When I read that Chrissy Teigen recently had her breast implants removed, I was inspired to google images of my own tits.
I’m on COVID-19 lockdown, so between rocking out to DJ Nice’s Club Quarantine and organizing Zoom playdates for my cat (who so doesn’t care), I might have too much time on my hands. But there’s actually a good reason for my intimate web search.
There they were: Images of my 20-year-old self, frolicking au naturel in a lake in my first movie role. There are also photos of me almost 30 years later in an episode of “Two and a Half Men” ― my breasts then double the size as they were in those first shots.
Let me explain why. Someone once told me, “You’d be a 10 if your boobs were bigger.”
And it wasn’t a man who said it.
I was 29 and it was the late ’80s. Despite the decade being all about big hair, big shoulders ― big everything ― I didn’t think I needed big tits to improve my professional or romantic circumstances. I was one of the stars of the nighttime soap “Falcon Crest.” Johnny Carson interviewed me on “The Tonight Show.” I had my own primetime series, “Lady Blue,” where I played a sexy cop (Clint Eastwood tutored me on how to hold a gun). I’d even done a couple of brief topless scenes in movies ― my breasts were small enough that partial nudity never felt like a big deal. I had fame and beauty and money and no trouble attracting men, but, the truth was, no amount of success could improve my low self-esteem. So when my friend held out the possibility of perfection with her comment ― “You’d be a 10 if your boobs were bigger” — I believed that if I “fixed” my outside, my inside would follow.
I also had grown up in the shadow of a beautiful mother.
A natural redhead with perfect features, Reta was a long-legged professional dancer who’d been a Radio City Music Hall Rockette and danced in variety shows and musical theater. My earliest memories are of being backstage during a production of “Guys and Dolls.” The chorus girls fawned over me as they rushed around adjusting their costumes, all giggles and whispers, false eyelashes and red lipstick, feathers and sequins and rhinestones. The air was perfumed with Aqua Net hairspray and sweat. They were luminous, magical, powerful. Even then, I longed to be one of them.
I inherited Mom’s red locks, but as I got older, mine went wild and frizzy. I was plump — they call it thick now — and physically awkward. I always got picked last for the school teams and I had braces on my teeth ― the ugly duckling to my mother’s stunning swan.
Reta had modestly sized breasts and wore falsies when she worked. Sometimes I snuck into her closet, took one of her foam rubber inserts from her lingerie drawer, and paraded around, creating a flannel nightgowned preteen burlesque show.
I pored over the training bras in the girl’s underwear pages of the Sears & Roebuck Catalog, dreaming of the day my chest would appear. The day my pediatrician told my mom I was “budding,” I was so proud! I whined and begged until she ordered me a white cotton bra (size AAA) with a cute little bumblebee patch sewn onto one of the straps. It itched but I wore it constantly.
Seventh grade was the time of miracles for me. My height shot up and my baby fat fell away. I smoothed my frizzy curls with a blow dryer and my braces came off. My buds became blossoms ― small flowers (mini-roses at best), but I definitely had boobs. It was a brand new world and boys started noticing. Suddenly, I got treated like one of the pretty girls. Yet that ugly feeling of never being enough persisted.
So, years later, when my friend suggested I get implants, her advice appealed to a broken part of me — the part that still longed to be as beautiful as my mother and her magical, sparkling dressing room dancers. The part that still believed that if only I could perfect the outside, the inside would feel “enough.”
My friend hooked me up with a plastic surgeon who had a warm, paternal country doctor vibe. I trusted him instantly. I told him I didn’t want to go too big. I just wanted my breasts to look fuller, maybe a B cup. He assured me that the operation was simple, as if it were no more complicated than getting my ears pierced. He said that my new breasts would be indestructible and last a lifetime. I thought of myself as a buxom Superwoman, until I imagined what I’d look like rotting away in a coffin — dust, bits of bone, and two intact silicone balloons. What would future societies think when they stumbled upon my grave?
When he took off the bandages, I was horrified.
My breasts were huge. They looked like a pair of oversized grapefruits. He told me not to worry. “Once the swelling goes down, you’ll have the Bs that you asked for.”
Three months later, I was still a size D. When I complained, he acted surprised. “I don’t think they look too big,” he replied. “They’re the size I thought looked right on you.”
I’ve never forgotten those words: the size he thought looked right.
I didn’t want to go through another operation to have them made smaller, so I stuck with my new centerfold knockers.
They took a lot of getting used to. When I laid on my stomach, it was like being on an air mattress. When I ran or danced they bobbed and pulled uncomfortably unless I wore a constricting sports bra. Whenever I wore something tight or low-cut, men stared at my chest.
Finally, I understood the classic line, “Hey pal, my eyes are up here.”
I began teaching yoga, a discipline I’d studied for years. I grew self-conscious ― there I was, with a set of plastic tits atop my chest like donuts on a plate, preaching wellness and spirituality. I felt like an impostor and for the next 25 years I continued to feel that way.
Then, in 2017, a mammogram indicated that one of my implants might have ruptured. A follow-up MRI showed they were intact, but some web research informed me that ruptures can’t always be detected in an MRI.
