Breasts and Reason

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Today the FDA begins a two day hearing on whether to okay silicone breast implants for general cosmetic use, years after bogus health scares drove the devices off the market, bankrupted their leading manufacturer, and made trial lawyers very rich.

Long time Reason subscribers will recall our coverage of this topic from the get go, including these articles:

Science and Vanity
Implants: Medicine, Feminism and Freedom, by Virginia Postrel (January 1992)

A Confederacy of Boobs
How special interests, assorted ideologues, and a sensationalist press torpedoed breast implants and now threaten other medical devices, by Michael Fumento (October 1995)

Abreast of History
Believe it or not, breast implants are more important than the New Hampshire primary, by Virginia Postrel (January 1996)

The Enemy Within
Litigants and activists blame implants for just about any symptom reported by a woman who has them, by Jacob Sullum (December 9, 1998)

Rumor Mongers
"Neutral" technocrats sign on to anti-technology smear campaigns, by Virginia Postel (February 1999)

This calls for commercial exploitation: Why not subscribe to Reason today—and stay, er, abreast of other myths that will unravel in the coming decade?

NEXT: Nanomedia

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  1. I knew a girl who claimed that she got her breast implants paid for by her insurance company because she had “low self esteem”. That’s awfully nutty I think, and I definitely wouldn’t want my insurance rates high to pay for other people’s medically unnecessary procedures. Nonetheless, she sure did look good:)

    I’m all for cosmetic surgury when it improves women’s physical appearance. I enjoy beautiful things, and I appreciate all the effort women put in to looking beautiful. What kind of a weirdo doesn’t enjoy attractive people? And if you think breast implants are an aesthetic negative… then you’re on a different evolutionary branch than me:)

  2. Joe,

    You’re quite right, it is none of our business how folks on the other side of the world choose to structure their economies. We’re still welcome to discuss the merits of their systems an why we should or shouldn’t adopt the same designs here.

  3. Andy,

    In that specific case, I’d say the problem lies with the insurance company, or the bleeding-heart claims officer who authorized payment for the procedure.

    As for the aesthetic qualities of implants, they can’t be generalized. Some look great; some look ridiculous. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

    An ex-girlfriend of mine had a truly fantastic and natural looking set of, uh, enhancements. However, the saline just didn’t feel or move like the real thing, er, things. Silicone might have been better, but because of all the unsubstantiated hype, it wasn’t an option for her.

  4. Russ: “As for the aesthetic qualities of implants, they can’t be generalized.”

    You’re right about that. Some boob jobs look horrible. Similarly, some face lifts look very good and I don’t even know from looking that there’s been any work done, but some facelifts create monstrosities. I wonder though, why I feel comfortable going after people who’ve had bad plastic surgury, but I don’t feel comfortable going after people who are naturally unattractive. Damn these partially enlarged moral circles:(

  5. A recall a story a few months ago of a mother of two small children dying on the operating table, where she was getting cosmetic surgery.

  6. Joe’s example of other nations collectivizing their economies ignores the fact that collectivization tramples human rights, so that objecting to other nations collectivizing their economies is akin to objecting to other nations throwing their citizens in jail for speaking out against their government.

    Having said that, I have more sympathy with Joe’s assertion that we should be free to discuss values in such a way as to include judgements about other people’s noncoercive behavior. There’s a point, though, at which criticizing others is analogous to coercing them and thus becomes at least bad manners, and perhaps Brad S stepped over that line.

  7. fyodor – to the extent that expressing one’s value system is coercive, then I suppose I am being coercive. I suppose that any value judgment is inherently coercive to the extent that it tries to either bring others into the same value system or, if nothing else, degrade some part of the opposing value system. In the case of breast implants, if the fact that someone believes in implants (or knows someone who has implants or simply likes the way implants look or has implants herself, etc) is so much a part of that persons’s identity that he/she becomes offended when someone who does not believe in implants speaks out against them, I would argue that it is that person that has the problem – a problem of self-esteem that apparently the implants did not fix.

    Geesus. “We shouldn’t make value judgments, because we might hurt someone’s feelings.” I’d expect to see that on some leftwing moral relativist / post-modernist forum. I’m surprised to see it on Reason.

  8. fyodor, I was talking about clan/village/tribal level cooperation and common ownership. Anytime someone mentions any type of group ownership, you people jump straight to Stalin. Sheesh.

  9. Joe,

    Thank you for sharing your touching anecdote about the mother of two dying during cosmetic surgery…

    May I ask what your point is and how it relates to this issue?

    You’re making an “Appeal to emotion”. Sure, the risks need to be known to prospective surgery candidates, but over-dramatizing the issue isn’t helping anyone here.

