Breast Implants - A Feminist Issue


There are certain conversations that women prefer to have with other women: periods, childbirth and .. *drum-roll* .. breast implants.  I think these three issues make up the core issues of what separates us women from the men-folk. Ever tried discussing any one of those three subjects with a man?  Many prefer to gnaw off their own limbs than endure. Yes, women do talk to men about breast implants but it is more likely to be about cost, logistics and other rational aspects of the procedure. I do not deny these are important parts of a conversation but they are a smaller part of a larger picture that women want (perhaps need) to discuss with other women about breast implant surgery.

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The intimate nature of a conversation about breast implants is less self-conscious when carried out woman to woman.  When it comes to breast implants, not only do women want to talk to other women but they want to meet the kind of women who are not afraid to show them their surgical results.  Many years ago I made a reality tv programme where the film crew saw an example of this. I believe that this is a realistic way for women to visualise and understand the possibilities in store for them. Women are generally honest with whether they think their results are ‘natural’ or ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ or ‘big’ or ‘small’, and what manufacturer their implants came from and what choices they were offered at the consultations. They want to talk about how it made them feel to sit in front of a male surgeon with their breasts out and being felt for surgical assessment. While surgeons may do this every day as part of their job, a woman does not usually get her breasts out for anyone other than one close person. For a woman in a consultation, it is an unusually intimate act in an unusually clinical setting. There are alot of emotions involved for many women in this part of the consultation.  Some patients may be  strippers who are more used to this public situation but may not wish to reveal their profession. This can create conflict when surgeons who don’t know the patient’s profession talk about a ‘natural look’.

The media encourage our daily chatter by providing us with similar stories from different angles about cosmetic surgery and other issues relating to women. It is impossible to ignore cosmetic surgery in the media any more. We are encouraged to attempt to blow the whistle (on behalf of our sisters) on bad surgeons and results but .. it seems .. only if those bad surgeons or bad surgeries are by way of a cowboy. The truth that life teaches us is that there are still some bad apples on very expensive carts even though manufacturers do their best to make sure that all apples look the same!  Sometimes it is not the surgery that is bad but the way the surgeon deals with the criticism and that makes him/her just as much of a cowboy as .. well .. the cowboys in the eyes of the patients. All surgery carries risks and each patient will bring to the table their own particular risks which keeps the focus of finding a well trained surgeon so crucial.

The fact that our cosmetic surgery reality is being so tightly controlled by the media makes it even more compelling to discuss experiences without fear. The over commercialisation of surgery that results from control factors like these make it unsafe for patients not to talk openly. Being forced to keep silent when conversation is needed creates a climate of fear for patients. Some would argue that a good open conversation alone is what creates well-informed patients. I am not so sure. Cosmetic surgery (like any other surgery)  is one of the top ten major life events and a conversation (emotional release) is an essential part of the process. Who the patient talks to is crucial. Women prefer to talk to women about breast implants but which woman and why? For some, friends and family will be most appropriate but when it comes to professional emotional support, I believe a female counsellor is best placed to take this conversation. This is especially so if the woman in question has both had breast implant surgery and is trained in psychotherapy and is not afraid to make disclosure when that may be relevant. Counsellors are not their to advise on surgeons or implant manufacturers.

Is there a type of responsibility attached to having breast implants? There are some obvious responsibilities like the fact that implants are not for life. It is surprising how many women tell me that their implants are guaranteed for life. This is because they have been misled to believe that ‘life’ means their (the patient's) life and not the life of the implant which may be anything up to about 20 years maximum. There are some implants that are for life but they are not used in normal circumstances because they are difficult for surgeons to ‘place’ right.

Feminist or not, most women find that a breast augmentation changes the nature of their relationships with other women. It can change the nature of their relationship with men but that is something that is usually considered before surgery. Many women find it far more difficult to reveal that they have breast implants with a new partner than they ever imagined possible. Some women find the nature of their relationship to other women changes after breast implant surgery.

Many psychological issues are involved in breast implants surgery and I would argue that those issues are mostly feminist in nature and best understood by another woman. If one of two of those women also happens to be a psychotherapist with experience of breast implants and comfortable with disclosure, so much the better.

Written by Deborah Sandler resident therapist on

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