Cam and porn performer Ivy Aura has been talking publicly about getting implants for a while now. She’s candid about it, excited even. But a number of her fans don’t feel the same way. Whenever the topic comes up, someone inevitably voices his objections. “Are you sure?” he’ll ask. “Please think again if you really need them.” One confused fan once cried in her mentions, “Why did you get fake tits? You ruined your body!” (As of this writing, Aura has not yet gotten implants.)
This fixation on fake boobs might seem to contradict the PornHub data released this summer, which showed a decline in interest from younger men in breasts of all kinds, though a sustained enthusiasm for implants compared to older male viewers. Are Aura’s upset fans then simply older men with an investment in “natural beauty?” Or is something else going on? To answer that question, we need to address our enduring obsession with, what else, buttitty.
First off, I get it: Breasts are fascinating. And not just in an “everybody loves boobs” way, but rather, “a nice pair of honkers turns me into a hooting and hollering cartoon wolf” kind of way. The temptation when talking about the Cult of the Boob is to point out that breasts are merely fleshy mounds of fat and mammary glands, but that’s like saying a football is just an inflated prolate spheroid made of tanned cowhide. It may be true, but it’s a reductive approach and more than a little patronizing. Breasts are, sorry, heaving with symbolic meaning: fertility, sexuality, youth, motherhood and so on.
The way we talk about implants specifically reveals a lot: I still reach for the ubiquitous term “fake boobs” even though I don’t consciously think of them as unreal. Meanwhile, advertising tends to prefer “breast augmentation,” a term that might call to mind cyberpunk but avoids the undesirable connotation of falsity in favor of the language of personal improvement. Doctors increasingly promise natural looks, feels and shapes — one Upper East Side practice repeats the word almost 10 times in its page on breast augmentation — to the point that one might forget that the procedure involves synthetic materials at all. The not-so-hidden subtext: Out are the proudly gravity-defying orbs of the 1990s, and in are “your boobs, but better.”
But if the ideal for implants has shifted away from the Baywatch look of the late 20th century to a more naturalistic profile, it opens up the possibility that they might fly under the radar, so to speak. Which, in turn, raises yet another question: How would finding out that a sex partner has implants affect your feelings toward them? Would you be turned off? Would you be even more into them? Would you shrug it off and not care?
My incredibly unscientific Twitter poll — as I imagine my grad-school statistics professors sadly shaking their heads — suggests that indifference is a common response, with pleasure beating out negative reactions. Of course, there’s selection bias at work here—not to mention that people might feel self-conscious about voicing their hesitations. But the picture painted by the poll and my solicited follow-ups is one of idle curiosity, rather than overwhelming lust or repulsion. Andy, a U.K. man in his 30s, is typical: He had wondered about whether his partner had implants, was told outright and then felt a small sense of appeal that she’d want them to be even bigger. “That sounds completely irrational,” he’s quick to add, “but that was the feeling.”
Similarly, in his early 20s Dave briefly dated a woman with implants. “It didn’t change my feelings,” he says, “other than being impressed that she had worked to save the money.” He was curious about the procedure and whether it had changed her sensitivity, but after a while “the idea of ‘fake tits’ or ‘implants’ had gone away and it was just my partner’s body again.” This echoes Emma’s experience — despite assuming she’d be “pushing away awful men left and right,” she says that few partners show more than a brief, scientific curiosity and that those who’ve spent months near them forget constantly.
It’s not for nothing that women like Emma assume they’re going to get intense responses about their decisions to get implants. “Pretty much every ‘male feminist’ I’ve known has expressed antagonism,” she says, “like my body is less hot or somehow doesn’t belong to me if it’s not ‘natural.’” One prolific poster on the AskMen subreddit, where threads about men’s feelings on implants are common, exemplifies this sentiment — “those breasts are not part of the woman’s genetic makeup,” presumably making them somehow less attractive.
While this particular concern might seem absurd, the idea of the “natural woman” is a powerful one. There’s a whole genre of “natural” porn, which typically refers to women with unshaved armpits and no apparent body modifications. But the question of naturalness is always a troubled one: Is going to the gym unnatural? Most would probably say no. Dyeing your hair? Same. How about tattoos or piercings? Questionable. And breast implants? Fans of the genre would probably say they disqualify their bearer from the title of “natural,” but is that because the very idea of a foreign material within a desired body somehow ruins it, or because they have particular, negative ideas of what breast implants look and feel like?
The existence of “no-makeup makeup” looks — creating the illusion of facial nudity but concealing blemishes, adding glow and so on — should be evidence enough that what we crave isn’t true naturalness, whatever that means, but our idea of what we should look like. We want basic but better, plain but polished. It isn’t news that as a culture, we want women to do the impossible — look beautiful, but also like you didn’t have to put any effort into it. We want to be able to congratulate women on looking “so natural” when they’re wearing $200 worth of makeup.
Of course, cherishing “natural” beauty requires a counterpoint to contrast it with. Karolina, an escort, notes the ways in which her clients talk down on other women who are “so plastic,” while ignoring or missing the fact that she’s had a nose job, implants, veneers and injectables: “It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re fine but those other women with work done…’”
Cultural standards of beauty espouse a special hatred for those who “ruin” their bodies through modification — because the sin of excessive bodies isn’t just that they seem to disregard our ideals, but that they expose the absurdity of them. A body with enormous, obvious implants says: “Oh, you love boobs? Name three of their albums.” Pushing the envelope into extreme fetish territory caricatures our love of certain shapes and features, holding a mirror up to our wants and forcing us to examine them, an uncomfortable encounter that we usually defuse by reacting with disgust.
It’s tempting to associate a refusal of female body modification with a kind of wokeness, an insistence that women don’t “have to” change to appeal to men. But a love of apparently unmodified bodies isn’t any more virtuous or intellectual than an appetite for huge fake tits. Men who tweet at porn stars to say “you don’t have to get implants” might not realize it, but they’re still trying to exert control over women’s bodies, albeit in a different way — the flipside of Drake’s insistence that he would “pay to make it bigger [but not] for no reduction.” “You don’t have to” is rarely, if ever, an earnest attempt to convince women that they’re fine just the way they are, but rather a demand — veiled maybe even from the men uttering it themselves — that women not change their bodies in a way that might negatively impact boners.
For what it’s worth, my personal experience indicates that implants aren’t all that different from natural breasts. Some are the high-and-firm type cruelly ridiculed in films like Mean Girls, but other than holding their shape a little more out of a bra, there’s usually not that much difference. At the end of the day, boobs is boobs, and it’s always an honor just to be nominated to get that close to them.