The Sociology of Plastic Surgery




I have given many lectures on the beauty myth, selfies, Instagram, and the cultivation of the capital of beauty. I am also interested in the medical regulation of women’s bodies.


Cosmetic surgery is where these all combine.


As with all of my research interests, I have personal experience. At 18 years old I had breast implants. The reasons were complex and I do not judge any woman who makes that decision. The industry/culture I was in normalized breasts implants, but I had wanted them long before.


I had them removed in 2015 aged 32. I felt so free the moment I woke up from my explant surgery. I felt I had reclaimed my body.


Womenhood is often defined by ‘curves’ and large breasts. This is problematic. This regulation of women’s bodies is seen explicitly on social media apps such as Intagram where ‘surg’ has become a form of social capital. The woman is a project who should always be improving, always changing to fit the trends.


But trends and beauty ideals change. How will BBL be seen/understood in ten years?


Far from being part of a sub-culture, like it was when I was 18 and getting breast implants and lip fillers, cosmetic procedures are increasingly normalised.


Women undergoing breast implant surgery are not being told the correct information, therefore they cannot give radical informed consent. We are told implants are ‘lifetime devices’.


Dr. Michael Zenn, vice chief of plastic surgery at Duke University Medical Center. “This requires almost lifetime maintenance when you have a breast implant in. If you’re not telling patients that, you do them a disservice.”


Most implants need changing every 10 years. That is a lot of surgery for a woman to have. Amongst these women are breast cancer survivors who have undergone reconstruction surgery.


The NHS has updated their page on breast implants here.


During teaching recently I have spoken about the PIP implant scandal and the vaginal mesh scandal. Just two of the mass hams committed by the medical profession against women.


I know many women impacted by PIP implants. They have had multiple surgeries, lymph nodes removing, and are terrified of further procedures and risks of developing cancer. They were deceived by surgeons they trusted. 


For those unaware, over 300,000 women globally are affacted by PIP implants. Women who had surgery privately through top surgeons, or the NHS, and the silicone they had sewn inside their chests was industrial grade silicone unsuitable for the human body. All so surgeons could make an extra few hundred pounds per patient.


I myself faced the agonising wait of finding out if my implants were PIP. Luckily they weren’t, but my health was badly affected by having implants.


The PIP scandal is on ongoing health issue, with many in the medical profession still claiming that there is no evidence that PIP is harmful.


The advice is varying from country to country, with many women unable to afford the explant surgery. They are walking around knowing they have industrial grade silicone inside of them.


Women have been warning against the dangers of breast implants for years. I was part of several groups whilst making the decision to remove my implants. These women have been written off as ‘hysterial’, ‘cranks’, ‘conspiracy theorists’ ‘fantasists’, the slurs always used to discredit and shot down women’s narratives.


Parallels can be seen with the vaginal mesh scandal. Women were complaining of agonising pain, marriages breaking down, being unable to work, depression. Women were dismissed, ignored, shunned. Women have had their bladders and bowels perforated leaving them unable to walk. Women have suffered such chronic pain they cannot socialise or take part in family life.


As the link above from the British Medical Journal demonstrates

“An investigation by The BMJ reveals how vaginal mesh implant manufacturers “aggressively hustled” their products into widespread use, how regulators approved them “on the flimsiest of evidence” and how the medical profession failed to set up registries that might have picked up problems far sooner’


It also names prominent individuals – all on mesh guidelines committees – who take money from mesh manufacturers for various activities including research grants, speaker honorarium and consultancy, as do the medical royal colleges, creating a potential for bias. And even where payments are declared, it is very hard to unpick their value, and there is no obligation on clinicians to declare their interests”,


This is what women are dealing with. Our bodies are the sites of immoral capitalism, with our health not a concern. 


I am interested in setting up a Liverpool based group to examine these issues of medical sociology. Please do contact me via the blog or twitter @princessjack of you would like to get involved.


Gemma x