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Body Image

Midlife Women and Breast Implants

Advertising geared to midlife women is increasing, with many ads featuring opportunities for “body sculpting” and reducing signs of “aging.” Not surprising, breast implants are growing in popularity as a means to eliminate “sagging” breasts or to increase breast size. As is the case with much cosmetic surgery promotion, the “before and after” photos do not convey the full range of possible outcomes, some of them quite painful and disfiguring.

Silicone gel breast implants are especially problematic. The largest, best-designed studies suggest increased risk of serious problems and are anything but reassuring.19 Nonetheless, in the summer of 2005, the FDA expressed its intention to allow silicone implants to be marketed to the general public, if certain conditions could be met. If the FDA approves silicone gel breast implants, it would be in spite of the opposition of its own scientists, who concluded that important safety data were lacking and that more research was needed before general approval of these devices. (Silicone implants had already been available, in poorly conducted clinical trials, to most women seeking reconstruction after mastectomy and to many women whose breasts sagged. FDA approval would make the implants available to everyone, regardless of age or reason for wanting breast implants.)

A more complete picture of the risks of silicone gel implants is available at www.breastimplantinfo.org. In addition, the FDA offers a pamphlet and a booklet that include photographs and describe many of the problems women experience with breast implants (for example, capsular contracture, infection, and necrosis). The additional problem of silicone’s leaking and spreading to other parts of the body, after an implant breaks, needs much further study, especially in terms of immune system problems that may develop.

Many women believe that breast implants will make them feel better about themselves and more satisfied with their lives. Studies do not bear this out, however; in fact, implant makers’ own studies show that women tend to have slightly lower self-esteem and less satisfaction with their lives two years after getting breast implants, compared to before.20 Moreover, many women—especially older women—have to have multiple surgeries before achieving an “acceptable” result.

The marketing of implants reinforces the idea that implants are a safe choice that helps women be the best that we can be. Resisting the idea that implants are the ideal solution to dissatisfactions with our bodies is not easy, especially given the way our culture worships youthfulness and large breasts. But such resistance, accompanied by the ability to appreciate and accept our aging bodies, may help us to preserve our health and well-being—and our good looks—for many years longer.

End of excerpt.
Excerpted from Chapter 8: Body Image in Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause  © 2006 Boston Women's Health Book Collective


19. Diane Zuckerman, "Are Breast Implants Safe?" Plastic Surgery Nursing 22, no. 2 (Summer 2002):66-71. [back to text]

20. Marcy Oppenheimer, "Safety and Benefits of Mentor Silicone Breast Implants from the April 2005 FDA Analysis and Meeting," Implant Information Project of the National Research Center for Women and Families, accessed at www.breastimplantinfo.org/news/mentor-pma.html  on September 27, 2005; see also Marcy Oppenheimer, " Safety and Benefits of Inamed Silicone Breast Implants from the April 2005 FDA Analysis and Meeting," Implant Information Project of the National Research Center for Women and Families, accessed at www.breastimplantinfo.org/news/inamed-pma.html  on September 27, 2005. [back to text]

Excerpted from Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause, © 2006, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

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