Buying Into the "Perfect 10"
I gleefully tore open the Victoria's Secret package the UPS man had left by the front door, filled with anticipation. Two new brassieres, black satin, a big thrill. As I shredded to pieces the little plastic baggies they pack the underwear in, I'm pulled up short. In my haste to negotiate the perils of catalog shopping, I have somehow overlooked a significant factor. These bras I've ordered are padded. I didn't mean for them to be.OK, so I'm a shmuck. While I'm totally sold on the convenience of catalog shopping (nothing like scanning glossy pages for the perfect pair of hot pink capris at 11 o'clock at night in the privacy of my own bathroom) I sometimes misorder. My top drawer was insufferable: I needed to replenish. What could be easier than an 800 number and a Victoria's Secret catalog?Padded bras. I usually eschew padded bras because, thank you very much, I've always felt I had enough padding of my own. Small-breasted friends who bitch to me about their puny breasts don't realize the extent of my envy. Don't they know I'm the girl who misspent her whole adolescence fretting that my breasts, nimble upright apples, would transmogrify themselves into saggy, dangling balloons -- just like my mother's?I tried on the bra. How could I resist it? The first shock was how snug it was. My comfortable, stretchy-lace, front-hook closure bras, the ones that let me "be myself" (read sag a bit) bore no relation to this garment. Between the pads and the positioning and the engineered structural architecture, my breasts, somewhat compromised by childbirth, acquired a new jut. Recalling what a saleswoman told me about the necessity to regard the bra with clothes, I fished through my closet until I found my favorite black top, skintight and velvet. Voila. I suddenly had big, shapely, cantilevered boobs. Boobs with a capital B. I couldn't wait to take them out in public, like pets.However, a lingering sensation of unease tempered my delight. What was this all about, my sudden interest in torpedo tits? Is this why so many women choose to go under the knife?When we were living in L.A., a popular form of amusement among my friends and acquaintances was breast augmentation. I might interject here that in Southern California, plastic surgery is a way of life, practically a religion. Every newspaper, regional magazine, even local TV, advertises "Board Certified" surgeons who enthusiastically compete for your beautification dollar, much the way used car salesmen vie for business in other parts of the country. Age, or more specifically, being aged, isn't a prerequisite: "preventative" before-you-need-it surgery is de rigeur. Women as young as 26 speak seriously about crows feet and getting bags removed from under their eyes. By 35, almost every middle-class woman in L.A. has had a boob job or at least some lipo. The affluent begin their cosmetic surgery habits at a much earlier age, like 10.The first intimation that sporting my own breasts might not be the norm occurred almost as soon as we set foot in L.A. A couple we knew, Phillip and Judibird, were throwing a party at their charmingly adorable remodeled Venice Beach shack, inviting six couples, all friendly enough to shed their clothes in Phillip's hot tub. The few who remained dressed were practically naked. You'd have to be blind not to notice they were all in great shape, with bodies years younger than their actual ages. Their firm, perfectly proportioned physiques were pulsating with vim and vigor.One of the guests had brought a splendid selection of wines from a regional vintner and my spouse, R., wasted no time downing a glass or two. Or maybe it was three. Soon he found himself in the center of a group of people who were discussing the hot topic of the day -- the government's cautious murmurings that silicon might not be the very best thing to introduce into the human body. The L.A. Times had recently run some timidly worded stories about possible FDA interventions that would restrict one of Southern California's most lucrative industries. The party group was questioning the newest studies and findings about silicon leakage when R. interjected his opinion."I hate boob jobs! I hate fake tits! To me, there's nothing uglier than a pair of oversized melons pasted on some skinny woman's body! And the way they feel -- ugh. It's like fondling a beach ball!" "Gee, I guess you don't like them much," one man guffawed. The three women in the group contemplated R. in stony silence. I eyeballed their chests; they were identical triplets with perfect high and hard 36Cs.Melanie, a brightly made up blond in towering heels, looked down her perfectly snubbed nose (the work of a talented rhinoplast, no doubt)."It's too bad you feel that way," she said icily, "Because a lot of women have been made fabulously happy because of the availability of breast augmentation. I know, because I am the spokesperson for Breast Beautification Through Plastic Surgery for Southern California. I go on TV and everything!"I tapped R. on the shoulder and hustled him into the kitchen. "Didn't you notice that every woman at this party has had a boob job? You've insulted every one of them. "I was tempted to strip down and jump in the hot tub to put my own natural endowments to the test, but my shamefaced and somewhat frightened spouse felt we should split before Melanie beat him up. Not long after, Judibird, who had hosted