ERIN LENNON

a writing portfolio 

Welcome. Thanks for being here.

 

Below you'll find the centerpiece of this site, a personal narrative I call They're Fake. 

 

This is a piece about decision. Practically, serves as the culimation of my final semester at the University of Michigan, during which I spent time thinking seriously about my future as a professional, as a partner and as a person. Personally, I used this opportunity to make a choice that would affect the entirety of that future. Nothing I had learned as an undergraduate could have prepared me for this, but — after a little research and a lot of introspection — I offer the most vulnerable parts of myself to you here. In They're Fake I invite you to learn about me, my experience and my mind in the same way I have through the writing process. 

 

READ ON

 

For more of my writing & professional content, please visit my Portfolio. 

 

 

 

 


 

They're FAKE 

A personal narrative 

Sometimes I think all my problems would be solved if I got a boob job.

 

On beach vacations, in dressing rooms or in the mirror before a shower, during barre class or drunken nights at the bar, I imagine the way I would look if I had larger breasts. I would wear plunging v-necks and strapless dresses and those triangle bikinis that show side boob and underboob. All kinds of boob. I would visit a nude beach — only once, just to say I did it. I would perfect the shimmy. I would relish the feeling of my breasts bouncing during an afternoon run. And I would invest in strappy-but-supportive sports bras that peak through low-cut tank tops.

 

I envision burning my high-necked shirts and tossing my ultra-padded push up bras, all but one for when I'm in the mood. Lace bralettes and nipple petals do the trick. Because I would have cleavage.

 

I dream of conversations with fellow full-bosomed women. We complain about the way our breasts swell during our womanly times of the month and nod our heads emphatically when describing that feeling taking off a bra after a long day at the office. Amid our banter, one woman proclaims she would love to just cut hers off. “Amen,” I say.

 

I’m lying, of course, because my breasts are the best two things that have ever happened to me. But it’s no matter. I have boobs. I am in the circle of full-bosomed women.

 

 

 

For all of my musings, I hadn’t considered recording my thoughts on boob jobs until my senior year of college, when my Capstone writing course presented me with the challenge of producing 30+ pages of content on a topic to which I could commit my final four months at the University of Michigan. The project was designed to embody all the wisdom we had gained as undergraduates, something we could point to and say, “this is what I did with my education.” I thought about all of the stuff — knowledge, skills, shot glasses, etc. — I had acquired during my time as a student. I considered projects ranging from case study writing to college recruiting to marketing campaigns to sports journalism. I thought it wise to do something I could add to my resume or talk about in an interview. I was fixated on my future, what position I would hold, where I would live and perhaps above all else, what I would look like in that future.


So I decided to write about boob jobs.

I hate listening to others talk about sex. It’s a discomfort that presents itself in the form of blotchy hives. My friends will sit and gab purposefully about orgies and blowjobs and, before you know it, my right hand begins to creep toward my left collarbone where I begin to trace anxious circles. It is a comedic reaction, I’m sure of that. I also cringe when I hear the word “tit” and all of its variations. Just the sound of it pierces with the nasty inappropriateness of a 14-year-old-boy. It’s the worst word ever.

 

I say this here because, while this subject is inherently sexual, the content that follows is not so much about boobs, tits or breasts, fake or not, as it is about the woman who obsesses over them.

 

I have spent perhaps too much of my young life feeling robbed by my genetics, hoping desperately that I would grow my very own pair of C-cup boobs. I’ve lived in a constant state of comparison, mentally cutting down women to increase my own self-appraisal, which is to say nothing of the way I critique myself on a daily basis. I have felt unbearable shame for those feelings. I have wondered why.

 

I have questioned if my frustration is just breast deep, so to speak. If a boob job would, in fact, solve all of my problems.

 

You need not continue reading to know the answer to that question is decidedly “no.” My motivations for getting a boob job do not exist in a vacuum.

 

(I once had a professor who said throwing the phrase “X does not exist in a vacuum” in a paper was the best and cheapest convention for looking smarter than you are).

 

So, I entered into this project hoping to understand the motives of women who elect to cosmetic surgery like the one I have wanted for so many years. I thought that I could achieve some level of objectivity through research. I found out very quickly that my vision could not be achieved. Not even close. This subject matter is not privy to scholarship.

 

This is my narrative.

 

I say that because, while I offer my experience and my thought process up to anyone who may have struggled with similar decisions, I do not speak for anyone other than myself. I suspect that my story will resonate with individuals who have experienced a similar desire or with those who have been plagued by comparable insecurities. But I have no way of knowing.

 

I also may or may not have breast implants as you read this, but you will not find that fact in this piece. This decision is entirely personal and should not be used as a model for another.

 

Still, I’ve spent my time learning as much as I can about breast enhancement surgery and the women who consider putting their health at risk for the sake of a larger cup size. In doing so, I’ve learned more about myself as one of those women. All of my research, introspective and formal, was done in an attempt to answer the impossible-to-answer question: will I be happier with myself?

“How much do boob jobs cost?” “Total cost of breast enhancement.” “Boob job cost.” I had done plenty of mindless Google searches to that effect over the past few years, most often around the holidays or over summer vacation when I allow my mind to wander that far down the path of “if only’s.” By the time I began seriously considering an augmentation — the adult term for a boob job — , I was familiar with the general cost, recovery time and risk. I had always understood this was not the expenditure over which to pinch pennies.  I had never, however, looked for a specific doctor, priced the surgery in a city near me or thought about the difference between implant type. I started there.

 

Ann Arbor Plastic Surgery is the first name that pops up. It is located on Washtenaw Avenue, about a four-minute drive from my apartment at school. I like the name because it doesn’t mess around and its site doesn’t make empty promises about revealing beauty or other nonsense on its homepage. The “fees and financing” page directs its site visitors to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons page on the national average cost of various cosmetic surgeries, though the link hasn’t been updated for a few years. A few more clicks and I find the average cost of a breast augmentation in 2014 was $3,708 — up around $500 since 2012. That seems low to me, so I look a little further and find that figure is not representative of the total cost of the procedure including the consultation and post-operative care, which brings the cost up to around six to seven thousand dollars, give or take when you consider the difference between saline and silicone.

