Wait a minute…. Breast implants are mutilation??

Earlier this year the company that produces PIP breast implants filed for bankruptcy, women all over the world received the news that their breast implants may be filled with low-grade industrial silicone and more likely to rupture. These women had what they felt were safe medical devices from a company that had oversight from a regulatory body. In the aftermath the question was raised for what actions should be taken and who was responsible for those actions.  Should the implants be removed, removed and replaced, left alone?  Should the company pay, the governments, the clinics that preformed the surgery, the women who had surgery?

All these issues set aside, another notion came out.  Articles started popping up correlating breast implant surgery to female genital mutilation. I will be looking at two of these articles today.  The first is an article published on January 10, 2012 by Marianne Møllmann of Amnesty International. Ms. Mollmann has worked in women’s rights for over eight years. The second article was published January 16, 2012 by André Picard. Mr. Picard is a public health journalist and author.

I’d like to start with a few definitions.

Genitals- external sex organs

Mutilation the act of depriving an individual of a limb, member, or other important part. Also, the condition resulting therefrom.

Modification- A small alteration, adjustment, or limitation.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)- From the World Health Organization comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

In Ms. Mollmann’s article it states that “FGM is often justified with direct reference to fixed gender roles, in particular in the sexual realm. Women “should be” sexually passive and “should not” experience sexual pleasure. Or women who have not undergone FGM are “unclean” and cannot properly serve their husbands. In countries where many see marriage as a woman’s only possibility for financial security, the intervention is less of a choice, even when performed on adult women with their own outward consent. FMG is carried out solely to satisfy stereotyped notions of what a women could or should be, and which has:

  1. no discernible health benefits;
  2. a negative impact on women’s sexual health; and
  3. permanent effects on women’s health more generally.”

Then the article continues to state that breast augmentation surgery is performed for similar reasons with similar risks. Additionally, that “breast augmentation surgery is carried out solely to satisfy stereotyped notions of what women could or should be: sexually available and attractive to men.”

Say what?!?!  Seriously?  I don’t know about every woman who gets an augmentation but in my previous post Breast Implants~ Does Society Really Have Anything To Do With It? lists reasons for why women get an augmentation. As I stated there, 40% of augmentations are done for cosmetic reasons, 45% for medical deformities, and 15% to restore the breasts after breast-feeding, pregnancy, or weight loss. Out of these numbers, I can see how 40% could be taken as an attempt to be sexually attractive to men. But statistics provided by the Plastic Surgery Guide show that they typical woman who is choosing breast augmentation has been considering it for years, is in their early to mid thirties, and is married or involved in a long-term relationship. Sounds like they are really trying to conform to society to be more sexually available and attractive to men.

The second article directly references the first my Ms. Mollmann. This article really starts to take things to the deeper end by stating “both practices are driven by ingrained notions of a woman’s place in society, the quest for an ideal of beauty/sexuality and social/religious norms.”Great, let’s see some studies that document this.  It continues with the notion that breast implants have “a negative impact on a woman’s sexual health, and permanent scars, physical and psychological.” Yes surgery leaves scars, but any woman having an augmentation knows that. But psychological scars and negative affects on sexual health?  I’d love to see some studies that document this. A quick Google search reveals an article published by WebMd which was reviewed by an MD prior to publishing, and provides input from actual medical doctors and psychiatrists. One of the first things the article states is that “studies have shown that breast implants can help boost self-esteem, body image, and sexual satisfaction.”  This completely contradicts the statements made by Ms. Mollmann in her article and later quoted by Mr. Picard.  Additionally, the article provides a quote from David K. Wellisch, PhD, professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “They simply are not happy with their bodies and wish to improve them. They have realistic expectations that if this is done, they will look more satisfying to their own eye and to others. But their self-esteem does not depend on it.” But (there is always a but) this article does talk candidly about when a breast augmentation is not done for the right reasons, when it is used to cover a larger psychological problem that eventually returns with full force. It is a well-rounded article that disproves some of the “facts” provided in both articles, while providing some substantiating information.

The article then details a bit of the history of breast augmentations, which is actually quite interesting.  I’d love to look into that a little further, just for curiosity’s sake. The breast implants today are one of the most researched medical devices in the world (Dr. Edwards, Las Vegas, NV plastic surgeon).  The article starts to conclude by stating that there is an estimated 10 million women world-wide that have implants. Mr. Picard feeds into an already incorrect stereotype stating, “in other words, breast implants have become normalized: It has become, in our consumerist society, natural to look unnatural.” Major incorrect assumption here!  There is a media induced idea that breast implants look unnatural. Not all breast implants look like Chelsea Charms or Jodie Marsh. There is not a week that goes by where there are not claims about some starlet having an augmentation surgery.

