Female Genital Mutilation1

The concept of culture can be defined as an orchestrated integration of unconsciously learned behavior patterns that are characteristic of a group of people. Many varying constituents can compose any given culture. This causes many different cultures to deviate from one another greatly. Such components as ethnicity, life experiences, values, beliefs, religion and customs are all examples of these aspects. (Warner and Mochel, p.4, 1998)
Customs are a way of expressing values and beliefs of a culture. One form of a cultural custom is bodily alterations. These exist in many cultures throughout the world. They vary in expressivity from minor markings to complete addition or removal of body parts.
Many examples of body alteration exist. Cosmetic surgery plays a significant role in customs of body alteration in the U.S. One such example is that of breast augmentation. This is when the breasts are surgically enlarged by placement of a synthetic implant behind both/either the breast tissue and chest muscles, through means of a small incision. A plastic surgeon and/or reconstructive surgeon perform this procedure. (http://www.atlanticplastic.com)
Augmentations or enlargement of the breast, medically termed augmentation mammoplasty (http://www.plasticsurgery.org/surgery/brstaugm.htm), became a commercial success in the mid- 1960’s with the invention of inflatable silicone implants. Their population has continued. It is estimated that well over 1 million women in the U.S. have had their breast surgically enlarged. Each year approximately 130,000 women have their beasts enhanced. Most women that undergo this surgery are between the ages of 20 and 30years old. (Davis, p.25, 1995) However, as the popularity of this surgical procedure increases the age range of those obtaining breast augmentations is broadening. Two percent of breast augmentations performed are on women under the age of 18 years. The number of women well into middle age having the procedure done is also increasing. (Davis, p.26, 1995)
Breast augmentations, like many cosmetic surgery procedures, are often expensive. Depending on anesthesia cost, surgical facilities and doctor fees, among others, current cost of breast augmentations can range from $3000.00 to $8000.00. (http://www.surgery.com/topics/braug/html)
In addition to monetary expense, there are also serious health risks. There is a 40 percent chance of some side effect ranging from lack of sensation in breasts, scarring, or painful encapsulation (hardening of the breast around the implant due to scar tissue or calcium deposits). There is a 20 percent chance that they’d become infected or rejected by the body and have to be removed and redone. (Davis, p.3, 1995) More specifically, from 1985 to 1996 the FDA has received 125,012 reports of adverse reactions as a result of saline implants, which are deemed to be safer concerning health than silicone implants. (USFDA, p.25, 1996)
In spite of these adversary effects of breast augmentation and the statistics that support them, the procedure remains today one of the most popular forms of cosmetic surgery, second only to liposuction. (Davis, p.9, 1995)
People are willing to brave these risks because there are deeper cultural values and attitudes underlying.
One possible assumption of societies underlying cultural values concerns that of the beauty system. In this, there are suggestive, if not stereotypical, roles that both genders adhere to. Expressions of characteristics that fill these rolls are accomplished in many ways, a major one being physical appearance. Generally, women traditionally are characterized by femininity. (Davis, p.49-51, 1995)
Breasts are invariably confederated with femininity in the United States culture. Particularly, femininity and voluptuous breasts correlate, making breast augmentation a way to enhance femininity. (Davis, p.9, 1995)
The opportunity to buy most anything one could need, such as a characteristic to fill a cultural gender role, is also symbolic of western culture. This notion has been defined as consumer culture. In this we buy to fulfill our needs: basic and not- so- basic. (Rafuse, http://rowlf.cc.edu:8080/market/tj/courses/534/ads.html) Cosmetic surgery of all types, including breast augmentation, is the cultural product of both technology and of a consumer culture which demonstrates how one can buy practically anything, including how they look. (Davis, p.18, 1995)
In using the body as a vehicle for self-expression, many feel that this is evident of oppression in a male dominated society. Ideas taken from Sandra Lee Bartky (1988) and Kathryn Pauly Morgan (1986) are expressive of this notion of the expression of femininity as oppression.
“It is crucial to understand the central role that the socially sanctioned and socially constructed [notion of]