Why do women get breast implants? It's the number one cosmetic surgery in the U.S., even though it carries with it the burden of judgment and dismissal. So what's driving these women? Are they young and insecure? Superficial? Desperate?
The answers might surprise you.
Of the 300,000 implant procedures in the U.S. in 2013 (up 37% since 2000 and still rising), the breakdown by age, according to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, goes like this:
2013 ASAP Breast Augmentations, by Age
13-19 -- 8,234
20-29 -- 83,638
30-39 -- 105,877
40-54 -- 85,516
55+ -- 6,934
Note the largest group: 30 to 39-year-old women. Not recent grads. Not porn stars. Not young women on the prowl.
What could be their motivation?
Most 30 to 39-year-olds are in the middle of their childbearing years. Many lose breast volume after pregnancy and aren't happy with the way their boobs hang after major weight loss. There's no way to get breast volume back, short of breast implants -- no exercises or muscles that build them back up. So these women turn to implants to restore their original, and now lost, shape and size. They're called "mommy makeovers," breast implants combined with tummy tucks and liposuction.
Of the 85,000-plus procedures among the middle-aged population, 40-54, one can assume it has to do with staving off the march of time. There were also 92,000-plus eyelid surgeries in that age bracket. Of the nearly equal number of procedures among women in their 20s, statistics demonstrate that in that age group, 69,000 surgeries had to do with nose reshaping. So yes, there may be definite body dissatisfaction in this demographic, but it's not just about breasts.
What about all the young girls getting "unnecessary" breast surgeries?
It's hard to miss the media outrage over boob jobs handed out as high school graduation gifts. But, again, let's look at the stats: board-certified plastic surgeons won't perform breast augmentations on women under 22, since breast tissue isn't considered fully developed until that time (though breasts can and do change in size and shape all the way through lactation and past menopause).
Even the FDA doesn't recommend breast implants for patients under 18. Yet sometimes such procedures are necessary for young women -- to correct severe breast asymmetry, genetic chest deformities, or extreme under-development. And to put that 8,000 number above in perspective, nearly 6,000 young men in the same 13- to 19-year-old age group had breast-reduction surgery for gynecomastia (male breast enlargement) that same year. Another 30,000 teens (not broken down by sex) also had nose jobs. It's likely that with young people these events are often more corrective and remedial than solely cosmetic.
Why do women want way bigger breasts?
What is extreme and what is "normal"? Women's bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and their breasts don't stay the same. Bra fitters and the intimate-apparel industry know the true size of women's breasts, and bodies are rarely perfectly proportional. Some tiny women inherit outsized breasts, which make a much larger statement. Turns out that deep-cup bras with smaller bands (28 to 32 backs with DD to J cups) are the fastest-growing segment of the bra industry. These new sizes aren't being marketed to young women with breast implants.
Breast implants aren't measured by cup size but by cubic centimeter. Plastic surgeons know that a 300cc implant on one woman's frame will look quite different on a taller or wider body. Look through the RealSelf.com forums and you'll find plenty of breast augmentation patients who go from a B to a C cup or a D -- hardly super-sizing, although there are always extreme cases. And there's only so much physical room to place an implant under skin or muscle. You can find plenty of examples of badly botched oversized boob jobs if you search "breast implant photos." So no; most women who get breast implants are not shooting for the moon.
Isn't it about getting male attention and approval?
Numerous studies attempting to show male preference for one size of breasts over another all seem to contradict one other. A 2013 article in Psychology Today cited a study that men who were poor and/or hungry tended to favor women with larger breasts (as did men interested in fatherhood), while men higher on the socio-economic scale, men who'd just had a meal, and men forestalling fatherhood tended to go for a smaller-breasted ideal. Another study claims sexist men prefer bigger boobs. Many larger busted women aren't thrilled with the unwanted attention paid to their breast size. The bottom line? Men like breasts. They just do.
Shouldn't women accept their breasts the way they are?
What is it about women's breasts that make their surgical alteration more shocking than all the nose jobs, eye jobs, and facelifts combined? It's hard to say. But women aren't complaining, and report higher self-esteem an self-confidence after surgeries.
Some new enhancement procedures even use a woman's own fat to build up her breast tissue (goodbye implants). Breast lifts (aka breast mastopexy) are outpacing breast implants and have jumped by over 70%, with some 90,000 choosing the procedure in 2013.*** There were also 40,000 women who had breast reductions and 24,000 who had breast implant removal surgeries the same year. It's safe to say women are choosing to control their breasts with surgery.
Isn't it a matter of personal preference (combined with disposable income to fund plastic surgery)? If a woman wants to adjust the size or shape of her boobs, who are we -- or anyone, for that matter -- to judge otherwise?