Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Forget implants, get it into your heads: we’re all faulty

Health scare: Gemma Garrett had to have a ruptured breast implant removed

The most shocking thing, for me, about the recent scandal over faulty silicone breast implants from France was not the fact that they had gone wrong.

Slicing a hole in your body and inserting a rubbery substance otherwise used to make air-bags, kitchen equipment and hair conditioners is simply asking for trouble, sooner or later.

In the case of the French PIP implants, they ruptured and disgorged industrial-grade silicone into their owners' bodies, leaving them terrified of the time-bombs they had sewn into their chests.

Their dreams of fabulous bosoms and perhaps the hope of an enhanced sense of their own femininity, ended in fear and loathing and a desperate race to get the horrible leaky things removed.

What really surprised me was the sheer number of women affected. Regulators believe that about 40,000 women in the UK have been implanted with the affected devices.

The vast majority received them privately, for breast augmentation; only 5% were fitted with the implants through the NHS for surgical reconstruction.

That 40,000 is a huge figure, but presumably it's only a fraction of the overall number of women who have decided to pump up their mammaries in recent years.

And what I keep asking myself is: why? Why have so many women, like the former Miss Great Britain Gemma Garrett, chosen to have their tender, delicate breast tissue cut open, and something resembling a big, rubbery jellyfish stuffed in under the flap?

Post-cancer reconstruction surgery is an entirely different matter. That I can understand.

But placing yourself under the knife, with all the risks of post-surgical infection, just to increase the girth of your bust-line? That sounds like madness to me.

Part of the problem is that cosmetic practices are now so normalised. We have become overly familiar with them, if not through our own experiences, then through those of friends, or through television programmes and magazine articles.

What might have once seemed utterly crazy and needlessly dangerous — chopping off unwanted bits of intimate flesh, injecting ourselves with paralysing toxins (that's botox) to eradicate wrinkles — are now everyday procedures, some of which you can even fit into your lunch-hour.

The result is that many of us have become far too gung-ho about it all. Caution has been replaced with a ‘why not?' attitude. But when it goes wrong, as in the case of the PIP implants, it goes spectacularly, disgustingly wrong.

And now the British Association of Dermatologists has issued a warning about the risks of certain anti-ageing injections, which can give you lumpy, deformed features, especially when administered by someone who hasn't a clue what they're doing. As the unregulated situation stands, anyone can set up a shop and start making money from pumping this weird gunge into people's faces, with little care for the consequences.

When you think about it, there's something really sick about this desperate quest for physical perfection. It’s as though the tiniest deviation from the norm is increasingly seem as unacceptable: a problem that can and should be solved by cosmetic intervention.

According to family mythology, when my dad was little, my granny used Sellotape to stick his ears to his head, because she thought they stuck out too much.

These days, if you're unhappy with the angle of your lugs, all you have to do is make an appointment at the Ulster Independent Clinic, or other places like it, where ‘the position of protruding ears can be improved’. But what's so wrong with slightly sticky-out ears?

Of course, it's women, rather than men, who are more likely to put themselves through radical procedures. Women, by and large, go under the knife, while men, by and large, wield it, as surgeons and clinicians.

But it's simplistic to say that women are inflating their breasts and whittling their eyelids and draining off their fat reserves simply to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex.

Most men aren't overly prescriptive about the size, shape or contours of their partner's body.

For all the talk of empowerment and personal choice, women's desperate embrace of cosmetic intervention has far more to do with a sense of shame and disgust at their own flawed or ageing bodies.

The truth is, you mess with |your body at your peril. There's |something arrogant, disrespectful and almost self-loathing about thinking you can simply cut, squeeze and immobilise it into subjection. And we make ourselves miserable by trying.

We're all imperfect. If we could only accept that, the greedy global cosmetic industry would implode tomorrow.

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