 

Still, those are numbers that surprise many of my friends who would have bet the price tag is that of an in-state semester in tuition. On the contrary, they disturb my mother who believes that if the procedure were truly the answer to all my problems, it should be covered by medical insurance.


For me, the ultimate concern is complications. Because what would be far, far worse than getting a breast augmentation and not achieving the “happier” I was hoping for is another surgery or even worse.

I read a book called The Silicone Breast Implant Story: Communication and Uncertainty that contains horror stories sure to scare any sane person out of volunteering to inject a foreign substance like silicone into his or her body. In the book, authors Marsha Vanderford and David Smith rely on anecdotes to evaluate how communication shapes an individual’s perception of her own health, specifically as it relates to the subjects’ experience with silicone breast implants. Buckled up and bound for Cancun on my senior year spring break, I suppose I thought it a good way to persuade myself out of wanting to make myself look like the women I was about to spend a week envying on the beach.

 

The book was was written in 1996 during a controversial time for cosmetic surgery, which had become increasingly popular but evermore associated with with health problems. It features stories from women who have experienced complications from silicone implants, those who report satisfaction with their results, plastic surgeons who have been involved in the controversy and narratives about health risks as portrayed by the media. Much of the content focused on women with silicone implants (most of whom had surgery in the 1980’s) who began to struggle with all different symptoms and illness they blamed on the implants themselves. At the time, silicone breast implants were a source of debate primarily because they were linked with connective tissue disease, a disorder that manifests in a laundry list of conditions from lupus to chronic joint pain.

 

The gore starts on page 36.

 

Most of the women in this tale describe losses in energy and activity to the point where they cannot raise their arms or be in public. They experience loss in their careers and personal relationships. — former rock climbers and DIY fanatics who cannot get out of bed, mothers who no longer pick their children up from school or have sex with their husbands. At one point a woman Carol, lifts up her shirt to show the interviewers thick pink scars that line her underarms as she speaks about how the silicone leaked into her body and settled in the form of small masses in her muscles. Her second surgery required doctors to cut away quite a bit of tissue to get as much of the foreign product out as they could, leaving her deformed.

 

A few pages later, there is Toni, who lost her breast implants and all that remained of her existing tissue. She, too, lifted up her shirt to reveal concave, scarred indents where her breast used to be. She had no nipples.

 

That’s when I clutched my arms to my shoulders, lest Toni jump out of my Kindle and come after me with vengeance for her misfortune.

 

Modern understanding of breast enhancement surgery debunks the notion that these devices themselves cause the terrible things recorded in Vanderford and Smith’s book. Better news is that there is no increased incidence of late or undetected breast cancer among women with implants, though mammograms are often more painful and could miss a small portion of the breast tissue otherwise picked up on the imaging test, evidence for the importance of self examinations. Also, women with breast implants can almost always breastfeed normally.

 

Both kinds of implants have a shelf life of 10-15 years. The virtue of saline is undoubtedly that a popped device has much less risk associated — the body absorbs the saline water in about a week. From an aesthetic standpoint, saline has a reputation for what’s called “rippling” (Google pictures of Pamela Anderson), where the implant’s migration can be seen through the skin. But that’s generally more problematic for women who want to go larger (Google pictures of Pamela Anderson). They can also feel foreign to the touch versus silicone that tend to feel more natural. Silicone implants, too, can migrate away from their original position and, worse, one in 10 women will develop scar tissue around the implant, which requires additional surgery that is much more complicated. For that reason, the FDA forbids anyone 21 and younger from getting silicone breast implants without parental consent.

 

There is a third kind of implant that is, like the advent of the Brazilian butt lift circa 2010, further expanding the cosmetic surgery industry: the gummy bear implant.

 

“Like kids in a candy store, more women are seeking out a type of silicone breast implant that one doctor calls the ‘gummy bear'."

 

As it turns out, there is no sugar inside a gummy bear implant. Instead, it is a highly-durable version of the silicone implant that was approved by the FDA in 2012. The idea is that, not unlike the Haribo bear until you bite its head off, these devices hold their shape, can sustain more impact without popping and tend to feel more natural than normal silicone or saline ones.

 

I look further, a gullible consumer who believes higher price must mean the product is filled with extra virtue, only to find that most reputable surgeons find no difference between silicone or saline implants and gummy bears whose name alone trivializes the procedure associated with it. Some doctors go as far as to say that gummy bear implants are used as crutches for surgeons who cannot achieve the desired shape with conventional implants.


What is much less understood regarding medical risk — both to myself and to the researchers who study women who consider undergoing the procedure —  is the consequence to the patient’s mental health.

At one point, before the point where I decided a boob job would solve all my problems, I announced to my parents that I would be using the money I had earned during my first summer of lifeguarding to get my 15-year-old belly button pierced. I had the logic, too — there was nothing, in my teenaged opinion, less attractive than a woman with a flabby stomach and a stud peaking out of her navel. Fresh out of my chubby phase, with a long, flat abdomen and no hips, I was convinced my investment would be the key to maintaining what was then my ideal body. The ultimate diet motivation.

 

My parents, as supportive then as they are now, knew better than to leverage my future college tuition as a prevention tactic. Instead, my dad made the 30-minute drive with me one Saturday afternoon in August down to the Bridgewater Mall to a “reputable” piercing shop and walked me all the way inside to the lobby where people with green mohawks and earlobe-spreading gages waited to be called to the back. Dad had been the parent nominated to take me to get my ears pierced.

 

In the shop, there were metal pieces in all different shapes and sizes in cases hanging from the walls. 

 

“I’ll give you $500 to wait a year.”

 

I shook on that deal, beginning the countdown to the day I could have my money and belly button ring too. Two wins for me. I could wait a year.

 

Sure enough, Dad made a good investment. I haven’t been to a tattoo or piercing shop since and my belly button remains unscathed.


