Since I automatically oppose practically everything that the National Organization for Women stands for, I had to chuckle when NOW lost again–this time in a federal Food and Drug Adminstration panel’s recommendation yesterday partially to lift a 1992 ban on silicone-gel breast implants. As usual, NOW fumed that the FDA panel “favored corporate greed over women’s health.”

Back in the early ’90s courts were awarding multi-jillion-dollar judgments in class-action lawsuits based on middle-aged women’s complaints that they had suffered everything in Merck’s Manual–cancer, lupus, aching joints, depression–because back in their salad days they’d decided they could fill up their dance cards faster if they only wore a larger size brassiere. Those claims that silicone gel was a sort of all-purpose disease-generator akin to plutonium in the drinking water sounded far-fetched to me, and eventually a breakthrough article in the New England Journal of Medicine reached the same conclusion (see also here). Meanwhile, many a trial lawyer got rich.

Moreover, the implants seemed to break with some regularity, shooting loose gel into the body. So FDA sprang into action with a ban, and the women who want more impressive chests over the past 13 years (and there seem to be plenty of them) have switched to implants filled with a saline solution that is harmless should the implant break or leak.

So now the FDA panel has recommending allowing one silicone manufacturer, Mentor, which claims it has developed a a new and improved implant, to go ahead and sell the stuff, subject to requirements of repeated warnings to and testing of the women who receive them. One of the warnings is that the implants might have to be replaced after 10 years.

I guess this is a good thing. NOW’s objection to implants struck me as strictly based on NOW’s steadfast opposition to a) American capitalism; and b) pretty women. And women who want breast reconstruction after cancer or another loss ought to have access to whatever medicine can give them.

The fact remains, though, that for every woman who receives an implant after a mastectomy, more than four women get the implants strictly because because they don’t like the breasts that Mother Nature gave them when they turned age 14. The numbers last year were: 63,000 implants (or sets thereof) for cancer-survivors, 264,000 for the Bigger is Better crowd. And maybe Bigger really is Better: I’ve occasionally fantasized myself along these lines:

  How different my life would be
  If only I’d had the genes for Size D!

But breast implants aren’t like lipstick–or even like having your teeth filed down to the gumline to make way for caps the shade of Anapurna so you can make like Cameron Diaz with your smile. Breast implants involve invasive surgery. And frankly, a lot of those actresses and supermodels look a bit strange with their Size EE bazoombas popping out like oversize Hostess Sno Balls from their Size 0 frames. They can’t sleep on their stomachs, either, because of the rock-hard scar tissue that often forms around the implants.

But if women want to make these sacrifices for beauty–their idiosyncratic idea of beauty, of course–my philosophy is: Go ahead. But don’t blame the male-dominated patriarchal establishment if you don’t like what you get. Remember, sister–you’re powerful, and it’s your choice.