Finally, Mr. Picard pulls out some flashy journalism language that ruins an already biased article. “Should we glibly accept the mutilation (or self-mutilation if you prefer) as normal? And, if so, are we not tacitly accepting the mutilation of women’s genitals more generally? Barbarism remains barbarism, even when it is regulated, and even when it is sugar-coated (or plastic-coated and sterilized).”  I know that I find it highly offensive to see the reference of self-mutilation.  I have not been deprived of a part of my body.  It has been modified. Body modifications happen in many different forms, many of which are genital modifications.  I do not see any articles stating that a clitoral piercing mutilation. And using the term barbarism? Barbarism referrers to primitive culture, which has never been civilized. Breast implants have come out of a changing culture.  These inflammatory words only serve to get a reaction from the reader, not inform.

If you are considering breast implants please check the link below. Do your research and make the choice for yourself.

http://www.breastimplantsafety.org/

Please feel free to comment below.  But please be respectful.  I reserve the right to remove rude or disrespectful comments.

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7 Comments

  1. The Marianne Møllmann article is sickening. You rightly say that to compare breast augmentation to FGM is insulting to women who have made the decision to modify their bodies. What I find more disturbing though is that someone can compare FGM to ANYTHING. There are certain crimes against human rights that should not be used as analogy for anything else. Comparing something as horrible as gential mutilation to something relatively harmless is actually taking the focus off the real issue, it’s belittling the real victims and contrary to the writer’s intentions, it dumbs down FGM rather than making breast augmentation seem worse. It reminds me of the “omg I totally just got raped by customs fees/bank charges/whatever” bullcrap.

    Yes, some of the pressures on girls and young women to conform to a narrow ideal of sexual attractiveness do lead to a lot of girls wanting to alter their bodies, but with female genital mutilation we’re talking about a mainstream culture insisting that in order to be *acceptable* as female is is necessary to cut off a girl’s clitoris and labia and sew up her vagina. Needless to say, against her will. How can anyone think this is the same thing?

    • Zoggi, I agree with you! Honestly I do not think I have the credentials to properly present information on FGM to my readers. But as a woman with breast implants and a Bachelors of Science in Social Psychology (basically Psychology of society as a whole) I felt like I could touch on the equation to breast augmentation.
      My personal views are completely in line with yours. The idea that a woman’s choice to modify their body in anyway can compare to the forceful mutilation of another woman? That just makes me sick. It completely removed the real issue, the fact that FGM is still a common practice with real women who are suffering every day. It unnecessarily attacks women who have modified their bodies and degrades a very important cause. I just do not see how they could come close to comparing to something so horrible and so against the rights of a woman.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Very nicely written! I have to tell you, my kids and I had quite a discussion on the whole subject after I read the article. My kids know about at least some of my reasoning for my surgery. I was so “fired up” as they put it after reading the article that we had a very interesting discussion about implants, about FGM, about body image, all sorts of things. I love when I can engage my kids and discuss larger issues with them. To quote my 14-year-old son with regards to the Marianne Mollman article, “what an idiot.” I think that summed things up quite well! I agree with the comments above, it truly does belittle the victims of FGM and minimizes the tragedy that is involved with that, just because this person disagrees with a woman modifying their body for whatever reason and in whatever way they may choose to do so.

    • I’m sure that was an interesting conversation! I do not have children, but I am surprised that your teenage son was so open to talking about FGM. The topic makes me feel kind of nauseated, I’m sure it is horrifying to him.
      I guess through all of this I am just so horrified that they would sensationalize and dramatize an elective surgery and therefor minimize the actual issue. It is very belittling to woman around the world that have had that forced on them. I think that our society would write an article like the two linked says more about us then the fact that women get implants. How insensitive can we get?

  3. I DO think it has become natural, at least in the west, to look “unnatural”. Breast implants have become ubiquitous in Hollywood, and of course in porn. Most young people don’t get to see a variety of natural nude bodies, but they see plenty of nude actors in both mainstream and porn acting, and they compare their bodies to those and find them wanting or gross.

    I see this a LOT in bra reviews; people think that a breast is “unfeminine” or “unnatural” unless it is a perfectly round hemisphere, that is, the shape of a high-profile implant. In sex education it comes up a lot too, with teenagers thinking that natural-looking breasts are “gross” or “saggy”.

    I do think there are “bad” reasons to get implants: to please a partner, to remedy some kind of self-hatred or self-esteem problems, or to “fit in” with your friends. But I also respect the right of ownership: regardless of whether or not I like a woman’s reasons for getting implants, it is her body. She gets to decide what to put into her own body.

    I see plastic surgery as a body modification like any other: your body, your choice. Stupid people have called my piercings “mutilation”. This was their very rude way of expressing that my modifications are not to their taste.

    Studies have shown that women with implants have a higher rate of suicide than women without them, but I would like to see a comparison of those women to women who have other types of elective surgeries.

  4. HB

    I don’t know how one can compare what an adult woman chooses to do modify her own body to something done to an infant child without his/her consent (because for the record, I don’t agree with male circumsion either, but that is just my personal opinion). This a matter of consent. No one should have anything done to his/her body without consent, but as a consenting adult should be free to do as he/she pleases.

    • HB, I am also opposed to nonconsensual circumcision of infants. If a grown man or even an older child is informed and wants to be circumcised, fine. BUt I think cutting off part of an infant’s body is wrong.

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