Maybe because the payout would be too high, or maybe because they know I simply won’t be bought off this time, my parents have been reluctantly understanding of my more serious inquiry into breast enhancement. 

For reference, I am 5’ 6” and hovering around 135 lbs. I wear a size four or six in pants and a two or zero in shirts or dresses. Sometimes I shop in the petite section. I have a long abdomen and short, muscular legs. I have a small waist with narrow hips and a big butt. I have the feet and hands of a woman four inches shorter than me, but other than that, I am pretty average. I know these things because I can step on a scale or try on clothing or stand back to back with a friend to determine who is taller. But this says nothing for the way I feel every day.

 

I am constantly at odds with the person I see in the mirror, confused by how I am received by other people.

 

Reflections play tricks on me.

 

I haven’t, under my own naive definition, suffered from an eating disorder. But suppressed memories of Ziplock baggies filled with Special K for lunch during middle school and 64 oz. diet cokes as meal replacements during high school are some of the indications that I have a disorder.

 

To be confused by or disbelieving of the self that is being projected back to you by others, to be confused when, say, an attractive person asks you on a date and wants to be your boyfriend and start a life together, is to fall under the category of persons struggling with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).  

 

BDD goes beyond dissatisfaction with a body part — which is something nearly everyone can relate to on some level. It is a preoccupation that takes up hours of a day, presenting itself through behaviors such as avoiding mirrors, comparing appearance to others’, camouflaging, eating disorders and excessive exercise, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

 

Those who suffer from BDD do not believe positive feedback from others, no matter the level of truth, and they may even “undergo unnecessary plastic surgeries to correct perceived imperfections, never finding satisfaction with the results.”

 

The disorder affects in about 1% of the population at large, but that percentage jumps to an estimated 10-15% of patients who seek cosmetic surgery, with some studies placing that number as high as 18.5%. It has led to conflicting longitudinal studies on the mental health of women who have elected to breast augmentations. Some of those have found a statistically higher incidence of suicide among that population. 

 

“You’re crazy if you think we are paying for you to get a boob job.”

 

It’s a sentence I’ve heard my mother utter more than a few times, usually after she has run out of ways to reason me out of considering major surgery. The conversations often begin with me pointing out that I can’t borrow my little sister’s shirt because she has a larger chest and a 5’ 1” frame, or that I wouldn’t have (insert problem of the day) if I had a pair of my own. Other times, she’s complaining that she needs a neck lift or botox in her lips because she looks old and frowny, now approaching 50 with relentless children whose nagging about things like plastic surgery has aged her out prematurely, so she says. 

 

How about a two-for-one, mother-daughter package?

 

Cosmetic vacations, a new trend within the medical tourism industry, offer surgery-seekers much less expensive, cut-of-the-edge surgeries and the opportunity to recover on a beach or explore an entirely new place. We could go to South Africa to a place called “Surgery & Safari” for face lifts and cheek restructuring while recovering in the wineries until we’re well enough to check out the elephants. Or Brazil for a mother leg contouring, daughter breast augmentation. Or Mom could get her eye lift in Hawaii — a procedure the Hawaiians specialize in, catering to people who believe their eyes are too small — and recover in one of those luxury huts on stilts over the water. A self-described beach person, my mother has always talked about wanting to vacation in Hawaii.

 

A quick laugh before Mom tells me for all her whining that she would never actually go through with that. At this point, humor slides into bitterness, so I remind her that my desire to get a boob job in the first place stems from deep-rooted insecurity and that it’s all my parents’ fault. Should’ve gotten me that therapy in fifth grade when it would’ve done me some good, I say.

 

The reality is, my parents have paid for my hypothetical boob job one hundred times over. They’ve paid for everything, supplemented my dreams in whatever way they could. Encouraged me to learn as much as I could with each opportunity pursued, free of charge. It is their generosity that allowed me to save up for this decision in more ways than one.

 

When people see the scar that runs parallel with my left thigh, when doctors take my medical history, or when I share my most fun fact about myself — being the metal plate I have screwed to my femur with rods securing it to my hip — they have the same question: how did that happen?

 

“Nobody knows,” I say. I remark that there is no solid explanation for how or why my femur fractured during the spring of my junior year in college.

 

It is true in part, I have plenty of negative test results and medical opinions that say my body just wasn’t built for running. But I’m lying.

 

Truth is, I did it to myself. I self destructed.

 

I was a summer intern, getting my first taste of corporate life and the dreadful commute associated with it. I joined the company gym because I could and because I had nothing to look forward to in my small town of Madison, NJ, but listening to my siblings complain about the dinner my mom had prepared during the day. I was newly single and feeling pathetically alone away from college, so I declared my summer that of self-improvement. I would come back hot — thinner and tanner with whiter teeth, better skin and a better resume. I also declared myself a runner.

 

Each day after pretending for eight hours to be doing something other than staring at the Wall Street Journal online, I would will myself onto the treadmill and wince as I increased the speed up 7.0, 7.1 … 7.8. The pain was sharp for a minute or two, but once I got over that hump, the numbness would allow me to run further than I had set out to do. Then, I would limp off the machine and out to my car, driving the 40 miles back to my home. I would use all of my upper body strength to lift my right leg away from the gas pedal and onto the pavement, then push myself up out of my driver’s seat and almost drag myself inside.

 

The following day, gym clothes in hand, I would drive in traffic for an hour barely able to move my right foot from gas to break.

 

By the time I had my mother schedule what would be the first of many appointments with an orthopedist, I was certain — convinced by my pain and my searches on WebMD — my injury could not be muscular. He would almost definitely tell me to stop exercising immediately, probably bestow me with a set of shiny silver crutches.

 

Dr. Steven A. Hunt, former Yale lacrosse captain and NYU Medical School graduate, expressed his concern that a girl my age, then 20, would have incurred the injury he suspected I had from running alone. He saw nothing on the x-ray, as expected, but he sent me for an MRI to be sure. We should be hopeful, he explained, that my pain was a precursor to a stress fracture rather than an actual fracture. The former would require four weeks of rest, the latter, four months.

