By Rachael Liberman

According to an article in Italian news agency ANSA, the Italian government sent a bill to Parliament on Monday that would ban cosmetic breast surgery for women under eighteen. Currently, those under eighteen need parental consent for breast augmentation, but under the proposed bill, procedures will be strictly prohibited unless the patient can offer a medical rationale. The article cites an informative study by Italian research agency SWG (the English version of this news article offers only acronyms) that offers various resulting percentages (methods not included): 39% of women say that an “abundant chest enhances self-esteem,” 36% of Italian girls under 18 are unhappy with the way they look, with 17% of girls concerned about their breasts. Further, the article states, “Health Undersecretary Francesca Martini, who drafted the bill, said that demand for such operations was increasing among girls bombarded by images in the media that made them feel inadequate.”

Due to language inadequacies, I am not able to analyze the SWG report or the bill that the Italian government sent. Additionally, I am approaching this from the social location of an “American,” so I may be missing some historical and cultural considerations of the Italian experience. However, this bill on cosmetic breast surgery raises some concerns about the politics of the body that  are not necessarily location-specific. First of all, who defines the “medical basis?” The caveat that a rationale needs to be provided indicates examination and judgment, both of which are subjective. Secondly, what about those women who want breast augmentation in order to feel more feminine? Now, it could be argued that femininity is oppressive or a social construction, but nonetheless, there are women (including those under eighteen) that want to “feel more like a woman.” Does mental health count? Lastly, isn’t prevention the best medicine? In other words, why not develop media education courses that teach young girls about body image? How does lawfully engaging with breast augmentation surgery curtail the larger issue: women’s discomfort with their bodies as a result of various normalizing practices (not limited to just media).

What is interesting is that this acknowledgment of women and body issues and this resulting bill in Italy (the first of its kind in Europe) should be a positive moment. After all, the Italian government is attempting to drive cosmetic surgeries down so that young girls cannot include it in their imagination of embodying media-generated (normalized) aesthetics. However, this bill, based on the information contained in the ASNA article, is actually giving power to medicine and the government regarding what people can and cannot do with their bodies. Additionally, it is further suggesting that the desire to have large breasts is a result of “the media” (the article does not offer any additional sources of influences) and that individuals cannot possibly want to alter their bodies for any other reason. By limiting breast augmentation to “medical reasons,” individuals are forced to experience disciplinary power, or bio-power, masked as pro-social regulation.

Beauty Work: Individual and Institutional Rewards, the Reproduction of Gender, and Questions of Agency

Body Politics from The Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology