We should probably talk about this news that the Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether silicone breast implants are linked to a specific, rare type of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL).
So far they’ve only identified 60 cases of ALCL among the 5 to 10 million women who have these breast implants worldwide. (Including, as Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner pointed out in the comments on last week’s Price Check, just 9,000 British women to over 350,000 Americans. Ponder that.)
Still, ALCL is diagnosed in just 1 in 100 million women without breast implants. So the ratios are concerning. Especially because these are the same silicone breast implants that were just brought back to the market in 2006, after they were originally banned for displaying this pesky tendency to rupture. And even though the manufacturers reformulated and did tons of safety studies, the FDA still requires you to get an MRI every other year post-breast implant, to check for something called “silent rupture,” where your implant implodes, but you and your doctor can’t tell just by feeling you up.
So. Here’s why I remain supportive of women who choose to get breast implants.
All those risks freak me out personally, but then again, I was also way too chicken to get a tattoo, even back in college when pretty much everyone was doing it. More importantly, as I’ve said before, every woman has to figure out her own relationship with beauty, and which standards she wants to accept, edit or reject. One woman’s Brazilian wax is another woman’s breast implants is another woman’s three-inch heels. To this end, I also fully support women who decide to skip all of that jazz.
What I hate is the way that any news involving breast implants gets twisted around into an opportunity to be judgmental as heck about “the type of woman” who would get them. Media coverage of this potential cancer risk is riddled with references to “Bridalplasty,” Heidi Montag, the chick who faked cancer to get implants, and that German porn star who died during her sixth implant surgery. On blogs and in water cooler conversations, we decide that all of these implant-getting women must be stupid, slutty and have insufferably low self-esteem. Even this pretty informative HuffPo piece on the risks associated with implants ends on a preachy note: “Consider loving the body Mother Nature gave you rather than playing Russian Roulette with your health and your life.” Because it’s that easy.
And yep, I’m guilty of this, too. I post stories like the German porn star and the first human bra because they are sadly newsworthy in the world of beauty analysis. And at Beauty U, my classmates and I were pretty snarky about the girl I called Our Heidi Montag. And breast implants aren’t the only way we all do this. We also hate on skinny models, criticize other women’s fashion decisions, and get bummed when our friend loses her baby weight faster than we do.
I’m over it. (And offering a general apology to the universe, as well as Our Heidi Montag and every other individual woman whom I’ve criticized over the years without knowing her full story.)
If you want to be mad about breast implants, be mad at Allergan and Mentor, the manufacturers of silicone breast implants who are making pots of money off the 300,000-odd American women who get them every year even though as Dr. Nalini Chilkov says in that HuffPo piece, “all breast implants will eventually break.”
Or be mad about how our culture pushes such unrealistic standards on all of us. As The Sheriff notes today over on Fornicating Feminists, it’s not the specifics of a cultural beauty ideal that are the problem — it’s the sheer fact that we have an ideal in the first place.
But let’s stop wasting time being mad at other women for making different choices about their bodies. It’s so completely beside the point. And it just gets in the way of us getting anything done.