Implants a big mistake

Elise T. Chisolm

March 31, 1992|By Elise T. Chisolm

I am mad. And I'm not sure to whom I should direct my wrath:

Toward all the women who want breast augmentation -- more than 2 million since the implants have been on the market;

Toward the men who admire the recipients of such cosmetic surgery;

Toward Dow Corning, the company that made the silicone-gel implants for three decades;

Toward the Food And Drug Administration, which failed to say ''no'' sooner and did not adequately warn women of the risks;

Or to the advertisers and designers who perpetuate big breast mania with their perfect models and slick ad campaigns.

Dow Corning has announced it will not make the silicone implants anymore. Good.

But I still wonder about the deeper problem: Why women choose such surgery for cosmetic reasons.

Is the male libido doing it to us? Or are we women doing it to ourselves in our quest for a better self-esteem? Are we striving for someone else's standard of beauty that says bigger is better, sexier?

Recently, television host Jenny Jones revealed that she has had five breast surgeries during an 11-year period. She's now afraid for her health and says breast augmentation was the worst decision of her life.

Jones said that as a teen-ager her father made her feel bad about her small breasts and told her to rub water on them and they would grow.

My friend Carol tells me she would never get in a bathing suit because of the shame of being flat-chested. Five years ago she had implants and now every six months she has to have her implants softened because they get like ''baseballs covered with skin.''

She regrets the surgery and the $9,000 price tag.

We know now that implants ''bleed'' or leak. They can interfere with the ability of mammograms to detect cancer, and they are causing diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and, of course, possibly cancer. Yet some companies and some plastic surgeons are still saying, ''not to worry.''

True, 20 percent of breast surgery is done for reconstruction after cancer, and this should be understood and sanctioned.

As for the elective surgery, I think the real culprit is our culture. Big breasts seem to be an ongoing preoccupation in this country, for both sexes, even though we all know that big breasts don't mean better sex or femininity.

Our society dictates that women have to be perfect on the outside, that they must look beautiful and be sexy. What's inside -- intellect, spirit -- seems far less important.

Unfortunately, many women seem to be striving for this "outside" standard, and consequently seem vulnerable to every kind of cosmetic surgery that comes down the pike.

When talking about the implant issue with a friend from Thailand, it is refreshing to know that in her culture breasts don't have to be big.

''In my country it is considered bad manners to wear a bikini," she explains. "We do not emphasize breasts. It is not of importance.''

We could spread the word that breasts with implants lose some of their sensitivity, or that breast implants do not a better marriage make. Or we could spread the word that sexuality and self-esteem come from within, not from anything cosmetic.

But what is ''within'' seems to be lost these days.

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