Breasts and body image

Depending on your age, you might not even remember a time when the availability and prevalence of plastic surgery didn’t have an impact on the daily lives of women everywhere. Nowadays the popularity of implants is making women feel insecure about their breasts to the point where they don’t feel ‘normal’ in their own skin.

Unbelievably, because of the constant media spin on the beauty ideal, the celebrity culture of surgical enhancement, and the rise and rise of internet pornography, many young people don’t even know what the natural shape of breasts is!

In case you’re wondering, natural breasts are teardrop-shaped and hang in the middle of the chest area, if not lower. Natural breasts do not resemble grapefruit – or beach balls – cut in half and positioned impossibly high! Yet, even when it comes to choosing the surgery route, although teardrop-shape implants are readily available, women by default seem to flock to the unnaturally rounded shape, made popular by the beauty industry and perpetuated by the media.

Here at Let’s Talk Breasts, we firmly believe it should be the individual woman’s right to choose what is ‘beautiful’ to her. If that equates to a size and shape that is unnatural to the one you were born with, then fair enough – it is your choice to go down the plastic surgery route. We fully support surgery that assists with a positive mental body image, or indeed helps counteract physical problems, such as breast reduction surgery for addressing back pain. We’re just not overly comfortable with being brainwashed by the media and celebrity culture, with women being shoehorned into an idealistic box where ‘one size fits all’.

In her 1991 book The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women, author Naomi Wolf was at pains to point out that, ‘The surgeons’ market is imaginary, since there is nothing wrong with women’s faces or bodies that social change won’t cure; so the surgeons depend for their income on warping female self-perception and multiplying female self-hatred.’ Nearly a quarter of a century after this feminist bible’s first publication, young women all around the world are growing up constantly bombarded by images of unrealistic breasts, and are practically brainwashed into negative self-comparison.

‘The last thing the consumer index wants men and women to do is to figure out how to love one another,’ said Wolf prophetically. ‘The $1.5 trillion retail-sales industry … is fuelled by sexual dissatisfaction. Ads do not sell sex – that would be counterproductive, if it meant that heterosexual women and men turned to one another and were gratified. What they sell is sexual discontent.’ By this, Wolf also means discontent with the way women appear to themselves in the mirror.

If you lived in Venezuela, you could be forgiven for thinking that art is imitating life, imitating art. Last year the New York Times reported how mannequins in that country’s shop windows are now being made with deliberately and massively augmented bosoms to reflect that country’s obsession with cosmetic enhancement. Apparently boob jobs are now so commonplace in Venezuela that a woman with implants is casually referred to as ‘an operated woman.’ Ironically, the best-selling mannequin with its strikingly inflated chest, is known both as ‘operated’ and ‘normal’.

Women worldwide will be familiar with the inhuman silhouette of the iconic Barbie doll – many little girls’ first experience of a fantasy body shape, achievable only with plastic surgery. Yet Barbie dolls with their laughably unrealistic body proportions only just scratch the surface. ‘While girls have always been encouraged to see self-decoration as a central part of their lives, today they are also exposed to a deluge of messages, even at an early age, about the importance of becoming sexually attractive,’ says Natasha Walter, in her book Living dolls: The return of sexism. ‘These dolls are just a fragment of a much wider culture in which young women are encouraged to see their sexual allure as their primary passport to success.’

Indeed, women who desire the surgical look without resorting to a bank loan can now rely on their underwear to do the job for them. No, we’re not talking push-up bras here – Margarita™ has specifically created a bra designed to give ‘a natural cosmetically enhanced look’. Unsurprisingly endorsed by a plastic surgeon from the popular TV show Extreme Makeover, the name of this bra is … Evolution. We kid you not.

‘We need to wake up from the fallacy that the media and plastic surgeons are airing to us!’ states the rather brilliant 007b website. ‘Images in the media and in advertisements may be the main influence in getting women to believe their breasts are “inadequate”.’ The site’s argument that by classifying perfectly normal conditions such as small breasts, asymmetrical breasts and large areolae as ‘deformities’, plastic surgery websites are programming women into thinking there’s something wrong with their appearance, when in fact there really isn’t. (Incidentally, if you’d like to know what else could and should be classified as normal, why not visit that site’s galleries for more than a little reassurance.)

Women committing themselves to surgery often claim they’re getting implants for themselves but ultimately is it all really down to pleasing a man or even impressing other women? Author Susan Seligson examined this issue at length in her book Stacked. During a chapter entitled ‘I’m doing this for me’, Seligson quotes Dr Kristen Harrison, a media scholar at the University of Illinois: ‘I say to my students, think about this: if you were alone on a desert island would you cut open your chest and put two coconut halves in?’

It may be a rhetorical question, but it’s one well worth thinking about if you’re seriously considering breast enhancement surgery. All we ask is that you make sure any changes to your body reflect your needs alone; not those of society.

by Bryony Sutherland

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