Breast implant scandal: Wake-up call for an industry that preys on insecurities

Yasmin Alibhai – Brown

Last updated at 2:10 AM on 3rd January 2012

Perplexed: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who three years ago took part in a radio discussion about why so many women hate their bodies

Perplexed: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who three years ago took part in a radio discussion about why so many women hate their bodies

Over the New Year, I have been thinking a lot about a woman called Sue, whom I met three years ago. Twenty-four years old, she was not even 5ft tall, but she had had her breasts enlarged from a size 34C to 36DD.

Sue had a lovely face and looked a little like a young Felicity Kendal, yet it was her disproportionately large bust — her pride and joy, she said — which made her feel like a real woman.

She had found a plastic surgeon who did ‘economy’ boob jobs and went for it with three of her pals (they got a  group discount). Thus she became one of the rapidly growing number of smart young women who opt for serious aesthetic surgery.

I encountered her when I was invited on to a radio programme to discuss why so many Western women hate their bodies. She excitedly showed me her bosoms, and even invited me to feel them. They looked luscious but unreal, and were truly horrible to touch — like leathery footballs. It was difficult at that moment to understand how anyone would find them a turn on.

I asked her why she had objects bigger than soup bowls put into her young and healthy body. She was baffled by the question and threw me a pitying look as though I was hard of understanding.

‘Everyone has them now. It’s no big deal. No one forced me — it’s normal. I don’t want to be a freak.’ In other words, if you don’t have breast implants, so her argument ran, there is something wrong with you.

It was one of those truly depressing moments when you realise just how twisted values have become in modern Britain. To women such as Sue, and the tens of thousands like her, ladies who get ‘topped-up’ with silicone are normal, even superior to other women.

One plastic surgeon told me before Christmas that he is fully booked up to perform these ‘augmentations’ until well into April, because an unprecedented number of young women have chosen the op as their Christmas present from husbands, boyfriends — and even fathers.

The surgeon has a gorgeous country mansion and a home in London: ‘OK, I make good money. But I am also selling confidence, helping women to feel they can be amazing instead of hiding inside big jumpers. Think of it as a kind of social work.’

As you can gather, he was the smoothest of operators, though I am sure many of his patients are deeply grateful for the service he provides. Some years ago, of course, doctors like him were less blasé and a little more cautious about who they were willing to re-model.

Re-modelling: The work of cosmetic plastic surgeons seems to have become standard-issue

Re-modelling: The work of cosmetic plastic surgeons seems to have become standard-issue

Now, as Sue and her friends prove, their work has become standard-issue. They are merely the most skilful providers of beauty therapy, to be lumped in with manicurists and facialists.

Except that manicurists are unlikely to give you cancer. And, as very many women in Britain now know, if you are unlucky enough to have been given the wrong kind of silicone  implant, there is a risk of that happening.

For months, concern has been mounting in France about breast implants made by a French firm, Poly Implant Prothese (PIP), which used industrial-grade silicone, also used as the filling in cheap mattresses.

Doctors offered them as the economical alternatives to expensive artificial breasts, yet it is now known that PIP implants are more likely to rupture, and can allegedly cause chronic illnesses, as well as having links to cancer.

The French government has decided to pay for all implant removals requested by affected or alarmed women, yet the response at the time in the UK was, at best, sluggish, at worst, shockingly indifferent.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency yawned and concluded there was nothing to fear, that the failure rate for these implants was less than one per cent.

In reality, the 50,000 British women estimated to have had these inserted must now be dreadfully worried.

of them had reconstruction surgery after breast cancer. But most others
chose to have the work done for purely cosmetic reasons.

wonder if Sue is among those who had these defective implants. Hers
were done on the cheap, after all. If she is really scared and regrets
her decision, will she have the wretched things taken out?

irony is that she, and many women who chose to do the same as her, are
not the empty-headed bimbos you might expect them to be.

Concern: The French-made PIP implants which have provoked warnings from health professionals

Concern: The French-made PIP implants which have provoked warnings from health professionals

Sue was a qualified physiotherapist; another women I met on the discussion programme was a Montessori teacher, and two others were sharp businesswomen.

The problem was that successful careers had failed to imbue them with enough self-confidence to stop them allowing someone to cut open their bodies with a scalpel and push in foreign bodies which may yet prove to be hugely harmful.

So why do they do it? Because they
have been bombarded all their adult lives with images of ‘perfect’
female bodies on TV programmes, in magazines and on the internet,
brainwashed into thinking that to be ‘worth it’ they have to be stick
thin or make themselves look like porn stars.

years of being made to feel flawed and inferior, for these women the
prospect of going under the knife becomes increasingly tempting.

along come the fairy godfathers (most plastic surgeons are male)
promising perfection at a price that is just within reach of many
ordinary people. You see their adverts everywhere — gorgeous women smile
and jut out their enhanced chests, showing you exactly what is

none of those glossy adverts flag up the numerous health risks. Breast
implants require serious surgery and proper recovery time. And things,
as we now know, can go wrong. Very wrong. Belatedly this week, experts
in the UK are beginning to take the problem seriously. But it may be too
late for many women who already have that dangerous silicone in their

not get me wrong: I do not condemn these women outright for the choices
they have made, not least because I can see for myself the reasons they
made them.

