“I did it so I could feel better about my body. I did it so I could feel more like a woman. I did it so my clothes would fit better. I did it for ME.”
This is the text of a current TV commercial for breast augmentation, spoken by a beautiful, thin, middle-aged woman looking at herself in a mirror. She is telling the lie that nearly every woman that undergoes this expensive, life-threatening, time-consuming surgery is told and soon comes to believe for herself. “I did it for ME.” It’s time to debunk these ever-circulating excuses about the values of this surgery for the 300,000+ U.S. girls and women who undergo it each year. Let’s talk about WHY breast enhancement surgeries are halting female progress and keeping us in the prison of believing we are “to be looked at” above all else. Using the four excuses from the ad above, it’s time spell out why breast implants are not “for you.”
“I did it so I could feel better about my body.”
Breast augmentation does not improve your self-esteem. We wish we could shout that from the rooftops! Breast augmentation is NOT therapy, either. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women with breast implants are 73 percent more likely to commit suicide and a large number of studies have confirmed this major increase in suicide after breast augmentation. That’s not because of the implants – it’s because getting them doesn’t solve anything going on internally. Are you depressed? A breast augmentation will not make you less depressed. Do you experience body shame or low self esteem because of your looks? You cannot remedy an internal problem with an external quick fix like cosmetic surgery. A breast augmentation will not guarantee you greater self-esteem, and instead might cause you to fixate on your looks as your primary source of self-worth. This will only hurt your self-esteem in the long run, because you will have to constantly fix your “flaws” to live up to your ideas of beauty. (See the section at the end for a more promising path to body positivity.) Do you think bigger breasts will attract a mate or make your partner love you more? If you’re looking for attention based on what your chest looks like, this could work. But if you’re seeking a lasting connection with someone who values more than your chest, breast implants aren’t going to guarantee that. A breast augmentation has nothing to do with the love of a partner. If your partner’s love for you is dependent on the size and shape of your breasts, they do not really love you. It sounds so harsh, but it is true.
If you have undergone or are planning to undergo breast augmentation surgery to “feel better about your body,” research shows us this just won’t work. The two major breast implant companies in the U.S., Allergan and Mentor, both tried to prove to the FDA that breast implants helped women’s self-esteem and both proved how wrong they were. Allergan used 12 different quality of life measures to compare augmentation patients before surgery and 2 years later. Nine of the 12 (75%) were worse after the women got their breast implants, including self-esteem. The results were similar for women getting Mentor breast implants. The women got worse in their self-reported physical health and mental health, with most showing no difference in their self-concept or how they felt about their body.
Plastic surgeons have approached us* to help them make their marketing less misleading and to help provide instruction for women that cosmetic procedures will NOT fix internal problems, like hating your body or not feeling feminine. These plastic surgeons acknowledged that patients were using procedures as therapy, or desperate attempts to feel better about themselves, and have seen firsthand that their work does nothing of the sort — it only changes physical features.
“I did it so I could feel more like a woman.”
Where did we get our ideas about what normal women’s breasts are supposed to look like? Unfortunately, too many people have learned a very unreal and profit-driven breast ideal from porn. Most people don’t see a ton of nude breasts in person on a regular basis, so the ones we see mediated to us often shape perceptions of what’s ideal and even what’s normal — leaving most girls and women feeling abnormal and pushing many to seek a remedy in the form of implants. What does it really mean when people say they did this to “feel” more like a woman? As you can guess, this phrase generally means they did it to “look” more like a woman. But guess what? Women come in all shapes and sizes. No shape or size is more “woman” than any other. No hips? No breasts? No curves? There are millions of women that fit those categories right alongside you. What about having one breast larger than the other? Join the club. It’s an extremely popular club — the majority of women are members of it. You are a woman – own it for every other woman who looks just like you and is shamed into believing she’s less than a woman for it.
“I did it so my clothes would fit better.”
Yikes. We need to work on our problem-solving skills. You don’t think you look too great in that blouse? Get it tailored! You don’t fill out that swimsuit top like you’d hoped? Buy a different one! Or better yet, rock it anyway and prove to the world that nothing changes – literally nothing – when you go out wearing a top you don’t “fill out” as well you think you need to.
“I did it for ME.”
