While in Brazil for Sao Paulo Fashion Week, I had the strange experience of doing something that would be unthinkable in the United States: I went around asking young women about their breasts. Namely, if they were fake or not.
Let me explain: We heard a rumor that Brazilian models often had small implants dubbed "Brazilian Bs," and that implants of this kind were pretty commonplace. Naturally, I asked around to see if this was a real thing. Again, I don't need to explain the kind of shocked reaction I would have gotten in America--but in Brazil: NBD.
Actually, Brazilians couldn't understand why I had been so shy to ask. And the general consensus? Most young women (who I asked in and around the tents during SPFW) said that yes, "many" or even "most" of their friends have breast implants. They agreed that, unlike in the U.S. perhaps, most women in Brazil opt for smaller, more natural-looking implants. The reason for the rise of surgeries in Brazil is no secret: The cost of breast augmentation is significantly lower than in the U.S. (sometimes as low as $1900), and patients can pay for the procedure in installments--that's also the reason why Brazil is becoming one of the hottest spots for "medical tourism" for Americans.
But the most fascinating difference? Plastic surgery--breast implants in particular--is not something women feel ashamed of in Brazil. Quite the contrary: Fashion journalist Jorge Wakabara told me, "I would say, for example, that a nose job is still a taboo, but breast surgery is something to be proud of."
Marília Kugler Cortina, 24, told me that it's not uncommon for her friends to upload images on Facebook, proclaiming the success of their recent surgery. "They'll put up a new picture and say, 'Here are my new boobs!'" Amanda Luz, 22, agreed: "There's not much we feel embarrassed about in Brazil!"
The fact that Brazilians don't find plastic surgery something to be ashamed of is probably why the general population doesn't seem to hold as many illusions about the supposed surgery-free-yet-impossibly-perfect bodies of celebrities.
When I asked whether or not Wakabara thought, say, the Victoria’s Secret models had breast implants, he looked at me like I might be missing a piece. "I would be lying if I say I don't think have implants," he said. Indeed, from the dozens or so people I asked, it seems that it's common knowledge in Brazil that Gisele likely has small breast implants. Of course they don't know for sure (Gisele has denied that she's had any work done) but, as one guy, 28, told me, "If the shoe fits..." In other words, it's sort of like asking an American if they think Heidi Montag is a bottle blonde--We don't need to see a receipt from the hair salon to know that her platinum shade's probably not natural.
But, most importantly, the "authenticity" of a woman's boobs isn't really important in Brazil--and that's a refreshing change from the United States. Like you (probably), I know a handful of American women who, for one reason or another, decided to have plastic surgery. After all, the United States is still the country that performs the most cosmetic surgeries annually (Brazil is second), according to the most recent statistic from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. But no matter my friends' reasonings on getting surgery--or how happy they are that they did it--most of them admit to feeling a certain amount of shame about it. One of my friends told me, "It's a huge secret of mine--I've only told a few people that [my breasts are fake]. I don't feel like I'm someone who would get implants, so I'm embarrassed." But does she regret getting the surgery? "No, not at all. It's something I wanted for a long time." All of the American women I spoke to said their surgery is not something they go around telling just anyone--let alone posting about it on Facebook. I tried explaining this to some of the women in Brazil, and it was hard for them to even imagine. "You mean women lie about getting breast implants?" Kugler Cortina said, genuinely surprised.
Uh, yeah, they do. Especially celebrities. And it's no wonder--tabloids frequently run headlines like "Plastic surgery confession!" or "botox shocker," or "shocking secret surgery," to describe any celebrity that's gone under the knife, as if cosmetic surgery were a shameful secret to be kept hidden at all costs on par with say, a drug addiction or adulterous affair. The message being that it's not simply enough to have the perfect body or age-defying skin--celebrities have to do it all 100% naturally.
At the same time, do we really believe it's possible for a 44-year-old woman to look as wrinkle-free, and impossibly perserved as Nicole Kidman, without any cosmetic help? Or that all of the Victoria's Secret models just happen to have 0% body fat, paired with full, bouncy and, yes, suspiciously perky, breasts? Come on. We can't be that naive. But the real heart of the matter is not who got what but: Who cares? Isn't there something inherently wrong about a society that pressures women into feeling they need to look perfect at all times and then punishes them for going to extremes to fit into that mold?
Thanks for the lesson, Brazil. We hope our attitudes can adjust!