June 29, 2011

You’re so Perfect…except for your Boobs: Body Image, Beauty & the Painful Pursuit of Perfection.

Body Image, Beauty and the Painful Pursuit of Perfection.

“Look! I married you a certain way! I like women who look a certain way! It’s my right to like women who look a certain way and I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life not being happy.” Brad exclaimed.

The retort from my friend Jasmine’s husband was a reaction to her staunch refusal to get ‘another set’ less than two months after removing the implants that nearly cost her her life.  For nearly a decade Jasmine endured numerous health complications that Western doctors claimed had nothing to do with her silicon breast implants.

Brad seemed different from her last fiance, which is why Jasmine married him. He seemed open-minded, kind, forgiving, gentle, nurturing and accepting. When she sprouted a few stray gray hairs in her late twenties he urged her not to pluck them saying he loved her “wisdom hairs.”

Tim, her boyfriend a decade earlier, told her she was perfect and the “girl of his dreams.” Well, almost. She was the girl of his dreams except her breasts were too small and she’d be perfect if they were bigger. In fact he’d marry her if she’d consider breast enlargement surgery. Within a week Jasmine, then 18-years-old in 1990, found herself under the knife. When she woke up the static and lifeless silicone orbs on her chest were much larger than what she had agreed to during the initial consultation. The consultation that came within days of her halfheartedly agreeing to consider them.

Jasmine was genetically tiny and naturally beautiful by today’s standard. Now she embodied the girl on the back of a trucker‘s mudflap. Tim’s version of the perfect wife. As promised, they were quickly engaged and twenty-five-year-old Tim, the ‘hot guy’ in town, paraded her around like a trophy–until she had the courage to leave him for being emotionally abusive and controlling.

I met Jasmine a few years after her plastic surgery and we became tight friends. In numerous intimate conversations she confided in me about her implants and Tim, her body image issues, and her distrust of men. These conversations were plagued by a deep sadness and marked by intense insecurity and regret. With her striking eyes and “porn star body”, Jasmine commanded a lot of male attention, attention that she deflected and tried to avoid by dressing in ways that diminished her figure.

I was one of the only people that knew how uncomfortable this attention made her and how much she longed to have her original body back. Shortly after leaving Tim, she began looking into removing the implants. She was repeatedly told by male doctors that she would be ‘disfigured’ and that there was no sound reason to have them removed. That is until they began to break down inside her body and wreak havoc on her immune system.

By the time she began noticing her brittle hair and general dis-ease, Jasmine had developed into a smart, sharp-tongued feminist with a penchant for alternative holistic medicine and healing modalities. Eight years after the initial breast implant surgery, four years after finding her feminist voice and two years after discovering massive amounts of hair shedding on her clothes and furniture, Jasmine fell off her mountain bike with her chest landing smack down on the handle bars.

She heard an audible tear and immediately knew one of her implants had torn. She went to her doctor and he blew her off, as did the countless doctors after that. They waved her off as an irrational, over emotional, and slightly insane woman. The following year she married Brad and within months of their wedding the symptoms of a ‘crazy’ woman began to increase.

She discovered that:

Studies have shown rupture rates to be 50% to 60% in silicone implants 10-15 years old,[24] with one study showing a failure rate of 6% per year for the first 5 years, 50% at 10 years, and 70% at 17 years.[22] Twenty-one percent of women in one study, following implant rupture, had silicone gel migration out of the fibrous capsule of scar tissue that surrounds the breast implant.[24] These studies utilized MRI, which has been shown to be 74% to 94% sensitive and 85% to 98% specific in detecting implant rupture.[

Over the course of the next year:

  • Her hair had become so brittle that chunks would fall out, leaving bald spots on her scalp.
  • Her face was permanently bloated.
  • She developed large cystic acne in her lymph node areas of her arm pits, neck, jawline and the sides of her cheeks.
  • Her digestive track became paralyzed and completely shut down. She was unable to defecate for a month. It took three weeks of daily colonic treatments to remove the compacted fecal matter.
  • She also began to develop cysts, which turned into tumors around her nipples and across her breasts.

