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How a group of women's experiences with breast implants and the medical profession affected their feelings about themselves and their bodies

Silicone Survivors

Women's Experiences with Breast Implants

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Susan M. Zimmermann

Susan Zimmermann talked with forty women about perhaps one of the most sensitive issues of body image and health—their breasts, the chief attribute of femininity. In the aftermath of the early 1990's controversy over the use of silicone breast implants, how do women decide to undergo surgery to enhance or reconstruct their bodies? How does surgery alter a woman's self-image? How did they face the possibility of debilitating autoimmune disease from rupturing or leaking implants?

Some opted for breast implants after mastectomies, others for cosmetic reasons. Some felt empowered by the surgery: "Being a woman, I just like breasts and felt like I got ripped off. . . I did it for myself." Others were pressured by their husbands: "He used to make fun of parts of my body . . . And, he made me believe that if I was ever to leave him, no one would have anything to do with me because I was this deformed type of person."

After surgery, some women were ecstatic, while others had a sense of inner conflict about what they had done to themselves: were they "faking it"? And a few were angry: "I was really angry inside that I had had to put plastic bags filled with chemicals in my body in order for me to feel like I could do the Hoochie Koo on Saturday nights. . . I didn't wear tight clothes; I didn't want my children to find out."

Now, having faced years of medical and personal uncertainty, many have coped by reassessing their lives and their relationships, by sharing information and support with other women with implants, outreach that became a means for self-empowerment.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

Read a review from Contemporary Sociology, 28.4 (July 1999), written by Jean Elson (pdf).

Read a review from Gender and Society, 13.5 (October 1999), written by Constance L. Chapple (pdf).

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Contents

Acknowledgments
1. Introduction
2. Historical Background: The Emergence of a Controversy
3. The Decision to Seek Breast Implants: Women's Participation in the Medicalization Process
4. False Expectations: An Ironic Twist on "Before and After"
5. Misinforming Women of Risk: A Medial Conspiracy?
6. Minimizing Women's Troubles
7. Listening to an Inner Voice
8. Transforming Identities: Experiences of Empowerment
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Susan M. Zimmermann is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for Health, Health-Care Policy, and Aging Research, Rutgers University.

Subject Categories

Health and Health Policy
Women's Studies

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