Specifically, I want to talk about the climate around breast appearance that has allowed cut price breast augmentations performed by cosmetic surgeons to be marketed to women receiving Centrelink payments.
When I talk about climate in this sense, what I mean is that though we each have our own individual perception of our environment, these perceptions culminate and create a climate of shared norms and expectations of how we should look and act. This climate is ever changing and in turn influences us, our decisions and behaviours. This is admittedly a tricky line to tread, because I don’t want to tell anyone their choices are not their own, or that they didn’t make them alone.
An example of how this works: When Kylie Jenner, among other celebrities, got lip fillers they introduced a trend towards younger (usually white) women getting lip fillers; this trend altered the climate around expectations of physical appearance, especially in regards to lips, and this expectation altered the social acceptance and then uptake of lip fillers. In this example you can see how individual choice and perception influences society, which in turn influences individual choice and perception. To me, this is climate.
|Conspiracy Keanu, credit: memegenerator|
No I’m not telling people they can’t get lip fillers, and no you don’t have to agree with my theories.
The Cosmetic Institute (TCI), apparently Australia’s cosmetic surgery providers, has been the subject of controversy for years. They are at the focus of a class action (link here). They were mentioned in investigations years ago, that led to a change in requirements for cosmetic procedures because they were found to be over dosing clients with anaesthetics, without consent, leading to two women having heart attacks in 2015. (link here). They’ve been included in a parliamentary inquiry. And now they've been found to be actively marketing their products to women on Centrelink payments.
Also, the company's turnover for 2014-15 was $35 million to $40 million. (link here)
To understand why this place is so controversial, first we have to define some terms. Plastic Surgeons and Cosmetic Surgeons are different things. Plastic surgeons have 12 years’ experience of medical training and practice. Cosmetic surgeons are anyone with a medical degree who wants to perform cosmetic surgeries. This can make a difference when we're talking about level of expertise. I think what frames this distinction perfectly is what former nurse at TCI, Nicole Montgomery, told the parliamentary inquiry:
“None of the people I worked with were actually surgeons until closer to the end — they had no experience or training in cosmetic surgery … We had one surgeon who had every single patient get an infection for the first month … until they learned to suture.” (Link here)
Nicole Montgomery has been speaking out about the low-cost breast augmentation industry for years and she’s right to. This industry has devastated many women; at least 200 are involved in the class action lawsuit for TCI alone.
Complications from breast implants surgery can span across issues such as infection, anaesthesia risks, chronic breast pain, breast or nipple numbness, scar tissue, hardened or misshapen breasts. (Link here) There have been studies to show bacteria or mould can grow in saline implants. There can be complications with deformity if implants are removed, but no breast implants will last a lifetime. They all degrade. (Link here). So once you buy in, in a way, you have to stay in, which can be an issue if you don’t have money to spare.
Nicole Montgomery advised TCI "preyed on women who were divorced, who were single and who were low socio-economic status.... easily 1 in 5 patients were on Centrelink benefits" (link here)
"You're talking about a low socio-economic group who are taking on a loan for $20 a week and getting a boob job for the cost of a coffee a day, that's how it was advertised," (Link here)
To me, there is no denying that the current climate regarding breast appearance informs choices around breast augmentation surgeries. It’s simple for me to see that breast augmentation surgeries would not be as popular if more women were happy with their breasts. But I understand the climate we exist in has expectations for how we look. Women can choose to change their bodies however they like, but in this case, it’s the climate that’s being exploited here. And the exploitation is targeted at lower socio-economic status women. It’s putting them in danger. Medically, financially and emotionally.
TCI is not the only surgery doing this: it’s just the biggest. They all exist because there’s a market for cheap breast augmentations.
Now, I don’t want to take away the choice of women to choose what to do with their bodies. If you want a cheap breast augmentation and you don’t care about any of this, go for it, be happy.
I just don’t want us exploited, or backed into financial or medical cages. We can push back against the climate that tells us cosmetic surgery is mundane, so trivial that it doesn’t require plastic surgeons. We can push back against the climate that wants us to overlook the bodies of women who have been harmed in the pursuit of “nicer” breasts. And we should push back. We should share the information about these cases widely.
We should arm ourselves with info so when we make our choices, they will be informed.
By: Tee Linden