My New Breasts

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NAKED FROM THE WAIST UP, Sharon Eller endured the medical
exam by avoiding the eyes of two men staring at her breasts.

Dr. J.P. Riou backed up for a better look. He tipped his head toward Sharon’s
husband, Maurice, and pointed out that her right breast hung lower than her
left. Women’s breasts rarely match, the plastic surgeon said. But he could
fix that.

Red marking pen in hand, Dr. Riou drew a half circle under Sharon’s left breast,
to show where it should hang. He added dotted lines down the center of her
chest and from nipple to nipple. A map for surgery to come.

“The next question,” he said, “is size.”

We’re obsessed with breasts.

The bigger the better.

Across centuries, their significance has shifted back and forth, from maternal
to erotic.

Today in the United States, women who breastfeed in public may be ridiculed,
even arrested. But stuff a couple firm, round bosoms in a low-cut top, and
you get a different kind of attention.

In America, there’s no doubt. Breasts are more than fatty milk factories intended
to nurse offspring. They’re sex objects.

Breasts are forbidden, but they’re everywhere. From Playboy to Hooters, beer
commercials to basketball games, you can barely turn around without seeing
women dressed to draw attention to well-endowed chests.

Breasts are even stars on reality TV shows – “Extreme Makeover,” “The
Swan” and “Dr. 90210.” The message: If you don’t like the breasts
you have, you can get the breasts you want.

More than 300,000 U.S. women had breast augmentation in 2004, compared with
100,000 in 1997, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
It’s the second most popular cosmetic procedure, next to liposuction, and it’s
becoming more affordable. Nationally, the cost of a new set of breasts costs
$3,000 to $10,000.

Forget the stereotype.

Like Sharon Eller, a purchasing agent, women seeking breast implants aren’t
just dancers or actresses or wealthy middle-aged women trying to keep their

Plastic surgeons say most patients are young mothers whose breasts have gone
flat as fried eggs after breastfeeding.

They want to fill out a swimsuit.

They want to look sexier in a dress.

“Many people see this as an investment in themselves,” said David
Sarwer, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Human Appearance.

“For some people, it’s no different than eating a healthy diet or going
to the health club.”


Sharon Eller wasn’t always unhappy with her breasts. By 32, she had nursed
two babies. Her breasts seemed flat, “not perky like they used to be.”

A 34A bra was too tight, 34B was too big.

Dresses hung like sacks.

She wore blouses, instead of clingier sweaters, to camouflage her flat chest.

Though a size 4 with a tiny waist, Sharon dreaded shopping for bathing suits.
They’d fit fine in the hips, but the tops looked like deflated balloons.

She didn’t talk about it, not even with her husband, Maurice. But she read
stories about celebrities who got implants, and she watched cosmetic surgery
shows on the Learning Channel.

She figured it was too expensive for her, a county employee, near the mountains.

Then, in summer 2002, Sharon talked to a friend who knew someone who got implants
from a doctor near to where she lived. They looked real, Sharon’s friend said,
and they didn’t cost as much as you’d think.

Sharon looked up the doctor’s Web site and got the prices.

Then she talked to Maurice.

You’re kidding, he said.

Maurice didn’t want her to get breast implants. He married her when he was
20, and she was 19. He loved her the way she was.