Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Teen Girls Buying Bigger Breasts

The numbers of plastic surgeries are up around the country. Going under the knife has grown increasingly legitimate, no doubt in part, due to reality shows like "The Swan" and "Extreme Makeover."

Liposuction and breast work are the most popular procedures. The St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports operations to enlarge dissatisifying bosoms are now common among teenage girls(registration may be required).

If you're wondering how they pay for the work, the story has an answer. At least in some cases,: "Teenage girls sometimes even get improved cleavage as high school graduation gifts," it says.

I don't know exactly what to think of this. On one hand, we all use technology to improve and maintain our appearance to some degree. What is the difference, in principle, between using, say, teeth whitening strips and getting breast implants? Both are ways of changing our looks to be more satisfying to us and more attractive to others. Obviously, breast implants require more expense and trouble than teeth whitening or eyebrow waxing, but that is merely a matter of degree. I don't see a substantial difference in principle.

At the same time, two quotes from the story really bother me and reveal a deeper problem.

First, this one: "Teenagers 'look at their body like a fixer-upper in real estate,' said Nili Sachs, a Minneapolis psychotherapist who specializes in women's body image. 'You buy it cheap, fix it up and put it on the market.' "

One result of growing up in the aftermath of the sexual revolution is that people believe the body is a commodity, like a house, to be marketed and eventually sold for the highest return. When young women adopt this view, we are bound to see a whole slew of emotional and physical problems manifested in their lives. Many young women in our culture struggle with depression, feelings of inferiority, cutting, eating disorders and on and on. In large part, these troubles are the price society pays for the sexual license the revolution demanded.

It is a truism of post-revolution culture that our bodies belong to us as individuals alone. However, the body, like the whole person, only finds it purpose in the context of relationships. That many young women see their bodies almost entirely from an individualistic framework and not as the vehicles with which they locate themselves in webs of social relationships is clear from this startling fact: "One-third to two-thirds of women with implants have insufficient milk for breast-feeding, the agency says. And small amounts of silicone may pass from implant shells into breast milk, possibly affecting a nursing infant."

When young women trade away the ability to nurture safely a new life for cosmetic enhancements, they give up a greater fulfillment for a lesser one. That we have taught them to do so is a tragedy.

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