 

As luck would have it, I did not have a full fracture. So I spent the remainder of my internship using a single crutch, riding the elevator and explaining to the middle-aged IT men how I broke a hip before they and ditching the metal when I took the train into Penn Station and walked the 12 blocks up to the News Corps building.

 

I decided I was all better on July 16th. I ran a 10K that day to prove it.

 

Then, five months after getting the doc’s OK to begin exercising normally with orders to “stop if it starts to hurt,” I did it again. But this time was different.

 

During that time, I had grown accustomed to a soreness that made my legs feel like unhappy danes on a leash, a kind of aching that I would describe as my lower half attempting to detach itself from my pelvis. It wasn’t normal, but it was tolerable. It was my normal.

 

On that day on that treadmill, though, I felt something that was blissfully familiar yet wholly different than the injury I had sustained the previous summer.

 

It was slow at first, then constant. It started sharp, a twinge that pulses up the spine alerting the brain stem to signal the body to stop moving. Aching. Then throbbing, then crippling. Constant, debilitating pain. It was the kind of pain that makes a person feel inhuman, so ever-present that it numbs the mind and never the body.

 

My mother recalls the agonizing phone calls we had over the next two weeks. She knew this injury was different from every inflated complaint I had made before — I could barely speak through it, constantly gasping for breath, a shell of a person. In those moments, I was begging for help but could never bring myself to ask for it.

 

I would will myself to walk around campus, biting my scarf or jacket collar so as to silence the heaving, always sweating by the time I got to class. In my apartment I hopped or, when my roommate wasn’t home to watch me wither away, I crawled. With my weight draped over one crutch and one hand on the toilet bowl, I would get sick, my body’s way of coping with excess prostaglandins produced as a result of the pain. I know now that the response that is typical of the most severe lower back, pelvic or hip injuries.

 

I remember attempting to make the bed the day before my mother drove 620 miles to take me to the doctor and do all the rest of the things I could no longer do for myself. Balancing on that same single crutch, I lifted the box spring instead of the mattress only to drop it as the metal frame caught my right index finger, slicing it down to the bone, blood enough to warrant stitches. I laughed, recognizing this as one of those moments where the brain forgets about an injury to address the new pain source, offering one glorious moment of relief.

 

Pain is one of life’s many mysteries. It is, like self-concept or identity, a construct of the brain.

Signals from the source of the pain — a bruised knee or a paper cut — travel up through the spinal cord through the medulla and synapse on neurons in the brain’s relay center, the thalamus. Science hasn’t quite figured out what happens next, how the pain is processed in the brain. It is believed that the brain plays a large part in pain perception, that our thoughts and emotions can affect our perception of that stimulus.

 

It’s a big word, pain. A stubbed toe and chemotherapy, both experiences that can be described as painful. We might describe the latter as generally more painful than the former if, only by informed comparison, but who is to say? With no way to measure pain levels outside of a person’s subjective account of that pain, we cannot make that designation. A fractured femur like mine is often placed alongside childbirth, kidney stones and a torn Achilles, in an elite group understood as the worst pain a human can endure. But who is to say? One person’s pain is not another’s, but we can all describe the worst pain we’ve ever felt.

 

We identify with pain even when we cannot comprehend it.

 

Two appointments and an MRI within 12 hours, Dr. Donaldson’s theory was confirmed: I had successfully stressed the top of my left femur to a compound fracture where the leg meets the hip. She had so graciously called a surgeon at the University of Michigan hospital who made room in his Monday morning schedule to operate on me.

 

My mother began to cry, collected herself, and all but demanded the doctor to retract her statement. It couldn’t be this bad.

 

I was dazzled. This is my darkest secret.

 

The truth is, on some icky, shameful subconscious level, I did this to myself. I was exhausted. My body wanted to be put out of the misery that was my workout routine, but my brain would not allow me. My brain wouldn’t listen to my muscles, tired and begging for a day off, because it equated a day off with a pound gained. Two steps back for every one day forward. So I ran, each day further and faster than I had the day before. For a month, I continued to outdo myself — three to five miles then a half marathon one random Tuesday. Afterwards, I told friends I had had a mental breakdown on the treadmill, the euphoria so electrifying, so empowering. I had found the elusive runner’s high around the corner of mile six, the ultimate mind over body experience. So I ran the next day. And the day after that.   

 

Then I imploded.

 

Worse, I made sure this time was for real. I was scared if I felt numbness or a pain less severe, that I was healing. So I would jump around or twist sharply until I felt the throbbing, lest the doctor misunderstand the pain I was so clearly in. I would regret doing so because, well, it hurt, but would breathe a sigh of relief just the same.

 

You see, crippling pain, and by that I do mean pain that is literally crippling, was the only way out. A bone fracture — a surgery, was my get out of jail free card. A doctor’s note to excuse myself from myself. It was only way I could be stopped.

 

Two weeks later, I was lying in a hospital bed with a shiny new metal plate in my left hip when a team of endocrinologists dropped by to schedule me for more tests and gather more information about my case.

 

During the long night before, each time I bent my elbow too close to my chest I pinched the chord that told my heart monitor I must be in distress and whistled me awake. I was officially woken up at 6 a.m. by a nurse who asked if she could get me anything beside more sleep, received the OK from a cute second-year resident on my case and passed my physical to prove I wouldn’t break another hip with my crutches. Then, I waited.

 

The team came in around 2 p.m., hours after my dad and I ran out of things to talk about that didn’t involve my health. He dutifully exited the room when the doctors mentioned they’d be asking a few personal questions — do you go to the bathroom normally? Are you sexually active? Does it hurt when you have sex? Do you have any hair in weird places, like on your chin or lip?

 

They listed off their initial theories: You are not producing any estrogen, so your bones are vitamin deficient. Read: You are not a woman, you cannot have children. Your bones are brittle, you have osteoporosis. Read: You’re not 21, you have the body of an old woman. Your bones were at one time deprived of nutrients because of an eating disorder. Read: You did this to yourself.