the party, confided she was having big-time problems with her boobs. One of them had big hard lumps, "like golf balls." She said she'd already had her breasts fixed once following the original surgery and she didn't want to keep having procedures for the rest of her life.I asked why she'd had them done in the first place."My doctor said I had the strangest breasts he'd ever seen. He wanted to photograph them for some medical journal! They were smallish, but really pendulous, like the dugs on aboriginal women who nurse their kids until they're 17. He told me I was deformed, so I went to see a plastic surgeon."I said from my observations at the health club that those "dugs" were pretty common."Well, they may just live with 'em someplace else, but not here! You've got to have perfect boobs or your husband will leave you for somebody who does," she explained.Judi's original surgery consisted of moderately sized implants that didn't make her breasts any larger, just more upright. She was thrilled with the results until a year after the surgery when she discovered one of the implants had migrated into her armpit. During the corrective surgery, the surgeon, without consulting her, inserted implants two sizes larger than the original. Judi was flabbergasted. Her husband was ecstatic. But now she had these disturbing lumps.I suggested she return to the surgeon and have all the stuffing removed. I suggested she look into getting a "lift," a non-implant procedure designed to shorten the underlying ligaments that results in recovering the buoyancy of youth. A few brave L.A. surgeons had begun touting this procedure to panicky women who were freaking out about their time-bomb tits. The L.A. Times had picked up the coverage regarding boob jobs gone awry and was now daily publishing alarming stories about women who were trying to remove their implants themselves. Judibird shook her head no. Phillip loved her huge breasts. There was no way she could live without them, even though they had now become so uncomfortable that she could only sleep on her back.During this same time, another friend, our landlord's wife, Nanci, was telling some pretty gross boob job stories of her own. I hadn't known until she spilled it all out, but Nanci's breasts weren't her own. When she had first moved to L.A. 10 years before from a little town in western Pennyslvania, the first thing she did was get some new tits. In her opinion, it was as essential a step as securing an apartment or getting a phone line put in.She'd been living a peaceful coexistance with her implants for years when trouble started brewing. First, she noticed she was suffering a lot of fatigue. Then she started having problems with her joints. Next, it was dizzy spells. These were all symptoms of silicone leakage, according to published newspaper reports. Then one afternoon when her sister Terri was visiting and they were in Nanci's bedroom changing into bikinis, Nanci noticed that her implant was actually trying to exit her breast on its own. Silicone was leaking onto her skin and at the site of the original incision, there was a fine red line of scar tissue underneath each breast. The actual sac of silicone gel was starting to push through. Nanci screamed.With her sister's help (luckily both women are nurses), she eased the implant out of the now torn-open incision. Together they examined it and Nanci said it bore little resemblance to the way it had looked when she'd had it put in more than a decade ago. She slipped it into a baggie and called the doctor, who quickly arranged to meet Nanci at his office. Once there, the two got into an ugly fight over who was to get custody of the baggie. In the end, he removed the remaining implant and gave her a "lift." She decided not to sue him since her husband was satisfied with her freshly modeled (and silicone-free) breasts.Eventually, the FDA enacted a moratorium against silicone implants, except in the case of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. Even then, they urged women to consider only saline implants, which were considered to be less of a threat to the health of the body. Even after the FDA's decision, which would not go into effect for three months, many women of my acquaintance rushed to make appointments with plastic surgeons so they could get their implants done under the wire. There seemed to be no lack of women willing to possibly sacrifice their health for the sake of larger -- and thus more desirable -- breasts.The FDA has since lightened up, and the procedures for breast augmentation have shaped up to meet more rigorous guidelines (no more of that pumping raw silicone into stripteasers breasts, la Carol Doda). Today's breast enlargement procedures have been deemed totally safe by the FDA. They've come a long way with saline and even further with new procedures that utilize the fat from a patient's own over-upholstered belly and butt to make bigger, better breasts. As long as a woman has the bucks or credit left on VISA, a new upper body can be hers for the asking.My own breasts aren't what they used to be. I lament their lack of bounce, the way the skin has both withered and softened, giving me what I call that "rotting fruit" look. I don't exactly flaunt them anymore. As I stand in the mirror in the privacy of my bedroom, posing them in a more flattering position, I can't help but wonder: Should I send the new padded bra back or what?