  10. Brad,

    Please feel free to express your views, make judgements and let the chips and feelings fall where they may. That’s what characterizes societies that value freedom of speech. At the same time, expect other people to express opposing views in response.

    BTW, I realize that you weren’t the one who took the view that I was trying to squelch your opportunity to express your view. My argument on expressing viewpoints is more with Joe. I think that were on the same side on this one.

    However, on the self-esteem thing, I disagree with you entirely. The key concept of self-esteem is the “self” part. It can’t be assessed or judged by anyone else. If someone is personally unhappy, nothing you can say or do will change that. Criticizing the issue of “Low Self-Esteem” can only compound the problem. IMO, the answer is let people do what they want, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. Boob jobs, tongue piercings, gender reassignment, whatever. It’s an individual issue, not a societal one.

  11. Two and a half lines about two kids who lost their Mom is “over-dramatizing?”

    People are risking death, family grief, and disfigurement in the hopes of having nicer tits.

  12. Whatever you think of fake titties, I guarantee you that no American will get a job making them (look, I’m talking about manufacturing them – get your mind out of the gutter).

    The lawyers have seen to that, as evidenced by the bancruptcy of Dow Corning — see Reason links.

    So, Joe, there will not be any inner-city jobs for all your inner-city diverse people making any diverse inner-city fake boobs. What do you say about that? (Granted, they are still taking resumes at Van DeLay Industries for work in the Man-siere department)

    On the lighter side, I wonder whether the posters here would agree with me on the nice chest in the picture of Sabine Herold – the libertarian French woman.???? I think they’re real, and they are spectatular!

    On the light

  13. “People are risking death, family grief, and disfigurement in the hopes of having nicer tits”

    Yes, so what? People are risking the same to have their stomachs stapled because they can’t stop stuffing their cake-holes. Again, so what?

    If people want to risk death, that’s their call. Might be stupid, might not be — but who really cares as long as we don’t have to pay for it?

    Me, I’m happy with my flapping man-tits. No need to grow ’em any more!

  14. fyodor, fair enough.

  15. “fyodor, I was talking about clan/village/tribal level cooperation and common ownership. Anytime someone mentions any type of group ownership, you people jump straight to Stalin. Sheesh.”

    Given the context, how did you expect your comment to be interpreted?

  16. Joe,

    Please tell me you’re not serious:

    “Two and a half lines about two kids who lost their Mom is “over-dramatizing?”

    Could you make a worse “for the children” argument?

  17. fyodor – apologies, then, for being so “obnoxious.” There are many topics that other posters to the Reason forum are very passionate about (legalization of drugs, for example) that cause me to see their views as obnoxious. I either ignore them, or perhaps express my disagreement with them. I certainly don’t see their views as trying to “coerce” me to use drugs. And their views don’t hurt my feelings – I can deal with disagreement, so should they. If I want to use drugs, I will, if I don’t, I won’t, and no one else’s view really matters to me. I suppose that, similarly, if someone wants to get implants, she will, if she doesn’t, she won’t, my views notwithstanding. But she should realize that some people (like me) see fake breasts as, at best, a poor decision and at worst, fundamentally wrong and emblematic of a larger problem.

  18. The mother of 2 little kids ought to be thinking “for the children.”

  19. Breast implants are symptomatic of a fundamental problem that so many young women today have, for some reason – low self-esteem. They’re not comfortable in their own skin. They’re not happy with the way God made them. Implants are also symptomatic of another fundamental problem in our society in general: when confronted with a problem, we want the easy solution, even if that is not necessarily the best solution. I don’t like the way my body looks. The right solution would be for me to change my lifestyle habits – diet, exercise, etc. But that’s too hard! I’d rather pay a doctor to give me breast implants. It’s sad, really. Phony breasts for phony people.

  20. Come on Brad.

    Do you never purchase any consumer product to enhance your appearance? Do you never pay for any aesthetic procedures? You don’t do anything for purely cosmetic purposes?

  21. And cancer survivors. Let us not forget the “medically necessary” motive for such surgeries. Not all plastic surgery is the easy way out.

  22. Shaving is symptomatic of a fundamental problem that so many young women and men today have, for some reason – low self-esteem. They’re not comfortable with their own hair. They’re not happy with the way God made them. Shaving is also symptomatic of another fundamental problem in our society in general: when confronted with a problem, we want the easy solution, even if that is not necessarily the best solution. I don’t like the way my hair looks. The right solution would be for me to pluck each individual hair. But that’s too hard! I’d rather pay a company to give me disposable razors. It’s sad, really. Phony hair for phony people.