 

They were basing their ideas, they said, off of the history of bone fractures to the fact that I hadn’t had a period in nearly three years. It fit everything from brittle bones to lack of breast tissue. Ah hah! In between, they rattled off some of their theories, positing that I may not be producing enough estrogen and how that sort of deficit could manifest itself in my bones.

 

Then, the male doctors left so that the nurse could check my female parts.

 

“Actually you do appear to have normal, fully developed breasts,” she said.

 

Shit.

 

Over the next few months I searched for an answer, hoping aloud that the source of my problems was also the cause of my smaller-than-average boobs. There were bone scans and blood tests that showed only one abnormality: an increased progesterone level that could indicate a brain tumor. I always figured I would die tragically. But when the follow up tests came back normal, I was left without the explanation I had been looking for.

 

“We start to question nutrition,” the last doctor said. He was frank with me, saying that there truly is no other reason, beside and eating disorder, that an otherwise healthy young woman would be accumulating stress fractures. If the body was deprived of nutrients for any period of time long enough to cause deficiencies in the bones, he explained, the damage would be permanent, leaving a person who struggled with an eating disorder susceptible to a kind of injury like mine years later. Bunch of bullshit, if you ask me.

 

It is a scary thing to take a step back and realize that you were disappointed that you do not have a medical condition. To be upset that the eating disorder a doctor thinks you may have had was not successful in that you do not look like you have had one. To be pissed that you are normally developed. To be unphased when someone says you may have a brain tumor because at least that means you didn’t do this to yourself. To demand that something be wrong with you rather than appreciate the bill of clean health.

 

Self defeating behavior covers a range of things from eating disorders to skin mutilation and can be done either consciously or subconsciously. The behaviors are especially common among individuals whose understanding of others’ perceptions of them is unfavorable. For this reason, self harm is readily associated with those who have low self esteem and the disorders they struggle with as a result.

 

Counterproductive strategies of self harm are typically linked to subconscious self harm during which an individual is “pursuing a desirable outcome but chooses a strategy or approach that backfires and produces the opposite of the desired result.” This is one of the three sets or models of self-defeating behavior, which also include primary self destruction and trade offs, also known as “self-handicapping,” when a person sets two goals in opposition. The person who exhibits this kind of behavior will do something they know will cause them harm and use it as the source of blame for failing to reach the second goal.

 

Like a person who wants desperately to achieve a fit body, who then runs so much she can’t exercise at all.


I have had a hard time saying this to myself, let alone others: the reality was that the cause of my fractures wasn’t going to light up on an x-ray or show up on a blood panel. There were no pills to correct a mysterious underlying condition. And that was apparent to me before every dead-end doctor’s visit.

I’ve spent months explaining my project on boob jobs, saying isn’t so much about implants as it is the person who is motivated to do so. The responses I get usually make mention of the word perfection. But it isn’t so much about perfection, either. Something about it doesn’t sit well with me.  

 

As a verb, perfection is defined as “the act or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible;” as a noun, “the condition, state, or quality of being free or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.” The definitions alone suggests there is no such thing. Like pain and confidence and a whole host of ambiguous nouns, there’s the understanding that perfection is entirely subjective.

 

I do not fool myself into thinking my motivations for getting a boob job are not rooted in desire to achieve a certain state of perfection, even on the most micro level. Still, I am acutely aware that the body I wake up with after my theoretical surgery will not be perfect in accordance with my definition or the definition of many others. I imagine actively striving for perfection would be a slippery slope upon which breast enhancement turns into a neck lift, liposuction, botox, thigh lifts and the like. Even then, there would be imperfections, scars that mark the process itself.

 

My decision to go through with the procedure can have little to do with perfection simply because I come from the school of thought that says a beautiful woman who has achieved some level of physical perfection as a result of cosmetic surgery is flawed by virtue of her scars. Because to me, physical perfection is genetic, at least in part. The best kind of beauty is natural. Something you are born with and can’t shake, no matter how many burgers and fries you eat. Something a camera can’t distort no matter how unflattering the angle.

 

Then again, there’s the contradicting part of my brain that posits that perfect people simply have more willpower, more self control than the average human being. They work out more or they eat less or they are more attentive to their skin and hair and nails. They’re born a certain way, sure, but it’s the effortless way they preserve their beauty that motivates me to at least try to mold myself in their image.

 

No, I do not imagine I will burn enough calories to wake up one day a size zero with long legs, defined calves and a thigh gap. Instead, I fancy a better me, though I wouldn’t know what that meant until I saw it in the mirror. Moments in which I am happier with the person projected back are fleeting — I cannot control the part of my brain that tells me to work a bit harder the next day.

 

For what it’s worth, I recognize that I cannot exercise my way into a size C bra. Though I may envy models whose breasts seems to defy the laws of physics, balancing on slender, Barbie-like frames, willpower has no bearing over that part of my physique. What I can do, instead, is pay $6,000 to a plastic surgeon to give me the exact size breasts I want.

 

Within American consumerism, a healthy body and attractive qualities have become symbols of status in the same way that expensive cars or vacations have long been considered cues for prosperity. The yoga body, for example, represents access to some sort of training, membership and equipment that requires a certain amount of expendable income. But beyond that, we understand that a fit body is a body in control of itself, which implies its ability to control the world around it. Cosmetic surgery, then, is the most conspicuous form of consumption — especially when you consider that you get to take your body with you everywhere you go.

 

I would also  be lying if I reflect upon myself as, by virtue of my desire to purchase breasts and the fact that I chose to spend four months writing about the influences that brought me to this moment, the most superficial person I know. I’ve thought many more times that I would likely be better served by a therapist than by a plastic surgeon. Often, though, I resign myself to the fact that no matter what the therapist told me, she wouldn’t be able to make me look good in lingerie so what’s the point?

