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The Story of the World's First Silicone Breast Implants

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Perry has been a technical writer for over 10 years for biotech and I.T. firms.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield in 1957. Both actresses had naturally ample breasts.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield in 1957. Both actresses had naturally ample breasts.

Beauty Ideals of the 1950s

Some of the most idolized actresses of the 1950s, including Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, and Marilyn Monroe, were known for their on-screen charisma, off-screen star power, and all-the-time sex appeal. One thing all three of these actresses shared—and often flaunted—were their ample bosoms.

It was around this time that the medical community began seriously investigating the idea of surgically enhancing breasts.

Timmie Jean Lindsey in 1962.

Timmie Jean Lindsey in 1962.

A Young Woman From Texas

Our story begins with a young woman from Texas named Timmie Jean Lindsey. Raised in a poor family, she dropped out of high school to get married and had six children by the age of 26. Then she and her husband divorced, leaving her a single mom with few resources.

She began dating a new man named Fred Reyes, who suggested that she get two rose tattoos, one on each breast. She did so—but then immediately regretted her decision.

Neither Timmie nor her boyfriend had much money, so Timmie went to a charity hospital called Jefferson Medical, which was a training hospital for medical students. The doctor she saw, Frank Gerow, was a young plastic surgeon who decided he'd found a good candidate for the experimental silicone breast implant surgery he'd been developing with a colleague, Thomas Cronin. The two doctors had done lab research, but they hadn't yet found a human subject.

Dr. Gerow told Timmie he would remove her tattoos, but he also suggested that she allow him to surgically augment her breasts with silicone implants. He described the procedure as being for women who had low self-esteem due to their small and/or sagging breasts. Timmie's breasts were small, and they were indeed sagging as a result of having had six children in nine years, but she was more concerned with her ears. She thought they stuck out too much. She agreed to the implants only if the doctor would also pin her ears back. A deal was struck, and shortly thereafter the first silicone implants were inserted. The year was 1962.

Silicone implants.

Silicone implants.

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Timmie's Post-Surgery Experience

Ten days after the surgery, the bandages were removed and Timmie looked in the mirror for the first time. She liked what she saw.

She had gone from a B cup to a C cup. She later said, "When I had the implants put in, I would get wolf whistles when I walked down the street. I truly believe women should be free to choose. But, to be honest, there are times when I think I would like to have mine taken out."

By the 1970s, Timmie began to experience some pain as well as some hardening of the silicone implants. By the '80s, the pain had increased substantially. She suffered from rashes, dry mouth, and shooting pain in the breast areas. Eventually, at the age of 79, her implants started to tear.

Timmie's own daughter had an implant in the 1980s that ruptured. Timmie's sister-in-law had an implant that ruptured, as well, killing her in the '90s.

By this time, the company that manufactured the silicone implants, Dow Corning, had begun to come under fire. In 1991, a woman named Mariann Hopkins was awarded $7.3 million in damages for complications she suffered as a result of her implants. More lawsuits quickly followed, and by 1995, Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy.

Lindsey, age 84.

Lindsey, age 84.

Breast Implants Today

In 2006, the FDA lifted its ban on silicone implants, and today they are gaining in popularity once again. Saline implants are also very popular.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation is the most popular form of plastic surgery in the United States. In the year 2018, over 310,000 procedures were performed. It is interesting to note, however, that in the same year, just over 48,000 implant removal procedures were performed.

What's clear is that while some women will choose to undergo the knife to change their appearance in ways that they believe will make them more beautiful or attractive, a subset of that group will later come to regret that decision.

How it works!

How it works!

Sources and Further Reading

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