed to talk about their vaginas,” he tells me in the lobby. “They should be able to ask ‘Is this normal’ and if they don’t like how their vaginas look, they should feel empowered to change it.”
If my hackles weren’t already raised at “designer vagina,” they certainly were at “empowerment,” a word that’s increasingly being used less to actually empower and more to dupe women into spending money.
To a novice, labiaplasty—the surgical reshaping of the labia majora or minora—seems about as far from empowering as you can get, an elective procedure chosen by women whose minds have been warped by the waxed Barbie pussies of the porn industry. But, as I’ll learn over the next hour with Dr. Marashi taking us through seemingly endless slides of his patients’ vulvas (all shown with permission), there are plenty of reasons that women undergo gynecological cosmetic surgery. Several of them are—in my limited scope—entirely justifiable.
A person might elect to have labiaplasty because their labia minora is too long to make simple activities like riding a bike, having sex, or even wearing fitted pants feel enjoyable. Someone might get a clitoral hood reduction or G-spot injection for increased sexual pleasure. As we well know, a woman who’s lost bladder control or the ability to feel sensation during intercourse after childbirth might undergo vaginoplasty, so that she can regain sensation or—at the very least—stop pissing herself. (A reasonable desire, if I ever heard one.) Then there’s the usual wear and tear of time. Some women just want their elasticity back and doctors like Amir Marashi—using muscle reconstruction or, less painfully, a few zaps of a laser—are more than ready to give it to them. (At a price.)
But Dr. Marashi first became involved in vaginal reconstructive surgery for hymenoplasty, a.k.a. virginity restoration.
“Living in America, you probably won’t experience the importance of hymen reconstruction,” he tells us. But in Iran, where he began practicing medicine, women are expected to be virgins at marriage, though many of them are not. The journalists in the room—all white, female, American—groan at this, but Dr. Marashi rushes to explain that these are not his personal values, just the values of the culture.
“I always said that these women weren’t devirginizing themselves,” he laughs, pointing out the double standard between Middle Eastern men and women to the appeasement of the group. By performing these procedures, he tells us, he was just providing a needed service to desperate women.
He does this distancing of Western and Eastern cultures a couple times throughout the presentation, once while talking about hymenoplasty and again while talking about female genital mutilation in Western, Eastern, Central, and Northern Africa. FGM, he says, is “absolutely wrong.” I’m tempted to challenge him to specify—because what he really means is that non-elective genital mutilation is wrong. Mutilating your labia and augmenting your vagina is just fine (in both his mind and mine), just so long as you’re the one who’s chosen to do it. And, if it were up to the eager PR team waiting in the wings, you paid Dr. Marashi to perform the procedure.
Dr. Marashi would also like us to know that he’s not doing it for the money, though the money is good. Labiaplasty and vaginoplasty can cost up to $8,500, and the non surgical Femilift, a vaginal laser tightening treatment (and favorite of Real Housewives) costs about $3,500 for three sessions. But regardless of the cash, the doctor’s main mission, he insists, is to let women know that there are options and they shouldn’t be ashamed to ask questions.
While the “Designer Vagina Showcase” feels mildly like I’m being inducted into a shady pyramid scheme (the iHeartRadio office begins each meeting with a laser show and continually filters in stage smoke into the room throughout the presentation), I should be clear that Dr. Marashi is certainly no fraud. Working out of Professional Gynecological Services in Brooklyn, he performs 80 to 100 cosmetic gynecology surgeries a year and oversees several residents as attending physician at New York Methodist Hospital. He went to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and volunteered his OB/GYN services to women in need. All his patients are given his personal cell phone number because, if something goes wrong, he doesn’t want another less experienced doctor to make things worse.
When picking a doctor for your cosmetic gynecology, he tells us, the most important thing is to look at the before and after photos of their work. The ideal surgeon will have done at least 100 similar procedures prior to your operation and you don’t want to go to a doctor who won’t take your personal needs into account, as there is no one-size-fits-all labia.
As for the vagina, “it’s easy to tighten,” he says, but to create a lasting tightness, “you must rebuild the muscle underneath” and not all doctors can do that. “You want to build a house on a sandy beach, make sure you build a foundation first.”
In all honesty, Dr. Marashi has swayed me. No, I’ve yet to find labiaplasty “empowering,” but I do get why a person would choose to do it and after seeing the photos of his work, it no longer seems quite as porn-y or insidious as it did before. But then there’s the 27-year-old woman who’s undergone labiaplasty not once, but three times since the age of 20.
Standing up to address the group, the woman—very comfortable in front of a crowd—tells us that her first two procedures, done by a different Manhattan surgeon, failed to please her. Finally, upon undergoing surgery with Dr. Marashi, she got the perfect labia that she always wanted. Before she couldn’t stand naked in front of a mirror—and now?
“I wish it was summer,” she says. “I’m going to go to all the nude beaches possible.”
She seems truly happy, but there’s something I find a bit off about her message, as well as the messages of the other patients.
“Now I have a double P,” a woman in her 40s tells the reporters as she hangs off Dr. Marashi’s arm. “A pretty pussy.”
(“Double P power!” shouts the 27-year-old from the back of the room.)
But what even is a pretty pussy? Perhaps that’s a question you can only answer if you feel you don’t have one. Is the rubber vulva model that sits on the table—hairless, pale pink skin, and barely a labia minora in sight—a pretty pussy? I still don’t know, though I’ll agree that in the before and after shots we’re shown (several in which the labia minora hangs inches past the labia majora), the “after” looks, to my untrained eye, much more comfortable.
“I think society’s become more open,” the 27-year-old says. “Rihanna has strip clubs in her music videos now. We can talk about these things now.”
I disagree here. Society has not become more open, it’s just become more explicit, which—as someone who doesn’t mind looking at bodies—is okay by me. But let’s not pretend that openness and explicitness is the same thing. Openness should make people feel good, even if their labia hangs to their knees; explicitness is just a way to remind you of the physical expectations of the society you live in.
Throughout the presentation, there’s a question I keep grappling with: For me, it’s obvious that an adult woman should be able to get practically any elective surgery she wants because A) it’s none of my business and B) it’s her body to work with. But what if, like in a scenario that Dr. Marashi mentions at least once, a teen girl is being mocked in the locker room for her long labia? Should she have to keep it until adulthood simply because, in a perfect world, she would be perfectly comfortable with whatever she was born with? That’s a huge weight to put on a young woman’s shoulders and—approaching the question from a place of compassion—I think the answer is no.
But I also think framing Dr. Marashi’s office as the “House of Designer Vaginas,” as it was called during the presentation (or the pointless addition of the models in lab coats) is gross and only further stigmatizes women with vaginas that society—in all its “openness”—has deemed “abnormal.”
The conclusion is there is no conclusion. Escaping from the way society makes women doubt themselves is nearly impossible, so, by all means, get a “designer vagina” from Dr. Marashi, a very talented and kind-seeming man, if you so choose. Keep in mind, though: a potential risk (possible, though never experienced by Dr. Marashi himself) is that your taint could end up completely split open.