Here’s the story so far.

  • Forty-thousand women in the UK have had breast implants that contain silicone that has not been approved for medical use.
  • That number is approximately 1/10th the number of women around the world who have had this particular type of breast implants.
  • In America, more than 5% of teen and adult women are estimated to have had breast enlargements.
  • Within a decade of surgery, up to 1/3 of patients will have at least one ruptured or leaking implant.
  • Breast implants have been associated with a variety of longterm health risks, such as autoimmune disease.
  • One of the fastest growing areas of plastic surgery is specialists who repair ‘work’ that has gone wrong.
  • The suicide rate among women who have had breast implants is six times higher than among those who have not had implants. This is likely related to the psychopathology of patients who opt for cosmetic surgery.

It all strikes me as a particularly modern expression of self-loathing.

This week, the news has been full of distressed women who can’t sleep because of their anxiety and anger that the government isn’t paying for their implants to be removed.

With the exception of women who’ve had breast reconstructions due to cancer or some other genuine medical condition, I’d prefer that the money I pay for national health didn’t go to fixing this particular problem. Spend the money on heart surgery and IVF and new cancer treatments. Spend it on autism or dementia or transplants or childhood leukaemia or schizophrenia.

If you make a decision that your life will be improved by bigger breasts or tighter cheeks or liposuction or ears that don’t stick out, I guess that’s up to you.

But please don’t expect me to pay for elective plastic surgery when it goes wrong.

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9 thoughts on “More crazy feminist rant from yours truly.

  1. Oonagh 5 years ago

    Just a question out of interest, do you feel the same about transgender related surgery? I’m not trying to catch you out or call you transphobic or anything! Just think it’s an interesting comparison.

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      Nope, don’t feel it’s at all the same issue. No one (correct me if I’m wrong) has transgender surgery out of a misplaced sense of vanity. I’ve always assumed that being born into the wrong gender is a biological imperative and does not involve the exercise of choice.

  2. Cathy Butler 5 years ago

    I think I disagree – not with your distaste for cosmetic surgery (or rather with the culture of teaching women to hate their bodies that gives rise to it), but with your conclusion that correction shouldn’t be available on the NHS. It’s a very slippery slope argument, but once we start refusing NHS treatment to people because their conditions are due to their making stupid decisions, or perhaps just doing things we don’t approve of, then – well, I’m sure you can fill in the blank, but for example, if we refuse to help these women, we will also refuse to treat: a) people with diseases caused by smoking or alcohol; b) people in car accidents who weren’t wearing a seat belt; c) people injured skiing, skateboarding, playing rugby, etc.

    In short, people do stupid things, and the NHS is there to cure them, not to judge them.

    1. Meg Rosoff 5 years ago

      These are people who have paid to have private surgery for cosmetic “improvement.” What if it were 40,000 cases of female genital mutilation the NHS had to sort out? Or 40,000 cases of penis implant surgery? Might not more questions be asked, instead of all this soft focus libertarianism?

    2. Cathy Butler 5 years ago

      That depends on why they’re seeking medical attention. If it’s because they’ve regretted having the procedure, that’s one thing – and they ought to pay to have it reversed, just as people pay to have tattoos removed if they don’t like them any more. If it’s because their actions have made them ill, or are very likely to do so – then we may think they were stupid to take the actions in the first place (just as we do with smokers, non-seatbelt drivers, drug abusers, etc.), but we don’t refuse to treat them on the NHS. I don’t see why this stupidity should be singled out for special opprobrium, and all the rest given a free pass.

    3. Cathy Butler 5 years ago

      I don’t think the FGM analogy is a very close one, partly because the NHS wouldn’t come into it unless medical complications resulted, but mostly because that is something usually performed under duress and/or to children. That I agree is quite wrong – and it is indeed illegal in the UK.

      On the other hand, if a grown woman of sound mind decides that she wants a clitorectomy and is prepared to pay for it, I don’t see it’s anyone’s right to deny her. We may find her decision bizarre and misguided, but the right of a woman to bodily autonomy is one that feminists have long fought for, and shouldn’t come with the rider “So long as I approve of it.”

  3. Rhubarb 5 years ago

    To conflate breast enhancement [for non medical reasons] with feminist goals of bodily autonomy sounds like likening Michael Jackson’s cosmetic surgeries to the goals of the Black Power movement.

    ps – I respect the opinions expressed here and I seriously am not trying to sound snarky. But I do really think that “sound mind” cannot be applied to situations in which people feel personally driven to undergo elective surgeries to make their appearance conform to such low and irrational “standards” of what they perceive to be the dominant culture, especially when it occurs in groups carrying the burden of historical mass oppression.

    1. Cathy Butler 5 years ago

      I’m not conflating breast enhancement with the goals of feminism, because I’m not suggesting that people get breast enhancements as a feminist gesture. However, the freedom to make that choice is a corollary of one of those goals. The trouble with winning freedom for people is that they may use it in ways you dislike – but that after all is the nature of the beast, and I believe that feminism entails bodily autonomy for all women, not just for feminists.

      As for who counts as being of sound mind and in a position to take decisions on their own behalf, that’s probably not something any of us is in a position to decide in an abstract way: it’s a clinical matter. But I do think that it’s a mistake to suggest that certain groups of women are driven, irrational, etc.. This has far too often been the tactic of patriarchy with respect to women as a whole.

      As it happens, I share your distaste for cosmetic surgery prompted by a desire to conform to patriarchal standards of female beauty, and think women who seek it for those reasons are probably making a mistake. But then, I think they’re also making a mistake when they take up smoking and drinking to look cool. I wouldn’t deny them NHS treatment in that case, either.

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