Friday, October 2, 2009

Terms of Endowment

One woman learns breast implants aren’t a one-time plastic surgery deal.

When aspiring Manhattan actress Kristen was 27, she spent $5,000 to turn her God-given B cups to full C’s. She chose saline implants with a silicone core, a product that—along with all silicone falsies—was pulled off the market in 1991.

She knew to massage her breasts regularly to try to prevent too much scar tissue from forming around the implant, the natural result of any foreign object being placed inside the body. She knew to remain on the lookout for sudden deflation, which would have signified a rupture. She didn’t realize that, like the rest of her body, her brand-new breasts would wear out over time.

Eighteen years later: “From the front, they still looked kind of good,” Kristen says. “But from the side, they looked like a lot of my friends’ who’d breast-fed. They didn’t have any boost to them. They looked completely real! I went in for a mammogram and the technician said, ‘I thought you said you have implants?’ When I got them done, I didn’t know they had a shelf life. I don’t recall anyone telling me that.”

When Kristen had her breasts done in 1990, a boob job was still a major event. Not anymore. Breasts, like bad teeth or unruly eyebrows, have become something to “fix.” A new set still costs only around $5,000, the same price paid by Kristen when Bush Sr. was in office, some doctors need less than an hour to insert the implants, some workaholics take just a five-day weekend away from the office to recuperate. Breast augmentation was the most popular cosmetic surgery for women in 2007 (closely followed by lipo), according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). But many of this next generation of implantees, just like Kristen, assume their new breasts will stay perfect and perky even as the rest of their bodies inches toward the floor.

“Twenty-five years ago, women weren’t told that implants weren’t permanent,” says Foad Nahai, MD, a plastic surgeon in Atlanta and the current president of ASAPS. “But patients I see now are still surprised. The first thing I tell any new patients is, ‘Please understand, these won’t be your last pair."

Officially, implants themselves don’t have set expiration dates. “They last as long as they last. It could be six months, 10 years, or 20 years,” says David Rapaport, MD, a New York City plastic surgeon...

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Photo: Ritchie Maine

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