How’s your fanny doing?

Pussy, clit, box, fanny, snatch, beaver, kitty, minge, lady bits, muff, vulva, punani or that awful phrase nether regions… The vagina needs to stop being considered taboo. Whereas we often use the word PUSSY to express our displeasure with someone, we more rarely talk about the pussy as a body part, one that can cause us a lot of trouble in addition to a lot of pleasure. Plastic surgeon Esther Mesters wants to change that. But the big question remains: How do we remove the taboo that surrounds the vagina?

Text Mariska Pinxt – Van Iersel
Image Mirella Sleenhoff and Eline Blok

Esther Mesters, 57 and self-employed for the past 10 months, previously worked in several hospitals in Brabant. A plastic surgeon on a mission, a lady who likes to colour outside the lines. Someone who can also be a pain in the ass, but above all else a woman with perseverance and a belief that the patient always comes first.

‘Sometimes women come in who have been in pain for years. Pain during intercourse. Pain while cycling. The solution can be simple.’

At her clinics in Oisterwijk and Schilde (Belgium), she and her team treat men and women. This plastic surgeon’s heart starts beating a bit faster when she is able to help women get rid of their vaginal pain. Esther: “Sometimes women come in who have been in pain for years. Pain during intercourse. Pain while cycling. The solution can be simple, through laser treatment or surgery. When a woman feels she has been heard after a discussion and opts for treatment, you can see the relief and the fact that she has been taken seriously.”

In Turkish and Moroccan culture, women talk openly to other women about their vagina. After they’ve had children, they talk about the beauty of the vagina and how to care for it. Dutch women have often been told to learn to live with the pain. We don’t often discuss the shape of our vagina with our girlfriends. Or that we are suffering from dryness, which can make lovemaking painful. Just use some lubricant and problem solved, we think. Our Calvinist way of thinking often gets in the way: ‘I shouldn’t make a big deal of this.’ According to Dr Mesters, this means we are depriving ourselves of pleasure. “There’s a solution for many, as long as we can talk about it openly.”

Are you the plastic surgeon?
Women find her through googling, or they are already familiar with her because of a breast reduction or eyelid surgery. These topics are less taboo. Besides, it also helps that she is a woman. “Male doctors often don’t realise how humiliating it can be for a woman to undress in front of a man or to throw your legs in the stirrups. That’s a tough moment for any woman, and as a woman, I understand that better than anyone. I can respond to that, I can empathise and so I can also reassure them.”

‘As a woman, you still have to work twice as hard to be considered an equal. Both in terms of appreciation and salary.’

“In the world of surgery, there’s a lot of hierarchy, narcissistic behaviour and there are plenty of men that think they’re God. This is a very unhealthy situation. As a woman, you still have to work twice as hard to be considered an equal. Both in terms of appreciation and salary. At the hospital, patients would often ask me if I was the doctor and how much experience I had. This is a question a male doctor would never be asked. In my assistant days, you saw that many female doctors started acting more masculine. Just to be considered one of the guys. I refused to do that. I am a woman and am just as capable.”

Now that she has her own practice, she can put the patient back at centre stage, something that was no longer possible in mainstream hospitals. “I had no more say as a medical specialist, the manager determined the schedule, aftercare, extra check-ups… There was more time allowed for that, which makes it feel like you’re working in production. That’s not why I became a plastic surgeon. The person is the primary focus and I want to provide all the care they need.”

Gooische vrouwen
Unfortunately, no health insurance company is willing to talk to Esther about reimbursements. “Hospitals have staff shortages and that means long waiting times. With me, patients can come right in. But because the budgets have already been distributed, they don’t want to engage with me. Health insurance providers don’t seem to want to pay out any money and, as a result, a lot of people are not being helped who could be helped. That means I now mainly have people who can pay for it themselves, but I also want to help the other target group. I won’t give up, I just take a long breath and I know I’ll eventually succeed.

Esther has now been self-employed for 10 months. It was not entirely a voluntary choice, but one that feels right now. It requires a lot of Esther.

“I’m on my feet on all day. I have to take good care of myself and I’m constantly thinking 10 steps ahead. About what could be different and better, how I can make sure I’m visible. I do all that alone, which is why it’s nice to be able to talk with other self-employed people. To exchange ideas and be able to help each other out when needed. I do have those people around me, fortunately.”

Away with the taboos
The question remains: How do we make sure the vagina is no longer a taboo? Actress Anne-Marie Jung created the podcast Vagina Dialogues for Libelle magazine where she left no topic untouched. Why is there so much shame about female genitalia. Maybe it’s time for Doctor Esther Mesters’ own podcast where we talk about our insecurities, the shape of labia, the smell of your pussy or dryness during menopause. Why not show the before and after of a labia correction on Insta – why is there such a fuss and so much shame? But does everything really have to be so public and out in the open? You don’t have to look if you don’t want to. But if you are doubting whether your vagina is okay or not, when you are in pain and just walking around with it and don’t know where to go: then it’s time to talk. And to know that there’s a solution that can make your life more fun and enjoyable.

So: How’s your fanny doing?

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