Most Western doctors declared the symptoms as unrelated and, again, chalked up her concerns to the rants of a highly paranoid and overly sensitive drama queen. Jasmine had to diagnose herself through her own research on Dow Corning’s polyurethane-coated silicone breast implants and heal herself (keep herself alive) to the best of her ability by seeking out alternative health care. Her research confirmed the source of her failing health as more and more women spoke out publicly and Dow Corning endured scrutiny for their product.

Despite her list of growing health problems, many doctors encouraged her to leave them in precisely because Dow Corning was under current pressure to remove silicone from the market. Their reasoning? Silicone implants feel better than saline implants and if she were to remove her silicone implants and replace them with saline she would look and feel less desirable.

Eventually, she found a doctor that not only agreed to remove her implants, but told her that if she didn’t have them removed she wouldn’t live to see her next birthday. After long discussions with her husband, her mother, and myself, she scheduled a removal date. I took off a week from graduate school, borrowed some money from a friend and flew 5 hours to be with her.

Shortly after they were removed, Jasmine regained mental clarity, felt less scattered, her body became stronger and she felt generally relieved. And that’s when Brad dropped the bomb on her.

“When do you think you’ll be ready to replace these with the next pair with saline implants?

At this point, Dow Corning’s silicone implants were off the market (only to be reintroduced in 2006, a decision that was deemed “sound” mere days ago.). Jasmine made it clear that she had no intention of replacing them. She reminded Brad that he had been supportive of her decision to remove them and that he had taken vows to love her in sickness and in health. That’s when he retorted with his right to be with a large-breasted woman, like the one he originally married. Jasmine’s feelings of rejection and fear were confounded when they divorced a year later following Brad’s affair with a buxom hostess at work. She was mortified and depressed.

Not only did Jasmine’s marriage fail, she began to notice a shift in attention from men–attention that shifted away from herself and to women now younger than she with fuller bust lines. Despite the initial pressure into getting breast implants, her regret over getting implants and the fact that they nearly ended her life, she confided in me that there were several occasions in which she contemplated getting that next pair.

Jasmine’s story reveals many things. First and foremost it demonstrates the incredible pressure girls and women feel to embody an unrealistic and dangerous beauty ideal. It also exposes the mental and emotional health risks, the incredible and painful risks women are willing to take in order to embody an ideal of perfection. Because in the end, as bell hooks proclaims in Communion: The Female Search for Love, being beautiful is about being loved. Girls and women understand from an early age that we’re primarily valued by the way we look and that if we can achieve this oppressive beauty ideal, we’ll be rewarded. In the words of hooks, girls and women strive to “make [themselves] over, to become someone worthy of love.”

Like more and more women, Jasmine became aware of the damaging fall-out caused from pursuing a society’s singular beauty ideal. Her awareness was shaped by her personal experience as well as from her feminist consciousness which was informed by the continued efforts of the feminist movement. But as hooks points out, awareness is not enough.

To solve the problem of body self-hatred, we have to critique sexist thinking, militantly oppose it, and simultaneously create new ways of seeing ourselves.


Note: Last week the FDA stated in a report that breast implants are safe but will fail within 10 years. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

The longer a woman has silicone gel-filled breast implants, the more likely she is to experience complications. One in 5 patients who received implants for breast augmentation will need them removed within 10 years of implantation. For patients who received implants for breast reconstruction, as many as 1 in 2 will require removal 10 years after implantation. The most frequently observed complications and outcomes are capsular contracture (hardening of the area around the implant), reoperation (additional surgeries) and implant removal. Other common complications include implant rupture, wrinkling, asymmetry, scarring, pain, and infection.

Originally posted at Adios Barbie.

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