 

I was just three months old when my parents began the now 21-year tradition, an annual summer vacation to a place called Sunny Hill Family & Golf Resort, located in Greenville, New York — one of only 11 counties in the state to vote against former President Bill Clinton in the 1996 election. There, my parents met other young couples whose whole years were spent saving for the modest, but all-inclusive week, acquiring a group of friends they looked forward to spending only that one week a year with. They were purebred Irish from Long Island or Brooklyn and they themselves had spent summers as wait staff at pubs all over the county tucked away in the quiet Catskill Mountains. Places with names like East Durham, named for their roots overseas, had since been abandoned and repurposed into orthodox Jewish retreats with names like Eden Village Camp.

 

Long after my parents could afford to take us anywhere we wanted, our family continued to go back to Sunny Hill. It was where I had my first crush and my first beer, where I learned to drive a golf cart and my first car. Each year things changed. We got richer, poorer, taller and wiser. We gained boyfriends and girlfriends and lost loved ones. We grew up. And yet there we were, year after year during the last full week in July, playing Monte Carlo in Armae Hall on Tuesday night.

 

Mrs. Reilly was model tall and athlete thin, married to an ex-baseball player with a young daughter, Kelly, whose stringy blonde hair and affinity for pink lipstick and a touch of mascara made her a clone of her mother. One year, Mrs. Reilly arrived at Sunny Hill with the new pair of boobs her husband had gifted her for her 40th birthday.

 

Already an outsider for being the youngest among the matriarchs who had been vacationing there for multiple decades, Mrs. Reilly was now the embodiment of the stereotypes that had been projected onto her for years prior. A blonde bimbo, a trophy wife. Now a laughing stock among the women of Sunny Hill. I remember participating in the banter about Mrs. Reilly's new breasts, when the twins would be showing up to dinner or if she would be able to participate in the tennis tournament with all the work she’d had done. Her nose looks different, do you think she got a discount?

 

Intrasexual competition is probably best observed in a high school cafeteria or, in my case, in the library where Greek letters adorn laptop cases that mark tables as territory during finals. Though it is traditionally understood as a direct conflict, competition among women is executed through exclusion, making other women feel socially isolated, much less than it is physical confrontation.

 

Extensive research suggests that intrasexual competition, not media portrayals, may be the key to understanding why young women feel pressured to conform to standards of physical beauty and sexual conduct, why a 22-year-old would, for years, want a breast augmentation. And yet adhering to said standards can be the source of heightened aggression -- the woman who elects to cosmetic surgery, wanting to belong to a certain social group, becomes a threat to those very women. In a study conducted at McMaster University, an attractive woman -- with a small waist, curvy hips and larger breasts -- was dressed in two outfits, one a t-shirt and jeans, the other a low-cut top and skirt. While wearing the more sexualized outfit, the room of participants were outwardly hostile, but while in the t-shirt, the woman was overlooked.


It is worth mentioning that I am not immune to the profound effects media has on women’s understanding of their bodies. I experience anxiety when flipping through magazines, discomfort when my friends gather to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and even anger when I walk below billboards featuring larger-than-life models projecting the unattainable. There is, however, too much said and much more written about media and self concept for me to add anything of value to that conversation. I will simply nod my head in agreement. It’s a thing.

I’ve found my mother is quickly exacerbated when I discuss the contents of this paper and the decision she believes I made long before settling on it as a topic for a writing class. At first, she stresses her sympathy — she does not feel moved to alter her own body, but she does understand dissatisfaction with it. After all, my mother is a gym rat not unlike myself. She was never an athletic gal, per say, but hell if people don’t see her after some time and say that, like the sauvignon blanc she indulges in, she gets better with age.

 

My mother wishes that I did not feel the way I do about myself and that there were a better way to address the confidence issues I discuss with her. She expresses support for my ability to make this decision on my own.

 

We continue talking and she begins to build her argument against, even with faulty evidence. Followup surgeries will be an expense. Your breasts could change when you have children. You may not be able to breastfeed. What about breast cancer?

 

Then, when she senses her appeals are falling on stubborn, deaf ears, she hisses.

 

“What, do you want to be looked at like Mrs. Reilly? Do you want everybody talking about you?”

 

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about women like Mrs. Reilly and others who I’ve dismissed over the years for having gotten a boob job.

 

When I first set out to write this, I marketed it to others as a topic of human interest. Seemingly everyone — men and women alike —  has an opinion about boob jobs, and, more specifically, about the women who have had them. I would never put plastic in my body, that’s gross and women with boob jobs are gross. Or they’re OK as long as they don’t look fake. Or, the bigger the better! Think about it.

 

Fake. Phony. Slutty. Attention-seeking. Shameless. Unnatural. Stereotypical. Shallow. Unattractive. Wasteful. Pathetic.

 

These are some of the words that come to mind when I see a woman whose breasts are just a little bit too perky for gravity.  

 

I’ve had to acknowledge that, in many ways, I am a hypocrite or, at the very least, that I should expect to be received the way I perceive other women with boob jobs. That the words I just confessed should serve as the answer to all of my questions about whether to get a boob job or not.

 

To answer my mother’s question, no, I do not want to be talked about like Mrs. Kelly. But, I have come to understand that my judgments, the way I react to other women is entirely personal and another product of my disdain for myself — in looking for flaws in the women I hope to look like I, if only for a moment, forgive myself for my shortcomings. I doubt sincerely that I would be met with the kind of criticism I project onto those women, which is why I continue writing and wondering about boob jobs.

 

Plus, Mrs. Reilly implants were distastefully large, if you ask me. My mom reported the other day that her boobs seem to have “settled” over the years, and that they look better on her now. Cheers.

 

The day before I went for my breast consultation, my mother reminded me that I had scheduled the appointment for class research and that I wasn’t going to make any decision as a result of it. Right? It was during that conversation that she resorted to her plan Z.

 

She asked if Mike, my boyfriend of 18 months, had an opinion on my wanting to get a boob job. I started yelling into the phone. First, any and all decisions about my body were mine alone. I was not doing this for a boy, so I sure as hell was not not doing this for a boy. Second, how dare she make such an anti-feminist comment, especially since she would undoubtedly be more concerned about me if my motivations were directed toward pleasing a partner.

