Breast augmentation is typically sought by female patients to enlarge their breasts, though it can also be done to change the shape—for example making breasts rounder and evenly shaped. Breast augmentation can also be done to restore breasts after a mastectomy. The procedure is usually performed by a plastic surgeon and can be done using implants or fat transfer from other parts of the body.
I think society is a little more accepting of breast implants and augmentation today, as I was surprised to discover how many celebrities have been open about having it done. I do think, however, that there is still a lot of misunderstanding surrounding it. I think that a lot of people feel that it’s shallow and vapid, and I think a part of that just has to do with the fact that we still have this prevailing belief that anything women do to approve their appearance is shallow. Furthermore, large breasts are coveted and perceived to be the most attractive by men, so I think people assume women who get breast implants are doing so for men. Which very well may be the case, but who cares? That’s their business. I also feel like society is probably more accepting when it’s sought to “fix” something—such as restoring breasts following a mastectomy or some kind of disfigurement, rather than someone just “wanting bigger boobs.” Breast augmentation as a social phenomena is tricky because it’s often done as something to enhance a woman’s physical appearance and self-esteem, so we have to examine the pressures that women are under to feel attractive and have larger breasts. It’s one of those things that can be used to empower women but WHY is it empowering? How can we know for sure if someone is doing it because they simply want to because they like the look of larger breasts themselves, or if they’re doing it because they feel a societal pressure to appear a certain way to be conventionally attractive. And who is to say that any reason is wrong?
There can be long-term physical consequences for breast augmentation for the patient, including risk of infection, hardening, breakage, leakage, and other health risks. For society, I do worry that the self-esteem of young girls and women with smaller breasts is negatively impacted by breast implants. However, who is to say that tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications may not negatively impact self-esteem if one doesn’t have them or can’t have? Of course, breasts are part of one’s body and not necessarily equal to getting tattoos and such, but I think if I was to argue that breast implants are “bad for society” because of health risks and the impact to self-esteem and body image, we’d have to discuss how other body modifications may have the same impact.
Rebecca Morales is currently pursuing her M.A. in Applied Sociology at Old Dominion University, as well as a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies. She received her B.S. from ODU with a major in Sociology and a minor in Women’s Studies. Her academic interests include race, class, and gender, but she is especially interested in the ways in which American Indians and their various cultures are constructed, portrayed, and appropriated in the U.S., as well as the impacts of gender based violence on tribal communities.