I enjoy looking at bare breasts in the change room at my gym. I do it brazenly, out of curiosity. I am constantly amazed by how many women have breast implants these days, especially women who appear to be in their early 20s. These young ladies shelled out a lot of money (whether their cash or somebody else’s), undergoing the risks and pain of surgery simply to make their breasts look larger. I know that some women require treatment after experiencing cancer and others are transitioning, but these particular circumstances do not seem to apply to my change room ladies. I think about all the other ways they could have spent that money, including a lengthy trip through Europe, stopping in Spain to eat oranges in a sunny park before returning to a small hotel with a tiny pink bath tub. That is what I was doing with my scanty earnings when I was 26. At that age, I spent my money on education, travel, rent, and food, working very hard to avoid going into debt. Maybe these young women actually took out loans in order to change their appearance? I just don’t get it.
I have tried to understand the allure of breast implants, reading books about the history of breasts, cosmetic surgery, and female body ideals. I have found sociological and feminist articles that simply ask women why they wanted breast implants. The answers are not very revealing [aside: I will save my critiques of social science research methdologies for another day], but most of the women reported that they got implants for “themselves” and simply wanted to be “normal.” Now I am not sure what is their version of a normal female body. Perhaps they have watched quite a bit of pornographic material, especially the conventional kind aimed at straight men. When I look around the change room I see numerous “normal” female bodies and they all look different. Some are big, some are small, some are pale, some are dark, some have long legs, some have tiny waists, some have no waists at all. In terms of breasts, there is a similarly wide range of shapes and sizes, but many have one thing in common—that is, the ones that have not been surgically opened and stuffed with gel packs: they are subject to the laws of gravity. Unaltered breasts (please note that I do not say “natural”) tend to be soft and to move and shift along with the person who grew them. In contrast, the gel pack ones defy gravity in an amazing way, being other than flesh and refusing to age (except when they gradually harden and need to be replaced every ten or fifteen years).
I think that breast implants are part of the culture of fat phobia. Sure, there are many reasons for the increasing number of breast implant surgeries—and one psychological study showed that the women seeking surgery had higher rates of alcoholism, drug use, and suicidal thoughts; their self-esteem improved after the surgeries, giving them potentially better futures (Archives of International Medicine, 2004; Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 2006). But I insist that another part of the current fashion for implants is the general loathing of body fat in western and other cultures. Breasts are primarily composed of fat, so thin women tend to have small breasts and voluptous women tend to have large breasts. It is not very common for lean and muscular women to have big boobs, one of the reasons why competitive female bodybuilders get breast implants in order to re-establish their femininity. The current demand for women to have “toned” lean frames with larges breasts and asses is essentially impossible for the vast majority of women. No amount of working out or dieting will produce the desired result. It is no wonder that breast and butt implants are the most popular kinds: they solve this impossibility while replacing the feel and sensation of fat with a substance that is harder and firmer. In the end, these implants contribute to the widespread hatred of female fat, whether that result is intentional by those who pay for them or not. [For my earlier thoughts on implants, see a post called “Bad Tits,” published on September 30, 2012].
I think the idea that breast implants are fueled by fat phobia is obvious. When I googled this concept, however, I found practically nothing written about it. Instead, I hit a Web site that promoted the injection of fat into female breasts, displaced from other parts of the body (https://www.lipostructure.com/breast-augmentation/). You can turn your fat thighs into larger breasts, supposedly. This technique does not seem widespread, but would counter my arguments about implants being fat phobic because the technique increases or at least displaces body fat instead of replacing it with another substance. All the same, I have to ask: how many women would prefer this solution to the more common use of artificial implants? Would they be happy with larger, soft and floppy breasts? Or do they want breasts that are in fact composed of something other than fat? I suspect that the latter is the case.
Is this discussion even important? I am not sure. These days, I am focused on trying to live in a less selfish way, reading every day about the tragic plight of Syrian and other refugees. How can I continue to work out at the gym and write about “body image” issues when millions of people are suffering and dying? Their plight puts things in perspective, but it has not diminished the demand for big, round, non-fat breasts. Although I still care about the appearance of my own body, I find that concern—which has never been primary in my life—diminishing further wth age. I recentlly turned 48 and my own breasts are smaller and softer, after their valiant service in feeding my infant son for 7 months. When I was breast feeding, I had large, hard, round “porn” tits. I absolutely hated them. They were unwieldy, heavy, uncomfortable. I had to wear two tight bras at the gym and it still hurt to skip rope. When I see the young women with implants at the gym, I am baffled because I simultaneously see discomfort, pain, and a misplaced effort to create a meaningful life. Perhaps I have gone too far. I expect there will be some push back on this judgemental way of thinking, and I welcome it. I remain open to other interpretations.