 

Still, I’ve had to ask myself over and over who exactly my C-cup aspirations are for.

 

I mean, yes, a boob job would address some of the issues I have with my body and, in turn, my self confidence. I doubt I would, for example, look in the mirror in the morning, lift up my shirt and tug at the skin around my navel — there’d be inches of separation between my chest and my abdomen. I would be more proportional. I would be proud to wear a bathing suit.

 

Another part of me knows this is for my boyfriend. It’s not so much for him, you see (I scoff each time he says he thinks I’m beautiful the way I am) but for the other, potentially better looking women he might encounter and compare me to, even subconsciously. It’s for the other women, or perhaps the other men, that will see us together. Sure, I want Mike to only have eyes for me, as all women want of their significant others, but really I want no one else to challenge our relationship so long as I want to be in that relationship. I want women to be jealous of me, men to envy my boyfriend for me.

 

Here, I find solace in the Japanese prostitutes who were among the first to augment their breasts. Attempting to attract American soldiers during WWII, they would inject silicone and a whole host of other materials into their breasts, which would later harden into tumor-like lumps. Similar lumps were found in female autopsies as early as 1912. For those women, breast enhancements were less about sexuality than they were utility. They were a business investment, designed to give women with silicone-injected breasts a competitive advantage over other women in the hyper-sexualized industry.

 

My mental state readily involves a paralyzing, ugly competitiveness I felt just the other week when my boyfriend and I went to Cancun with 33 friends. With all of my closest girlfriends in bikinis, it felt like I was in a bathrobe fighting for attention that I already had. I spent my mornings making sure I looked my best and wore my best. I spent my afternoons hatefully checking out women I considered my friends, begging for them to look fat or flat in their swimsuits. Rachel had the perfect body and a Victoria’s Secret-model chest, and I could feel myself wishing she’d just put on a sweatshirt in the 85 degree weather. I’m not proud of it, but in those moments regretted having my boyfriend come along with me in the first place.

 

Mate manipulation is a tactic by which same-sex rivals compete for mates. It refers to the kind of behavior you’d associate with a girlfriend who would rather settle down on Mars than in a nice suburb.

 

It’s like when your friend who was once beautiful but also small chested and plagued by pimpled skin got on Accutane and birth control and four months later poof she has airbrushed skin and a pair of double D’s that she courteously covers up with baggy shirts and sports bras until one day wham at a date party she decides to wear a form fitting, low cut dress. Suddenly, she is the threatening woman whose mere presence wants you to blindfold your boyfriend and never allow him to be in the same room as your friend again. You feel betrayed by your own hormones, sure, but mostly by the friend who was blessed with all the benefits of modern science.


I live in a calculated, exhausting state of comparison.

If only in my head, the final three minutes before the start of a Pure Barre class is equivalent a waiting room full of candidates being interviewed for the same job. Try as they might to stare purposefully at their resumes, sheepish glances soon turn into full ­on once-overs as each one plays the “who wore the better business suit” game with themselves. To me, barre is the same thing, just with a bit more spandex. After the women have claimed their territory, marking it with two sets of weights, a small red ball and a stretching tube, there’s a quiet tenseness. They stretch or adjust the contraptions they call sports bras or stare critically at the mirrored wall in front of it, maintaining an appearance of self focus while their eyes shift left and right. They are, we are, quite literally, sizing each other up — checking for labels, fat rolls, makeup and the like.

 

My critique of situations like this, my recognition of this cognitive process and the frustration I feel with myself as a result of it, however, does not prevent me from participating. It is often readily the opposite.

 

In other words, I am fascinated with what the women in Pure Barre are wearing to class, obsessed with finding my doppleganger while assigning judgement to her, good or bad. This process reinforces my self appraisal. Knowing this, knowing that I will stare at the barre frequenters and then right back at own reflection, knowing that I will continue to engage in this roundabout, does not motivate me to avoid said situation.

 

Awareness of this dynamic and the way it manifests itself in all facets of my life does not stop me from going through the motions.

 

It is this dichotomy, I suspect, that should explain why many who know me would characterize me as prude, not covetous. Stubborn, not self-loathing. Because go to Pure Barre in Ann Arbor six days a week.

 

I’ve never told her this, but I have a friend and former roommate who is everything I hope to be as a woman. Her name is Alex and she, like me, is from a small town in Northern New Jersey. She is uniquely pretty, almost regally so, and has average boobs, but that’s not what I admire about her.

 

Alex is an unapologetic feminist and soon-to-be first year law student. Since before I met her, she had been dating a boy named Jake who went to school a world away and below the Mason Dixon line. The two of them navigated long-distance in a way that was totally devout of fantasy, even though their connection to one another seemed to me of fairy tales. For most of that time, they operated on an obscure don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy that allowed the two of them to continue to speak and look forward to visit, but to live without labels in the moment. Of course, I had only one side to their love story, but through all of its messy ambiguity, Alex was a vision. She was never jealous or overly optimistic about the future, never picked fights or whined about sleeping alone. And when the relationship ended suddenly, she mourned her many years as Jake’s best friend with grace and dignity.

 

Then, the other night my friends and I got to talking about things we would change about ourselves if we could. I had a long list: jawline, arms, thighs, knees, teeth, cheekbones, boobs.

 

Alex said she’d never felt that way. Yes, there were times she thought “I should really go to the gym,” but she had never looked at another woman and wished to trade spaces or body parts. It wasn’t to say that she thought she was perfect, she was simply and genuinely content with herself.

 

She had peace. She was perfect.

 

You see, my idea of perfection isn’t physical at all. The overweight woman who suns herself topless on a crowded beach in Mexico perfect in the same way the older lady next to her wearing a thong bikini that features a cellulite-riddled backside is perfect. As are beer bellied men wearing ultra-revealing swim briefs. They have uninhibited confidence in common. The girls who see unflattering pictures of themselves and laugh instead of demanding a recall are perfect. They possess unaudited self esteem.

 

My perfect is looking at the beautiful women I have envied for all these years and not turning green. It is cheering for and raising up women who have elected to get breast augmentations or any other cosmetic surgery.

