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July 23, 2020

Breast Implants are Not Empowering—Here’s Why.

*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.

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I am small-chested. Always have been, probably always will be.

This has been a source of shame and embarrassment for me at various points in my life. I am a woman who naturally fits most of our society’s arbitrary beauty standards, so the lack of what my culture deems “adequate” breast size has stuck out to me like a sore thumb my whole life. 

So the idea of getting breast implants has been the mirage of a watering hole for me in my desert days of self-consciousness. I’ve considered it many times, and for good reasons.

I was in the modeling industry for many years and knew that it would benefit my career and earning potential. Then, I worked for a financial lending company that clearly hired women based on their looks, so I thought that implants would give me more job stability. Now, I work in the space of transformation and healing and my career is run primarily from social media, and I know that I could garner many more followers and likes as a result of breast augmentation.

I also know that the insecurities that sometimes pop up relating to my breast size would go away after such a surgery. Fake boobs would also “even out” my shape to match my god-given big booty. Plus, I live in a place where there are excellent, skilled, and kind surgeons. And, I am fortunate enough that I have the expendable income to comfortably afford the procedure. 

All of these are reasons why I “should” and could, yet I refuse to get cosmetic breast implants.

Why? Not only because I have done the inner work to reclaim my right to love and adore, even prefer my small breasts without needing society’s permission to do so, but also (perhaps moreover) because I do not electively pay to support industries and systems of oppression that hurt girls and women, psychologically and physically. 

After years of pondering, tens of hours of research, dozens of conversations with women who have gotten implants, who are thinking about it, and who have chosen not to, I have elucidated eight powerful reasons women should strongly consider not getting breast implants.

This series will be published in eight parts, with each article speaking to one of the reasons. 

In these articles, I am critiquing the female-objectifying culture that we live in, not the girls and women who are the effect of it; I in no way blame or judge any woman who has chosen to get such a surgery, nor any woman who chooses to go through with a surgery after having read this article; and in this article, I am specifically talking about elective cosmetic breast augmentation for cisgendered females. I am not talking about sex-change surgeries, breast reconstruction surgeries after mastectomies, or anything of the like.

Also, I would like to acknowledge that in this series of articles, I do not at all touch on all of the myriad and serious health complications and risks of breast implant surgery. There are plenty of articles out there (like this one or this one or this one) that talk about that. My sole focus in these articles is on the psychological, social, and political harm that breast implant culture inflicts on girls and women.

So, here we go, the first reason women should strongly consider not getting implants:

Getting breast implants buys into an impossible beauty ideal that oppresses us all.

Dr. Renee Engeln, in her book Beauty Sick, presents the concept of beauty sickness as the life-sucking energy and effort that females divert to their appearance, which zaps their cognitive resources, impairs their self-esteem, and often, drains their bank accounts.

Our society prioritizes women’s “beauty” (or rather, conformity to this cultural moment’s arbitrary beauty standards) on the outside over their health on the inside.

Western culture (namely, the patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy) has created an oppressive beauty standard that is not only unattainable by 99 percent of the population (without inflicting bodily harm), but it also is racist (based on a white ideal), classist (only somewhat attainable to those who have expendable income to pour into beauty culture), and sexist (requires copious amounts of time and financial investment from women and often requires women subjecting themselves to unhealthy bodily discomfort and violation). 

We are kidding ourselves if we think that beauty culture has anything remotely to do with female health or empowerment. 

To paraphrase Naomi Wolf from her book The Beauty Myth, Western beauty standards actually have nothing to do with female beauty, but rather, female obedience and oppression. Beauty culture is the “most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

The extent of our participation in beauty culture has much to do with the extent of our internalized oppression, or our internalization of the inferiorizing, objectifying, and dehumanizing messages about women that we have received since we were little girls.

Internalized oppression is when a member of an oppressed group (like women) believes and acts out the stereotypes created about their group, and often uses the methods of the oppressing group against themselves. 

Some easy examples of internalized oppression are: someone who has experienced bullying for their weight making fat jokes about themselves; a student living in poverty believing that they are not qualified for advanced classes; or a Mexican-American feeling guilty for speaking Spanish in public.

Another example of internalized oppression is a woman dieting, spending lots of money, and/or subjecting herself to bodily harm in an attempt to conform to beauty standards that oppress her whole gender. 

Violence against women is pervasive in our society; therefore, we have internalized the belief that it is okay to be violent toward our bodies, and are more likely to justify acting violently toward ourselves, like starving ourselves or paying to have our bodies sliced open, stuffed, and sewn back together.

In her book Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West, Sheila Jeffreys says, “Unless we accept that women are biologically programmed to engage in beauty practices, then they need to be understood as cultural practices that are required of women. All practices required of one sex rather than the other should be examined for their political role in maintaining male dominance.” 

Let’s think for a minute about the American body standard: have an incredibly thin body with zero fat anywhere except for large breasts and a big butt that are made…of fat. 

“A real woman with the proportions of Barbie would have a 38-inch bust, an 18-inch waist, legs almost twice as long as her torso, and about the same shoe size as a 4-year old child. How many barbie-admiring girls have grown up to acquire breast implants, face lifts, skin peels, nose jobs and other unnecessary surgeries that cater to the billions-of-dollars-a-year beauty industry?” ~ Barbara G Walker, Belief and Unbelief: Womanhood Beyond Religion

Impossibility is written into the blueprint of the beauty ideal. It was designed to be unattainable so that virtually all women feel dissatisfied with themselves, and therefore remain disempowered and continue spending money on beauty “fixes.”

Of course, most of us engage in beauty practices to some extent or another. But there is a big difference between the physical and psychic impact of applying blush and lipstick and the physical and psychic impact of violating our own bodily integrity in a violent and risky way in order to fundamentally change our body shape because we have internalized the idea that our bodies are not okay as they are.

We have to draw the line somewhere because our shame-fueled capitalist economy sure as hell won’t do that for us.

When we voluntarily participate in beauty procedures that pose risks to our health and/or pleasure, we are doing so because we have internalized the message that we are not allowed to be as confident, self-loving, self-expressed, and powerful as we want to be unless we conform to an unrealistic and oppressive beauty standard. 

When we participate in these harmful beauty rituals, we are reinforcing the collective narrative that it is necessary to do so in order to earn the right to be worthy, confident, and lovable.

And although we are deluded into thinking that our conformity and obedience will empower us personally, it does not, as I will continue to illustrate in the rest of the articles in this series. Rather, our conformity and obedience simply work to keep us subordinate to men, zapped of our cognitive and fiscal resources, more competitive with other women, and more attached to our appearance (and therefore fearful of its inevitable changes).

If we do not want to participate in our own oppression and sanction the oppression of other women and girls, we should not invest in and conform to beauty culture by getting breast implants.

Stay tuned for the next article in which I will discuss the fact that while we are deluded into thinking that getting breast implants will augment our personal power, it actually leaves women feeling more powerless.

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