Media is Failing to Address Breast Implant Safety

From our friend, Lorelai Kluever, at Our Bodies, Ourselves.

The recent announcement of Kelly Rowland's breast augmentation can be understood as another prime example of the media's failure to properly address the issue of breast implant safety. Though I do not watch MTV or any of the plastic surgery reality TV shows that seem to attract substantial audiences these days, I would assume that CNN would provide a more objective perspective on this subject. This recent five minute CNN segment invited E! TV host Ashlan Gorse, as well as self-esteem expert Jessica Weiner, to lead the conversation. Although Jessica Weiner mentions that breast implant surgery can be deadly, she fails to ask Weiner to elaborate on safety issues, or to discuss whether or not Kelly Rowland was adequately informed of the health risks prior to her surgery. Instead, she turns the conversation back to Kelly's personal reasoning for breast implants (to fill out a top) and the influence that Kelly Rowland's surgery has on young girls in general.

Though I see the importance of analyzing the impact of celebrities' plastic surgery choices on young women, I think that it’s also necessary to go beyond the harm of imposing unrealistic beauty standards. Breast implant surgery poses substantial threats to physical health and well-being, and the failure of many plastic surgeons to fully inform women of these risks only underscores the need for more responsible media coverage of this topic. The absence of adequate discussion of breast implant safety in the media and elsewhere has resulted in many poorly-informed college-age women. After speaking with several friends and college students who had the opportunity to see Carol Ciancutti-Leyva's amazing documentary, Absolutely Safe, I was struck by their similar reactions: utter astonishment at how little they had heard previously about these safety concerns.

I recently developed and distributed an informal survey that was filled out by 18 college students, the majority of whom are students at UMass Boston. The first section asked students where they have seen ads for breast implants, whether the ads gave them any sense of the risks involved in the surgery, and if they know anyone who had breast implant surgery. The majority of students (13 out of 18) had seen ads for breast implants, most often in magazines/ newspapers, on television, and on billboards. Two students mentioned seeing ads in their doctor's office. Not a single student who had seen these ads for implants felt that they offered some sense of the risks involved with this surgery. Four students said that they knew a friend who has implants, and two wrote further that their friends were happy with them and haven't experienced any problems yet. (Many health problems associated with breast implants can develop further down the road.)

For the second half of the survey, students checked off which risks they were aware of from a list of 13 potential breast implant surgery complications. Only three students were aware of more than half of these risks, and the majority were aware of only a few. The most frequently reported were: capsular contraction, infection, rupture, migration, problems with breastfeeding, and loss of sensitivity.

This informal survey suggests that unbalanced and sensationalized media coverage of breast implant surgery as well as irresponsible breast implant advertising will encourage many women to make choices that could seriously affect their well-being.

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