 

It is being happy with myself, with my reflection, sure, but it’s being comfortable around and happy for other beautiful, even perfect people.

 

“You’d be surprised what people will do with their leftover scholarship money.”

 

You’re kidding.

 

Astonished but utterly entertained, Nurse Abbey and I gossiped for a few minutes about the Pell grants and extra financial aid that University of Michigan students put towards their own graduation presents. I was relieved, too, to know that I wasn’t the only college student gearing up to for a breast augmentation.

 

For me the “why now” question is an easy one to answer: if not now, then never. After graduation on April 31, 2016, I have nothing but a move-out date in mid-August on my apartment in Ann Arbor. I plan to start a career, a new life, in an entirely new city far, far away from Michigan and New York, where I grew up. I will have co-workers and friends who won’t need to know me as an A-cup or a woman who has opted to breast enhancement surgery. I could be, for all intents and purposes, Erin Lennon, marketing specialist and natural C. And while I intend to own the hypothetical 250 - 300 cc’s (what Abbey called the way to the “Brazilian B-cup,” the new craze in boob jobs) and to be forthcoming to friends and family who are interested in knowing, the anonymity of starting anew is something I think most women considering breast augmentations strive for.

 

I can’t imagine taking a few days off of work to, well, get work done. It would, in my opinion, undermine the idea of getting an enhancement that looks natural. Nobody comes back to the office two cup sizes bigger without becoming a distraction in the Monday morning meeting.

 

For similar reasons, a boob job for graduation often refers to a high school diploma, not a bachelor’s degree. Between high school and college, young women have the opportunity to literally reinvent themselves, and more and more, they have mothers — some of whom have implants themselves — who are willing to give the gift of a boob job. In fact, the number of teenaged plastic surgeries rose 526% between 1994 and 2002. In 2003 alone, nearly 350,000 teenaged girls had been operated on in some capacity. I talk to friends about girls they knew in high school whose friends had “visited Colorado” for a week after high school graduation and came back with double-D’s.

 

Abbey explained that, especially before Michigan summers, every week I waited to schedule would equate to an addition. I could schedule today for the first week of May, but nothing was guaranteed as soon as I walked out. By Friday, the doctor could be booked by June, she said.

 

Minutes later, I was wearing nothing from the waist up but a paper gown that was open in the front when the doctor came back in the room for Part II of the consultation. Peering down at my bare chest, furrowing his brow, he stepped forward then back before asking me if I ever noticed that one was smaller or lower than the other. To which I thought, well yeah but they’re both small so who cares, but nodded in agreement. I looked at the visibly uncomfortable, wholly imperfect woman in the mirror and wondered how many women were convinced to commit to surgery based solely on that moment — half clothed and having an authoritative man point to the imperfections that brought them to his office.

 

That was before Dr. M took a step forward, pinching the skin above my left nipple, pulling my breast up and centered towards my midline. He told me to let him know if he was hurting me at any point. I mean ouch, but it’s not my skin I’m worried about, I thought.

 

“You see how this one has sagged just a little bit more?” I felt my shoulders creep up toward my ears in some pathetic effort to defy gravity and, well, sagging. He wrinkled his brow, suggesting that he wouldn’t be able to get my breasts to be 100% symmetrical but he could guarantee “let’s say 70%.” Then he described the incision he would make to give me the breast lift I never knew I needed.

 

I thought to get my checkbook out for him immediately.

 

After, Dr. M had me stand, mortified, in front of the wall with my gown completely off so that he could take three photographs with the digital camera I had seen him take out of his desk drawer just a few minutes before. He got one from the front and two side views for my medical records, but I imagine that camera was as good as a gun loaded with unflattering pictures of women dating back to god knows when. I knew this was coming, but it was just as painfully awkward as I had imagined.

 

By that point, I was ready to jump on the operating table. Poked and prodded as if the surgery wall a foregone conclusion, I couldn’t dream up a situation where they stood in front of the accusing mirror and thought “Actually, I’m good. Thanks, but no thanks, Dr. M.”.

 

Which got me thinking about the consultation itself. In that moment, it felt like the cheapest sales tactic in the book. In that moment, all of the level-headed research I had done over the past weeks went out the window. I immediately forgot the scary book I had read just days before, focusing instead on the suggestions of a man, an authority on the subject but who knew nothing about me personally. I focused on the mirror and saw what he saw.

 

Of course, the consultation is little more than a sales pitch. Plastic surgeons are out of business if they don’t show you the beauty they can reveal, or whatever bullshit their sites proclaim. Still, the experience got me thinking — is it ethical? Are plastic surgeons exploiting the psychology of the patients who seek their services? I was not asked once about why I, a 22-year-old college student, was in Dr. M’s office to talk about a breast augmentation. Instead, I was asked about what size I wanted to be. Was Dr. M morally or ethically obligated to understand my psychological state before agreeing to operate on me? How key was the consultation to the final decision?

 

And more honestly: should I do it?  

 

I posed a question to myself and for this project: Will I be happier with myself if I get a boob job? But my decision will be made, or rather was made, in spite of my writing, my introspection and my research.

 

It is clear to me now that the answer to this question is irrelevant.

 

Because the woman who thinks clearly, rationally, who abides by her own pro-con list when considering a boob job  does not exist.

 

She is, to those who do not occupy the messy space that is her mind, irrational. She is not. She is arrational, which is to say that she makes her decision based on intuition alone, a space void of logic. She is, in all other contexts, smart and articulate, but frustratingly stubborn. Or so it seems.

 

Because her mind is made up when her mother runs out of ways to reason with her or when the internet warns her against harming her body in this way or when her own mind recognizes its helplessness.

 

She understands me when I say that choosing no does not fix any more than choosing yes. Robert Frost described a fork in the road, but those two paths still place the traveler, finally, in the same place. The woman who wants a boob job cannot simply write herself into or out of getting one. There is no pro-con list long enough to persuade her.

 

It’s not all the time, but sometimes she thinks all her problems would be solved if she got a boob job.