What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Over at Refinery 29, they're covering a surgical procedure I find alternately fascinating, sort of horrifying, and actually kind of cool: Orbix Medical's Breast Lifting System, which is basically an internal bra. It consists of a silicone sling inserted into the breast and anchored to the bone with titanium screws to offer support for people who'd be good candidates for breast lifts or reductions.
I admit, my gut reaction to this was "Ugh," followed by "Are you kidding me with this?" It reminded me of cosmetic foot surgery and the extreme means women are pressured to use when it comes to shaping their bodies to fit a very narrow beauty ideal. Society says that women shouldn't have saggy boobs, so of course they wear bras. And some choose to get surgery to adjust the size of their breasts or lift the tissue to prevent sagging. So of course, it follows that eventually (this technology is actually about a decade old), someone would get the idea of just implanting a bra.
But then I thought about it some more -- and there are actually other reasons people wear bras, as many of us know. I don't wear bras because I'm concerned about what people will think of my breasts: I wear them because I need the support or my back hurts, because it's kind of a pain to have giant sacs of fat swinging from my chest willy-nilly, because I feel physically uncomfortable without that support.
And bras are among the most-hated garments worn by people with breasts. At the same time that we wear them for added comfort and support (and, yes, for many people, because they tend to make the shape and form of the breasts adhere to social standards about what breasts should look like), they're also pretty UNcomfortable. The wires can dig into your chest, the straps are uncomfortable, you have to sort out which bra you're wearing with which garment if you care about having straps showing, and at the end of the day, there's nothing quite the feeling of freedom and release as you unstrap yourself and let your breasts fly.
So as I read on about the mechanics of the surgery, I actually got kind of intrigued by it. My breasts are uncomfortable because they weigh on me -- if I wasn't planning to get a mastectomy, I'd probably get a reduction so that I'd be more comfortable. This seems like another viable alternative for increasing comfort, and it uses medical technologies that are already used in lots of different surgeries.
Silicone meshes and slings are used for bladder support surgeries, controlling hernias, and more. I don't think that people with hernia mesh are caving to the patriarchy. Titanium anchors and screws are widely used in orthopedic surgery to address injuries, congenital issues, and more. I don't think that women with pins in their legs from skiing accidents are pursuing extreme surgical measures to conform with beauty norms: I think they're pursuing a reasonable treatment option for a legitimate medical issue.
This procedure has purely cosmetic applications, of course, but it's more complex than that. I see it being discussed as yet another example of gross extreme cosmetic surgery illustrating the lengths to which women are driven to adhere to beauty standards, but I'm reading it as an interesting approach to a legitimate issue. Some people have breasts. Some breast-owners really struggle with finding ways to lift and support their breasts for comfort. Many of those people wear bras -- this is an option for a more permanent, probably more comfortable solution.
Orbishape, as it's also known, offers some advantages over conventional breast reduction and lift surgeries. It lasts longer and leaves less scarring. It's not a standalone solution: patients would still need to wear bras at least some of the time (especially for things like sports), but that doesn't actually deter me -- I think bra-wearing would still be more comfortable with this added support than on its own, and the fact is that even while wearing a bra now, I still often feel uncomfortable (and yes, I have been to experienced bra fitters and I take excellent care of my bras, thanks in advance).
I don't really feel comfortable judging people who get elective surgeries for whatever reason -- cosmetic, in an attempt to address issues of discomfort or larger medical problems, or whatever. It's not my business, and I'm not sure that condemning elective surgeries is a good solution to the social pressures that surround them. I wish that women didn't feel pressured to have "perfect" breasts in accordance with some complicated social metric, but I think we need to attack the metric, not its outcome.
While Orbishape has some potentially sketchy and troubling implications, it's a symptom, not the problem. If we're concerned about women going to extreme means in pursuit of beauty, we need to be challenging what beauty is, and why it's defined so narrowly.