Thoughts on the breast implant scandal – the stark reality of what happens when women are reduced to breasts

6 Jan

40,000 women in the UK are thought to have industrial silicone containing potentially toxic chemicals in their breast implants. This is clearly a terrifying and distressing situation for these women. That this has ever happened highlights the cosmetic surgery industry’s absolute disregard and disrespect for women’s bodies. This is an industry which is focussed on profit at the expense of women’s health – so much so that it is happy to pump industrial silicone into women’s bodies for which it charges these women thousands of pounds.

As well as an industry happy to profit from, fuel, and play on women’s insecurity, this scandal has highlighted another scandal that our society must come to terms with and act upon – that women are so unhappy with their bodies. The breast implant scandal has highlighted the rising number of breast implant operations that are occurring in the UK, and that those seeking these implants are ‘ordinary women’. Despite important feminist movements, particularly in the 1970s, today women face enormous pressure to conform with some ideal woman shape that is largely based on breasts. We have become reduced to breasts, as Nina Power, in her wonderful book ‘One Dimensional Woman’ describes so well, ‘The all-pervasive peepshow segmentarity of contemporary culture demands that women treat their breasts as wholly separate entities, with little or no connection to themselves, their personality, or even the rest of their body. All autonomous, organic agency of a moral, rational or egoic nature is dissolved into auto-objectivization…’ (She continues for a fair bit and I think it’s absolutely fantastic!)

Treated in such a way, perhaps it does not seen so shocking that so many women are going under the knife in order to achieve the ‘perfect’ breasts. But ‘perfect’ for whom? The implants can result in loss of sensation in the breasts, so it seems as though women are not necessarily doing this for themselves. Breasts – with uses (nowadays almost completely forgotten) that include suckling babies, and women’s sexual please, are reduced to play things for men to ogle. Interesting, vivacious, women are reduced to breasts. We must fight against the compartmentalisation of ourselves.

A significant minority of women who have been affected by the breast implant scandal are women who had implants after a mastectomy – again, women who have been through the horrifying experience of breast cancer and the loss of a breast are then expected to conform to the two breasted ‘norm’. I have spoken to women who have described the coercion from the medical establishment, family, friends, and wider society to op for reconstruction. What right do they have to tell a woman what to do with her body? Why is there not a choice to have one breast, or no breasts, and to come to terms with their loss? A mastectomy is not a ‘disfigurement’ as so many people insensitively refer to it, it is an alteration of a body that is still beautiful.

We need to have a serious discussion about the treatment of our breasts and our bodies – but despite being bombarded almost incessantly with images of breasts, people seem embarrassed when you say the word ‘breasts’. People seem even less sure when you speak about women with one breast, or none. Well, it’s time to get over this coyness and to accept that our bodies are different and that this is a good thing. Capitalism’s selling of the ideal female body is, as the breast implant scandal has shown, literally toxic, for all of society.

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One Response to “Thoughts on the breast implant scandal – the stark reality of what happens when women are reduced to breasts”

  1. izzykoksal January 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Further to my post above – as well as discussion – perhaps we also need to take direct action in order to change the way in which women and our bodies are treated. In San Francisco, activists put up posters with photos of women with mastectomies all over the city in order to un-hide what is a reality for some women.

    Barbara Ehrenreich describes the women’s health movement in the 1970s in the USA in her pamphlet Witches, Nurses, and Midwives. This movement stood up for women’s rights and bodies against harmful medical practices.

    Feminism is strands of thoughts which are very much based on the site of the body – there are surely many enriching discussions and actions which we can take.

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