Normalising breast surgery

This month's issue of Australian Vogue contains a ‘‘Cosmetic enhancement guide’’.

This month's issue of Australian Vogue contains a ‘‘Cosmetic enhancement guide’’.

To flip through the February issue of Australian Vogue is to be assaulted by breasts. Nestled in the folds of the magazine is a ‘‘Cosmetic enhancement guide’’, trussed up to look like editorial. It is full of silken prose and soothing medical euphemisms. There is much talk of ‘‘facial rejuvenation’’, ‘‘volume correction procedures’’, and of course ‘‘breast augmentation’’. There are two types of breasts pictured: the imperfect ones, too saggy or small, too wonky or flat. And then there’s the augmented ones. These are perky and plump. As close to perfect as possible. You could happily read the entire advertorial without once confronting the fact that what these people are asking you to do is seriously messed up.

They want you to lay down wads of cash to inject you with powerful drugs that render you unconscious. Then they want to take a scalpel to your nipples, cut your breasts open and insert a foreign substance, before stitching you up again like a cloth dolly.

When did plastic surgery become so normalised?  It seems like not so long ago that it was a fringe practice, considered a little tacky, limited to sex workers and ageing celebrities. Now it is considered so natural, and so easy, that it is advertised in the world’s fashion bible, a byword for elegance and sartorialism, alongside Chanel handbags and Lancome lipstick.

Victoria Beckham - not widely known for her natural shaped breasts.

Victoria Beckham - not widely known for her natural shaped breasts. Photo: Getty


This week an unlikely coalition of British feminists and plastic surgeons called upon the British government to end advertising for cosmetic surgery. They say cosmetic surgery adverts serve to ‘‘recklessly trivialise’’ invasive procedures that carry ‘‘inherent health risks’’. No one is more aware of these risks than the tens of thousands of women worldwide who had breast surgery using implants made by the French company Poly Implant Protheses (PIP).

Industrial grade silicon is the stuff you buy in hardware stores and use as a sealant. You weather-proof doors with it.
It ain’t supposed to go in your boosies. The French and German governments have announced they will pay for women with PIP implants to have them removed. But in Australia (where about 12,300 PIP implants were sold between 1998 and 2010), Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has refused to go that far.

The taxpayer will foot the bill for the MRI scans of women with the PIP implants, to ascertain if they are faulty. But women who want the implants removed will have to pay for the operation themselves, unless a doctor finds there are legitimate clinical reasons why they need the removal.

Many of the Australian women with these possibly-dodgy implants have banded together. There is talk of a class action, and some are demanding the government pay for their removal operations. But our government, unlike the Europeans, has obviously taken the view that if you elect to have cosmetic surgery, you take your chances. The risks you take on are yours to live with.

I am with the Health Minister on this one. If you can scrape together enough cash for a boob job, then surely you can scrape together enough cash for a removal op, especially if you think there is a real threat to your health. All surgery carries serious risk. It amazes me that the power of female vanity and insecurity is so great that women willingly offer themselves for surgical ‘‘improvement’’.


But then it also kills me that an entire industry whores itself off this vanity and insecurity. And that a reputable magazine like Vogue - a magazine I love and cherish - would lower itself to advertisements that send the message that major surgical procedures are no biggie.

Oh, I know it’s not fashionable to judge women who get plastic surgery. And I don’t, not really. I just hate that slicing and lasering and Botoxing and filler-ing has crept stealthily into the mainstream. I hate that I’m subjected to advertisements of this rubbish even though I don’t seek them out. So I’m gonna keep railing against plastic surgery. Well into my wrinkly, saggy and flabby years.

40 comments

  • Couldn't have said it better myself - great article.
    I am now a woman of a "certain age" and quite frankly I'm fed up with the pressure to do anything but age naturally. A few grey hairs? Dye them. Some wrinkles appearing? Creams, facelifts, whatever. A few saggy spots? Plastic surgery.
    Get over it people - we are meant to look older as we get older. So what?
    Personally I think stressing about it all just accelerates the process.

    Commenter
    Lissy
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    March 19, 2012, 9:15AM
    • I agree with Jacqueline. When women decide to go for plastic surgery they are always warned of the risks by the doctor performing the surgery. It was most likely that they were not told the implants were not 100% safe but then which ones are? It is then up to the individual to decide whether to go ahead or bail. If you want to go ahead with it you should be prepared to suffer any consequences. Breast implants are usually not performed for medical reasons but purely for confidence or vanity reasons so I don't think it is fair that the tax payer should have to pocket the bill.

      Commenter
      Elle
      Date and time
      March 19, 2012, 9:41AM
      • Bravo! What a great article! I don't like judging anyone either but these are serious operations, not mani / pedis - and they should be treated as such.

        Commenter
        Emma
        Date and time
        March 19, 2012, 9:59AM
        • I'm not sure it's reasonable to demand that the women who paid cosmetic surgeons and anaesthetists to implant them with faulty implants pay to have them removed. As the product was deceptively sold by the manufacturer, they should be paying for the harm they have caused. And what about the surgeons who implanted them? Perhaps they should remove them for free?

          If the manufacturer cannot pay, do we force smokers to pay for surgery to remove cancerous tissue from their lungs? Or drinkers who get throat or tongue cancer to have radiotherapy or chemo? The long-term treatment for cancer costs far more than one operation to remove implants.

          These women are victims of people who were out to make a profit. That they succumbed to the cultural idea that women need to be skinny with large breasts also makes them victims of the media as well.

          Commenter
          Michelle
          Date and time
          March 19, 2012, 10:00AM
          • I find it so weird that we judge other cultures for their neck rings or foot binding or other 'weird' practices, but think nothing of slicing ourselves open to put plastic in our chests. Sigh.

            Commenter
            blu-k
            Date and time
            March 19, 2012, 10:04AM
            • 'but think nothing of slicing ourselves open to put plastic in our chests.' I'd say anyone who undertakes the breast enhancement op on themselves would think something of it!

              Commenter
              rudy
              Date and time
              March 19, 2012, 2:46PM
          • I agree with the Health Minister! Of course I can empathise with the concerns of these women - this is not what they expected would happen - but this is a self created problem - borne from vanity. Surely we can't be expected to financially support this procedure? I'd like to hear from someone who could argue otherwise.

            As for the magazines advertising these procedures I would wager it's more about desperaton (no advertisers, circulation in a slump, no other options) than a direct desire to endorse cosmetic enhancement.

            Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

            Commenter
            Feda
            Date and time
            March 19, 2012, 10:08AM
            • Should we also stop providing medical treatment to smokers who get lung cancer? Or alcoholics who get liver cancer? Or psychiatric care for people who are suicidal? All of those could be considered "self-created problems." While we're at it, let's not provide ambulance care for speeding drivers who are injured in car accidents.

              Commenter
              Lou
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              March 19, 2012, 12:37PM
            • Lou, your reasoning is a little faulty. Cancer operations and treatment for car accident trauma is emergency medical treatment, whether the patient was at fault or not. Many accidents and illnesses are preventable. Any cosmetic surgery is purely elective, as is the decision to reverse it. Preventable v elective - There is a well-established distinction.

              Commenter
              rudy
              Date and time
              March 19, 2012, 2:51PM
            • @ Rudy

              It's elective to smoke, drink, and speed. I think you missed my point entirely.

              Commenter
              Lou
              Date and time
              March 19, 2012, 3:44PM

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