Unless the person saying this is into surgery for the fun of it or enjoys the experience of having foreign objects surgically implanted in them, then what this statement really means is: “I did it to look better.” Yes, the current beauty trend includes large, firm breasts. It wasn’t always that way and it won’t always be that way, but right now, fashion and beauty ideals often idealize this look. When women elect to this procedure under the premise that it’s “for me,” they’re almost always speaking from a place of self-objectification, or viewing themselves as an object from an outsider’s perspective. They’re saying they’ll look better when they’re looking at their own reflections, and feel better because they think other people will think they look better too. This is no way to live, but epidemic numbers of girls and women do live in a constant state of body monitoring at the expense of everything else. If we take “look ‘better'” out of the equation, what’s really in it for YOU at the end of the day is: You’ll lose thousands of dollars; lose significant time in surgery, recovery and follow-up exams; possible lost sensation in your breasts; increase your chances of cancer but decrease your chances of finding cancer because you have implants in the way, etc.
We know what’s in it for plastic surgeons and makers of implants: money. And not just the one-time cost of surgery. The FDA stated in a report that breast implants WILL fail within 10 years and referred to implants as “temporary devices.” “[Women] need to understand they’re going to need many removals and replacements for the rest of their lives,” stated the National Research Center for Women & Families. The FDA says up to 40 percent of patients who get silicone implants will need another operation to modify or remove them within 10 years. For women with implants for breast reconstruction, the number is even higher, at up to 70 percent. The biggest issue was scar tissue hardening around the implant, while pain, infection, ruptures and asymmetry followed close behind.
Did you know the FDA stated that breast augmentation patients must get MRIs every two years to screen for “silent ruptures” of the silicone implants because you don’t know when they’re leaking? They don’t deflate. So that’s an extra $2,000 biannually for women who have elected to breast enhancement. Add it all up and the original $5K-$10K procedure will now cost a 25-year-old woman at least another $35K for re-implantation and $30K for the recommended number of MRIs throughout her life! And that is not including any health complications from all those surgical procedures, anesthesia, potential leaking or disease, time away from work, family, and life, etc.
Further, women with breast implants are also more likely to be diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of cancer. Implants can hide the mammography image of a tumor, resulting in a delay in cancer diagnosis. Mammogram machinery can also rupture an implant. So…this isn’t good for your health. Read more info on the latest breast implant studies regarding your health here.
To sum it up: cosmetic surgery — especially breast augmentation — is a threat to female health and happiness. This threat directly affects girls and women – not males – at epidemic rates. Cosmetic surgery is up nearly 500% in the last decade and a full 92% of those procedures – mostly breast augmentation and liposuction – were performed on girls and women. It keeps us “in our place” as objects to be looked at, fixed, and ogled. Electing to these procedures hits us hard. It hits our pocketbooks, when we could be spending our hard-earned money on so many more important things. It raises the bar of “normal” and “what it looks like to be a woman” for every girl, woman, boy and man that comes in contact with us. It affects our physical health in seen and unforeseen ways. Besides the health implications like life-threatening ruptures and the likelihood of botched surgeries, breast implants affect our ability to run, dive, jump, golf, etc. These risks reinforce the notion that your breasts are not yours — they are for others to look at.
It’s time to rethink the extremes to which we push ourselves in the name of “beauty.” We are more than bodies to be looked at. Choosing to forego breast augmentation can be more empowering than going under the knife — and better for our health, too. Please know that it is not our place to shame or blame anyone for undergoing this procedure. We know as well as anyone how much pressure and shame women feel in the name of “ideal beauty.” It is immense. But there is a better way – and it starts in our minds, not on our chests.
If you feel like your body image has been negatively affected by profit-driven media or cultural ideals, you can harness your power in these four areas to take back beauty and help others do the same:
- Increasing our media literacy (understanding how and why media is engineered the way it is — see our entire “recognize” category of blog posts)
- Critical thinking about beauty and health ideals (skin color, body size, age, BMI, fitspiration)
- Critical self-reflection about our own beliefs and choices
- Making conscious decisions about the media we consume and cutting out what is harmful (start with a media fast)
- Considering your influence in the ways you speak about your body and others’
- Understanding the social implications of how you treat your body (physically Photoshopping)
- Using your influence to support others in this struggle and promote positive body image in conversation, social media, etc.
- Using our bodies as instruments rather than objects (setting and achieving fitness goals)
- Redefining health for ourselves according to internal indicators and how we feel — not how we look
- Understanding that you are more than just a body and tapping into that higher-level thinking in whatever way suits you
- “There exists a positive relationship between spirituality, mental and physical health, life satisfaction, and wellness. It follows that if a woman draws her sense of meaning from a spiritual force that goes beyond herself and that provides coherence and purpose to the universe, she will find less need to focus on her weight, shape, and appearance in an attempt to find happiness or life satisfaction” (Choate, 2007, p. 323).
Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.
*We have provided free consultation to plastic surgeons on how to help women use our work to develop their self worth outside of their breasts as an alternative to surgery, but have gone no further.