“We mixed vanilla and clementine for a creamsicle scent that’s sweet and citrusy,” read the ad for the OMV! line from Vagisil that popped up in my Instagram feed. “It’s perfect for an intimate care glow-up!” Their exclamation point and color scheme were perky, yet the idea that I needed to buy a product to fix my teenage vagina left me confused and deflated.
Do I need that? I thought I didn’t, but I wasn’t totally sure. So I asked a friend of my mom’s, Dr. Tajnoos Yazdany, a gynecologist in Torrance, CA. She told me, “I think as a gynecologist and strong advocate for women and girls, it’s hard to support the use of products like this.”
For starters, it’s not necessary. Dr. Yazdany said, “Products like this don’t do anything that water and a quick rinse can’t do better!” But the lack of necessity for a product hasn’t exactly stopped society from persuading people they need it.
Women have been told their bodies aren’t good enough for hundreds of years.
Beauty trends have come and gone, but shame is constant.
Vaginas especially have had stigma attached to them, with people saying and implying that they are dirty, smelly, and meant to be hidden away. Pretty much nobody talks about penises that way. The OMV! line enhances those stigmas and prejudices when it markets deodorizing products specifically to teens. After all, they use terms like “glow-up” that try to appear hip and current.
But just because something has pretty packaging with lots of confetti doesn’t mean it’s safe. “On looking at the ingredient list, it also contains lauryl sulfate,” Dr. Yazdany told me, referring to the chemical that creates the bubbles in soap. It can be an irritant for sensitive skin, she said.
“One more thing to keep in mind is that the vagina has its very own cleaning system and knows how to keep pH balanced.” A bacterium called lactobacillus does this. “Keeping the natural bacterial count high is key, and that is why no one should ever use a wash inside the vagina,” she said, “This can alter the natural ecosystem and actually cause infections.”
But it’s not only the vagina that the product is harmful to.
With stresses of teen girls already heightened by the pandemic, trying to profit off that and add a whole new layer of insecurities is extremely predatory. There has already been a huge increase in eating disorders throughout the pandemic, with the number of people hospitalized for eating disorders doubled at UCSF Benioffs Children’s Hospitals.
Social media has been directly linked to the body image insecurities that contribute to these conditions. Products like this OMV! line add a whole new layer of insecurity and another part of our bodies that we’re supposed to be ashamed of, another part we’re told needs fixing.
Dr. Jennifer Gunter, author of The Vagina Bible, called out Vagisil on Twitter saying that she was going to make it her mission to get the OMV! line pulled. While that would be great, the OMV! line isn’t the only one preying on the insecurities of teen girls and further perpetuating the sexist stigmas around vaginas.
In order to stop the shaming of vaginas, we also need to become more comfortable having this conversation. Often, especially with teens, when vaginas or periods are mentioned, people (especially boys) tend to be grossed out. Vaginas are not dirty or inappropriate. They’re strong, self-cleaning organs that don’t need anything to make them “better.” But we won’t grow up believing that if we don’t hear it from social media, adults, school, and each other.