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Breast implants: Indian women go the Barbie way
Matthew Schneeberger
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June 25, 2007

Would you allow your 18-year-old daughter to get breast implants?

Ten years ago, this question would be dismissed as irreverent and irrelevant. Today, who knows? Cosmetic surgery is the way to go if you want to enhance your physical appearance, and cosmetic surgeons are increasingly catering to clients in a much younger age group.

Whether it's to boost self-image, satisfy the increasingly impossible demands of the opposite sex, or for any other reason, the fact remains -- the cosmetic surgery craze has hit India in a big way.

First it was nose jobs, tummy tucks and face-lifts. Now, breast enhancement is the latest trend imported from the West, and on display (literally!) in India's metros. 

Evidence? All you need to do is note the statistics: breast augmentation procedures increased by 20 percent from the year 2005 to 2006. And the surge doesn't look like it's going to ebb anytime soon.

What's more, the faces of patients are changing. Now, college-going teenagers and menopause-nudging mothers alike are visiting the cosmetic surgeon for implant consultations.

But before we go overboard, perhaps we should look at the physical, emotional and financial aspects of this increasingly popular treatment.  

The physical aspect

In every surgical procedure, there are inherent risks. Most people are intimidated by the thought of 'going under the knife', even when it's medically necessary.

Cosmetic surgery, however, is just that -- cosmetic. It's not necessary to sustain health or treat disease, and therefore, taking the leap is even harder to justify.

During breast augmentation, the patient is put to sleep using general anaesthesia. Measuring the proper dosage can be very difficult for anaesthesiologists, because each individual reacts differently to the sleep-inducing drugs used. About five anaesthetic treatments per 1,000,000 result in death, usually caused by organ failure and suffocation.

Aside from the risks of surgery itself, there are many complications linked to breast enhancement. Implants have been known to shift, swell and wrinkle. Common complications include infection, loss or change of nipple sensitivity, breast pain and interference with breast feeding.

Moreover, practically all women who opt for breast enhancement procedures require several operations in their lifetimes -- implants should ideally be replaced once every decade. In drastic cases, as many as seven or eight procedures are conducted on a single patient.

Common reasons for follow-up surgery include ruptured implants, the asymmetric or lop-sided appearance of one or both breasts, and pain -- in some instances, an individual's body rejects the implants, and is not able to establish compatibility with them.

Also, there is no way to avoid scarring under the breasts. Though some women heal quickly, for others it is a terrible problem. A survey conducted in the United States revealed that about 7 percent of patients were unhappy with their enhancement procedures because of scarring.

Finally, there is the issue of quality to consider. In the United States and Europe, where cosmetic surgery has been popular for over 20 years, there are medical boards and committees that govern facilities and doctors undertaking to perform such procedures. In India, on the other hand, the lack of regulations allows any quack to try his hand at cosmetic surgery. Outside of Mumbai and Delhi, there are very few properly trained and licensed specialists in breast augmentation.

The emotional factor

Cosmetic surgery is linked to low levels of self-esteem. Often, it is a refuge for young individuals who are prone to bouts of depression, suicide attempts and mental illnesses -- it comes as no surprise, then, that younger and younger women are opting for breast surgery in India of late.

Many women suffering from mental issues believe that a physical change will solve their problems -- it won't. Instead, they ignore the root of the problem, which is an unhealthy body image.

For today's women, a poor body-image is easily understandable, given the extreme pressure to look like Barbie dolls with picture-perfect figures. Hoardings, print ads and televisions commercials all spread the same message -- if you don't fit in with the popular concept of attractiveness, you aren't a complete woman.

Husbands, fathers and other male loved ones should combat these negative feelings with love and support. In our entertainment saturated and image-conscious world, it's difficult to appreciate people outside such a narrow and shallow scope. Flow against the current of popular opinion, and help your wife or daughter explore areas outside of beauty and fashion.

If she still wants to alter her appearance, try getting her to do so in a safer manner -- through exercise. Openly discuss the issue at hand, and who knows? Other than getting her to drop the idea of surgery, you will also end up bonding emotionally, and may help improve her body image.

Expenditure

Since cosmetic surgery is for the most part a procedure unrelated to one's health, insurance plans do not cover the cost of breast augmentation or any other such treatment.

Instead, you'll face a bill of almost Rs 50,000, depending on the reputation of the doctor you choose. You might be charged less than Rs 20,000 from an unknown doctor, but this is a risk that most are unwilling to take.

Also, when you consider that implants should be replaced every decade, the price tag breaks the Rs 1,00,000 barrier and goes higher as the number of operations increases.

When the procedure becomes increasingly common in the next decade, it's expected that costs will drop dramatically. If this happens, watch out -- every other woman on the streets might look like Pamela Anderson [Images], and that isn't necessarily a good thing!

Conclusion

If breast implants are physically dangerous, the result of low self esteem, and an unnecessary expense, why are woman queuing up outside the cosmetic surgeon's office?

What's worse, it isn't only breast enhancement that is finding popularity with Indian women. Collagen-boosted lips, botox-treated cheek bones, and silicon abs are also starting to catch on.

Are they chasing an unrealistic body image? Are they imitating over-sexed female starlets  that are always in the news for the wrong reasons?

Is this what we want for our women? Where will it all end?

Somebody must answer these questions, and answer them quickly. Else, we'll soon have Indian cities teeming with Barbie dolls


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