  23. Brad S.’s statement has a kernal of wisdom in it, even if its loopy in most other respects.

    As to the nature of breast implants being harmful or not, if people were paranoid enough to think that they were (if in fact they aren’t), more power to them. Don’t bemoan the fact that free people can and will be paranoid. 🙂

  24. I do think that people should be able to do anything to thier bodies that they want, no matter how harmful or life threatening, so long as I do not get stuck with the bill for the procedure or the follow-up medical treatments.

    That said, who is going to arry somebody with a history of plastic surgery? While the package may be good, think about how bad any resulting child’s nose, teeth, hair, BMI, and posture might be!

  25. Chad S,

    Shouldn’t that be “phony skin for phony people”? 🙂

    I read Brad’s post with mixed feelings. I think he goes too far, but I do agree that it’s sad that so many women feel the need for implants, especially women with breasts anywhere near normal sized. Now, I have to admit it, I’m more viscerally attracted to big boobies, but OTOH, and I mean this in all sincerity, they’re not THAT important. Really.

  26. Fake boobs are almost always gross, but whatever floats yer boat. Me, I’m saving up for butt implants.

  27. Hey, I’m not saying that people who want to get implants shouldn’t get them. By all means, whatever makes you happy. My point is that one shouldn’t need the perfect set of boobies to be happy. That’s the problem. As a society, we are too fixated on physical appearance. I realize that there are biological reasons for this, and that people are always going to be superficial on some level. I just think our culture goes way over the top, and the growing popularity of breast implants is symptomatic of that.

  28. I don’t care much about breast implants either way. I think it’s ridiculous that Dow Corning was bankrupted for what turned out to be groundless fears about the risks of breast implants. I think it’s even more ridiculous that the use of silicone has become more difficult and more expensive for other medical procedures or devices. Regardless what you think about breast implants, I think we can agree that’s very troubling.

  29. Brad,

    If you don’t like breast implants, don’t get them.
    But recognize that when people are unhappy about an aspect of their appearance, and an option is presented that will alleviate the unhappiness, it’s none of your business what they choose to do and why.

  30. Not only should we not legislate about what is good and what is bad, but we’re not even supposed to talk about it? Why are you so afraid of values and ideas, Russ?

  31. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t discuss values and ideas. I’m presenting the opposing idea that it’s none of Brad’s business why people choose breast augmentation.

  32. It is no more your business why people on the other side of the world choose to collectivise their means of production, but that topic doesn’t seem to be out of bounds.

  33. joe, frankly I for one don’t care if someone in another country wants to screw up their economy, and I’m a pretty hawkish fellow on foreign affairs.

    I draw the line when they start trying to export their bad ideas through force and fraud.

  34. Brad,

    As a Canadian, I’m more familiar with the nightmare of socialized medicine than you’d imagine. Worse yet, as a member of Canada’s military, I’m even more restricted in my access to basic health care and have less choices available than the general public.

    However, I don’t believe that the socialized medicine argument holds here. Except for rare cases, breast augmentation is considered a purely elective procedure and is not covered by any form of insurance (private or state). The costs are borne by the patients. When the costs are not socialized, the system works. You’re trying to project the failings of socialized medicine onto a private system.

    As for long-term effects, that is exactly what needs to be to determined. When that information is made available, people can make rational informed decisions. I’ll grant you that people would make better decisions if the long term costs were not socialized, but we’re still assuming that people will seriously consider the long run when making choices.

    At present, there is no evidence linking silicone implants to the variety of health concerns that some have suggested are caused by implants. The lack of evidence is by no means considered evidence to the contrary, but suggests that more research needs to be done. (Brazil might be a good place for a study. IIRC, the country has more implants per capita than anywhere in the world and silicone is the implant of choice.)

  35. So now it’s not bogus appeals to the well being of children that are out of bounds, but any appeal that takes them into account, no matter how legitmate the argument and direct the harm. Gee, Russ, why are right-libertarians considered so hard-hearted?

  36. “A recall a story a few months ago of a mother of two small children dying on the operating table, where she was getting cosmetic surgery.”

    What we should do to solve this is ban all elective surgery: cosmetic surgery, abortions, etc. In fact, we should probably institute some metric whereby the probability of lengthening life and the probability of death are put into a ratio, and unless the ratio is over 1.0 (perhaps we need a more complicated algorithm), the surgery is not permitted. The government will have final say–interested parties like the patient and the doctors can’t be trusted with these decisions. The risks you will be permitted to assume will be determined by professionals: government social workers using the advice of trained scientists and specialized medical personel. No, strike that last part: the professional advice will come from tort lawyers, with any luck the same ones who put the silicon breast implants out of buisness in the first place.

  37. “…with any luck the same ones who put the silicon breast implants out of buisness in the first place.”

    Of course, what I meant was “the ones who put the silicon breast implant industry out of buisness”. It is my understanding that silicon breast implants have been hard at work in the porn industry all along.

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