Danger: Plastic surgeon Denis Boucq poses with PIP silicone gel breast implants

Danger: Plastic surgeon Denis Boucq poses with PIP silicone gel breast implants

I feel especially deeply for the breast cancer patients who received defective implants during reconstructive surgery, and who must now be terribly anxious about going back into hospital to be cut up all over again.

Two acquaintances who had reconstructions have been inconsolable over Christmas.

One, weeping copiously, told me: ‘I can’t bear it. My kids were just beginning to have hope that I was well. I feel suicidal. And guilty. I should have learned to live without a breast. I hate the bloody thing, so unnatural and hateful.’

It is inexcusable that doctors used inferior products for such vulnerable patients. In these cases, the NHS clearly needs to step in and remove them without charge.

I also sympathise with women like Sue, but their cases are slightly different. Maybe they shouldn’t have been so weak or vain in their efforts to attain what so many of them regard as unattainable physical ideals.

Our anger, though, should be directed at our lackadaisical regulators, who must wake up and start to monitor the plastic surgery industry, which has grown exponentially in the past decade. Good, professionally competent plastic surgeons have nothing to fear, but cowboy doctors must be held accountable and struck off if necessary. They have got away with it for too long.

Douglas McGeorge, former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, accepts that private clinics have a duty of care and should take responsibility for these defective implants, which were chosen by doctors, not patients. Yet he thinks the removals should be done at ‘cost price’ to the patient.

What a travesty that would be. Many of these women saved for years to get the breasts of their dreams. Now they have turned out to be a nightmare, why should they have to raise more cash to pay for the greed and incompetence of the clinicians?

The Health Secretary needs to act tough and force those who inserted these implants to remove them without charge, and fast. Surely the clinics are insured against just this kind of crisis?

Above all, let this be a wake-up call, not only to the cosmetic doctors with their eyes on profit margins, but to all those women convinced that a pair of inflated plastic breasts will be their passport to happiness.

Here’s what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts,
or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

Modern western women have become the worst humans ever to have lived on this planet. They are extremely materialistic, narcissitic and entitled. They are shallow princesses , this is the reason why these surgeons have so much business

Cars have been recalled for less than this . But here you have a full blown health scare and what is Andrew Lansley doing about it. ?? He is doing what he does best – Absolutely Nothing !!
It doesn’t matter what operation you have had or why .If you have had any thing implanted into your body male or female and it turns out later that those implants have a safety issue then action must take place and quickly . Lansley saying that the risk is minimal is not comforting anyone as the Tories have a very poor track record on
telling the truth about anything !! With him saying that , people will just assume the opposite !!
To find out that NON-MEDICAL grade components have been added to your body is a real scare for any woman and I don’t see that those women are getting any sympathy from this government who are hell-bent on selling off the NHS . Lansley – he will be the death of us all. Thanks Mr Cameron for appointing him . That is going on the list of reasons never to vote for you !

Sorry, but regardless of what Sue does for a living, choosing to become lopsided in some vain quest to be more “desirable” makes her an empty-headed bimbo. I completely understand the use of implants for reconstructive surgery, but doing it just because you define your femininity by your chest size is pathetic. She would have been much better off spending that money on some counseling.

Cosmetic companies don’t care about the patients or what happens to them they just want to make money, I have worked within the industry and all they care about is money, we would be encouraged to lie to patients to get them to book operations and offer discounts, and if we didn’t make are targets our jobs would be on the line, this is not right it should be down to the person to decide if surgery is right for them. These companies that used these implants should be held responsible not the patient.

I think the attitude of Douglas McGeorge is shameful and immoral. These plastic surgeons and the companies they work for were quite willing to make a considerable amount of money on the back of their professional integrity and the position of trust the public places surgeons in.
It really is time they stepped up and accepted their responsibilities and liabilities. That they may be worried about the future cost of their insurance premiums is irrelevant they must have adequate insurance cover already to properly deal with this matter and replace and or remove all the implants they have carried out. Their patients/clients made their decisions on the basis of the professional advise they received from their surgeons and they had a right to expect that advice was not tainted by influences they were not aware of.
Implicit in the doctor / patient relationship is a duty of care. The cosmetic surgery industry appears to be failing in this respect at the moment.
Where’s Mr Lansley on this

I’m sorry, but I do not think that the authorities should fund the removal of these implants when they were installed for purely cosmetic/vanity purposes. Someone in my family spent years longing for bigger breasts, but finally came to her senses thank goodness. You are what you are.

These were NOT offered as ‘economical alternatives.’ The vast majority of us paid the same as those offered quality implants. I myself have them and paid several hundred pounds MORE for my procedure as I was told these were safer and the clinic reputable. We were NOT looking for a cheap fix. We were conned into believing we were choosing the best. And no I do NOT want the NHS to fix this. We ALL want the clinics to help us.

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