Fatal enhancement

Does getting a boob job increase one's risk of suicide?

Published August 9, 2007 2:58PM (EDT)

The argument for most plastic surgery -- be it for burn victims or insecure housewives -- is that it improves self-esteem. In the case of someone who has suffered an injury or a disfiguring surgery, this seems a reasonable enough assumption. But what about for the 80 percent of women with perfectly healthy bodies who subject themselves to the unnecessary medical risks of breast implants -- from surgical slip-ups and post-surgical infections to long-term problems, including leaky implants, rupture, inflammation, toxic shock syndrome and the need for an additional surgery?

For years, the industry has continued to trot out study upon study upon study that "proves" precisely this idea -- that breast enhancement makes women feel better about themselves. The studies have provided the rhetorical linchpin to the swelling billion-dollar industry, which performed 329,396 enlargements last year (up 13 percent from 2005).

But a new long-term study showing a strong link between breast surgery and suicide should puncture the boob job/self-esteem concept for good. Published in the current Annals of Plastic Surgery (reported on via the Los Angeles Times), the study found that women who got breast implants have three times higher a risk of suicide. Spanning 29 years and following 3,527 Swedish women, the study discovered that the rate of suicide rose precipitously as time went on -- with no higher risk in the subsequent decade after the surgery, but 4.5 times higher after 10 to 19 years and six times higher after 20 years. It also found that women with breast enhancement risked a 300 percent greater chance of death related to mental disorders, including drug and alcohol overdoses and accidents. (The group didn't include any women who underwent breast augmentation as a result of mastectomies.)

For those who regard the whole nip 'n' tuck juggernaut as a pernicious conspiracy to exploit insecure women and promote distorted Barbzilla proportions, this study won't surprise you. (Especially if you're familiar with previous studies that found a weaker link between breast enhancement and suicide as well as studies showing 15 percent of plastic surgery patients suffer from "body dysmorphia.")

But now that the Food and Drug Administration has lifted the ban on silicone implants, one can expect more perfectly healthy women to regard their breasts as inadequate in some way. And since some parents have decided that putting their daughters under the knife is a fitting graduation present, it's hard to underestimate the value of data that reminds us of the underlying dysmorphia seeping even into our baked goods.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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