2014. A hospital in central London. A man slices through a woman’s skin, lifts the tissue of her breasts, places a silicon device underneath, and fastens it to her rib cage with silk threads attached with a titanium screw.
If we didn’t know better, or weren’t conditioned to think of this kind of plastic surgery as the norm, it could be the plot of a sci-fi blockbuster.
The gritty reality of this is the ‘Orbix Breast Support System’. Not, as it sounds, a support group for mammary glands who meet to discuss their woes, but a new surgical procedure designed to permanently lift women’s sagging breasts. The ‘internal bra’ was fitted on three women at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital last week in the first trial operations.
Even if we ignore the fact that as yet we do not know whether there might be any possible long-term effects from the new procedure - although the silicon cup conforms with EU health and safety standards - it is yet another affirmation that the female body is something to be artificially altered in line with the preferences of the male gaze.
Admittedly, the potential health benefits of this kind of operation are significant: it could be used to help breast cancer sufferers, or women in need of breast reductions for medical reasons. Yet these are not its primary functions. Or at least, this is certainly not how the product is being marketed.
As the Orbix website states, “Benefits to patients are significant: It reduces the pressure on weight-bearing skin, dramatically reducing breast re-sagging and minimizing scarring. This enables the breast to maintain long-lasting upright appearance years after surgery.”
The main benefit of this invasive and expensive (the operations cost £6,000) procedure is: appearance.
In an interview with the MailOnline, Professor Kefah Mokbel of the London Breast Institute noted that, “It has been marketed as a magical solution to address saggy breasts with very little scaring [sic]…Women with saggy breasts do not just need their breast tissue lifting, they require surgery to address their skin.”
Do they? Do they need their breasts lifting and their saggy skin fixed? Professor Mokbel has succinctly pinpointed the problem with surgeries like this. Women are repeatedly being told, both explicitly and by an ingrained societal culture, that they need to fix their bodies; that they need to conform to a constructed view of the ideal female physique.
While women’s status in society may have shifted for the better since the days of rib-crushing corsets, it seems that even more is expected of them aesthetically and cosmetically. What was once a tight piece of clothing is now a piece of metal screwed into the human skeleton.
To the argument that women should be able to do what they so choose with their bodies, I say only this. If the situation was reversed, and a surgical apparatus was designed to hoist up a sagging scrotum to improve its naked appearance – perhaps with the tagline ‘Orb(ollo)x: We Keep Your Balls in the Air’? – would men be queuing up around the block ready to go under the knife?