What do you do when you’re scared shitless? I decided to meet with a fancy surgeon in a fancy building. I told him that I was done — I wanted my implants out — but he strongly advised against it. He told me I’d be very unhappy if I removed them without replacing them with something else. “They’ll look like pillows without the stuffing,” he told me (what a shitty breastside manner, huh?). So, I asked about the possibility of having a lift. “You don’t want scars, do you?” he asked contemptuously, as if I’d inquired about getting horns. I’d seen those kind of scars on girlfriends and they didn’t seem like a big deal. But then I started to think, He’s an expert, he must be right ... right? Why I was so easily swayed? Why did I continue to abdicate my needs and desires in the presence of authority, especially a male one, when I knew what I wanted and needed? How could he know what worked for me?
My boyfriend and several close friends urged me to have the implants removed sans replacement. They only cared about my health, not how I looked naked. But I wasn’t ready. Sadly, I was still enamored by the voluptuous aesthetic of the über-feminine, chorus girl ideal: the cleavage and rounded hips, the tiny waist of so many women I admired, from Lily St Cyr to Gypsy Rose Lee to Dita von Teese …
So, I decided to replace my implants.
And, once again, even though I asked the doc to go smaller, when the surgery was done, my boobs were just as big and grapefruity as they had been before. I went from ”Falcon Crest” to ”Baywatch” ― by way of “Groundhog Day.”
Within a few weeks, my right breast developed a painful condition called capsular contracture. The scar tissue around the implant had hardened, thereby squeezing it out of place. Then, a dime-sized red bump appeared. When I rushed in to have it looked at, the doctor’s face registered mild panic, which wasn’t a good look. He told me I had an infection and that the implant had to be removed and replaced ASAP.
When I woke up in recovery, the RN was solemn. I asked how it went and she said, “You lost a lot of tissue. He really scrubbed your breast.” She added that the doctor had to put in a bigger implant “to even you out.”
This time, as the breast healed, it had a “double bubble” look and some rippling. There was also a dent on the right side where the infection had been. My boyfriend was reassuring, but I knew the results weren’t stellar. I started to second-guess myself, and I wondered if I made a terrible mistake by not having the implants removed when I initially wanted to.
A year and half later, on July 24, 2019, pharmaceutical company Allergan issued a voluntary recall of its textured Biocell implants because of mounting evidence they were associated with a rare type of lymphoma called BIA-ALCL. I fished out the implant labels the doctor’s office gave me as proof of purchase. The left was an Allergan SRM 210 cc smooth. The right was an Allergan TRLP 310 cc — textured Biocell.
Focus and clarity came like a thunderbolt.
I was done.
I needed them out immediately.
On recommendation of a friend, I wound up in the office of a surgeon at an all-female practice in Beverly Hills. I know there are great male plastic surgeons out there, but it was wonderfully comforting to talk about my breasts with another woman. I knew from the first meeting that she was the one.
The operation took six hours. When it was done, in a little bedside show-and-tell, my doctor showed me what she’d removed: the left implant was transparent and smooth, the size of a bagel; the textured one was flat and yellowish, like a small pizza. It was crazy seeing them side by side. These ugly, comically mismatched plastic sacs were supposed to make me feel more beautiful? What I’d done to myself ― what I’d let others do ― really hit home.
I felt sad but I also felt liberated.
I was free.
A few weeks later (still months before COVID-19), a girlfriend I hadn’t seen for a while embraced me. For almost 30 years, whenever I hugged someone, I felt the implants. Now, I felt her ― heart to heart. It made me cry.
Don’t get me wrong — and I want to be clear about this — I’m not against implants or cosmetic surgery. I loved when Cher said, “If I want to put my tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.” I know many women who love their implants. But I want people to be fully informed of the risks before they make a decision about their bodies.
Despite what my first surgeon told me, breast implants are not meant to be permanent. Doctors now advise replacing them every 10 years. I was lucky I had them as long as I did before the tits hit the fan. There are other potential issues too, such as the cancer link ― how terrible for a breast cancer patient who endured a mastectomy to learn that her implants may give her cancer again! And for years, women have complained of a syndrome called breast implant illness that can include autoimmune disorders and a constellation of other symptoms.
After all of my surgeries, I do have scars on my breasts. But I love them. They’re battle scars from the war over ownership of my body.
And I still have boobs, but now they’re all natural. As Teigen described her own breasts in a recent Instagram post, they’re “pure fat ... dumb, miraculous bag[s] of fat” ― and now I love mine just the way they are.
Jamie Rose, actor and writer, is best known for co-starring in the popular ’80s primetime soap “Falcon Crest.” More recently, she guest-starred on “Criminal Minds” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Jamie also teaches self-actualization workshops with Dr. Phil Stutz, co-author of The New York Times bestseller “The Tools.” Her memoir, “Shut Up and Dance!” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2011), explored love and relationships through her passion for the Argentine tango. She’s currently writing a book about the trend toward women having breast implants removed. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @jamierosehere or visit her website, www.jamierosehere.com.