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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Networking for Tits

Every once in a while I’ll read something that will make my skin bristle. I’m talking unbridled stupidity mixed with a heaping cup of self-hatred. Imagine a social networking website that donates money for breast implants to its female members. Well no need to imagine any more, look no further than www.myfreeimplants.com. You can read the whole article below.

Women seek cash for breast implants on Web site
Saturday, October 13, 2007

Its promoters call it a new form of social networking and online "community."

Its critics say it shows the extremes to which some women will go to mend a broken body image and fulfill a male fantasy of what a woman should look like.

But for a North Hills woman named JoAnne, who asked that her last name not be used, Myfreeimplants.com is merely a quick, convenient way to raise enough money to pay for surgery she's wanted since the eighth grade.

Since its launch two years ago, the Web site has become an increasingly popular venue for women to solicit donations from men -- who happen to be total strangers -- for breast implant surgery.

Besides being the latest manifestation of the American obsession with physical appearance, the site also illustrates how the Internet is transforming social relationships and creating bizarre new notions of "community" -- by distancing people from actual human contact and enabling them to indulge in activities they might never consider outside of cyberspace.

Some might call the site, with its cheesy graphics and suggestively posed women, pornography. JoAnne does not see it that way, and technically, she's right -- no nude photos are allowed.

"I know the feminists will be coming out of the woodwork and see it as demeaning, but it's been great for me. I've raised some money and I've had some great conversations with people," she said, adding that for her, breast implants carry no more psychological baggage than losing weight might for someone else.

Plus, she is in a committed relationship with her boyfriend, "who supports me whether I do this or not. I don't care about the women who may want to bash me for what is essentially my choice."

But Nili Sachs, a Minneapolis-based psychologist who specializes in human sexuality and couples counseling, said she found Myfreeimplants.com profoundly disturbing.

"When you first see the site, you can for a brief moment think, 'OK, this is all in the spirit of helping women feel better about themselves.' But take a closer look at the photos of the women and their blogs. They're all posing in very suggestive positions, and when a man pays money for that, it's pornography. For the women, it's a form of virtual prostitution."

The brainchild of two 29-year-old California software designers, the site allows women to chat with men online in the hope they can persuade them to pay for breast implants. Jason Gunstra, one of the founders, said he and his partner started the site as "a joke" after meeting a cocktail waitress at a bachelor party in Las Vegas who said she wished she could have the procedure.

For women, the service is free, and they can contact any man on the site. Men, on the other hand, must pay a small fee of $1.25 for each e-mail, or "message credit," with $1 going to the woman, and 25 cents to the Web site's owners.

At that point, though, all bets are off. E-mails between the two parties are unmonitored by the site, and JoAnne says she gotten plenty of requests for photos of herself in the buff, which she rejected out of hand, but was able to start and sustain online conversations with several men who ended up donating money -- $768, so far -- to an escrow account maintained by the site's owners. Once she's raised enough money, about $4,000 on average, the site will pay her surgeon for the procedure.

More than 20,000 women have signed up since its inception, said Mr. Gunstra, with 2,500 "active" members at any given time. To date, 35 women have raised enough money to pay for implants, he said.

He bristled at the suggestion that the site is in any way degrading or risky for women.

"MySpace.com is more dangerous," he said, noting his site's strict rules against women identifying themselves, while "really pushing the community aspect of the site and encouraging communication and friendships. Think online pen pals, with an added benefit of a bigger bust at the end of the journey."

With 17,000 men signed up on the site, "you end up messaging your fingers off" trying to talk them into donating, said Lindsay, of Columbus, Ohio, who raised $3,950 for her surgery from 10 different donors, out of about 2,000 she e-mailed, in August.

Lindsay asked that her last name not be used, and, in fact, on the site, women only post screen names, not actual names or addresses, to protect against stalkers.

While some men asked for sexually explicit photos, "I didn't do that," Lindsay said. "If a girl wants to make money that way, she can always just sell herself on the street."

It's that talk of "choice" and the linkage women make between implants and self-confidence that deeply concerns independent filmmaker Carol Ciancutti-Leyva , whose 2007 documentary, "Absolutely Safe," tracks two women -- one who was scheduled for implants and one who was having them removed because she believed they had made her sick.

While examining safety issues and the FDA's approval process for implants, the film also explores what motivates women to get them -- and what Ms. Ciancutti-Leyva believes is manipulation of the issue by manufacturers.

"I think the breast implant industry co-opted the feminist argument, making it about choice instead of safety," said Ms. Ciancutti-Leyva, who is based in New York but grew up in Penn Hills. "The discussion of safety is gone, it's obsolete, we don't talk about it anymore. The old prejudice was that a woman who got implants was the stereotypical 'bimbo,' but today it's your next-door-neighbor, your doctor, lawyer, your average woman."

Dr. Sachs maintains that the growing demand for breast implants isn't necessarily driven by sex -- at least for the woman -- as much as it is on a cultural and anthropological need for uniformity, fueled by advances in medicine and technology.

"The human body has continually been put to use as a medium for the expression of cultural, tribal or genealogical needs," she said. "Nations, tribes and other groups demand that their members reflect sameness in their physical appearance," although what they define as the ideal appearance varies from culture to culture.

In Asia, women aren't having breast implants; they're having their eyes altered to look more Western, she noted. "This drive for uniformity is about belonging to the desired class or species."

And you can get there without any of your friends or family knowing how you did -- by sitting alone at a computer.

"I am essentially a nameless face and body on a Web site," said JoAnne. "It's kind of impersonal for me. Disengaged is how I put it."

"You always have a mask on when you're on the Internet," added Lindsay. "Really, the site is all about conversation, about being friendly, and not boring, otherwise no one is going to talk to you. And in the end, it got me what I wanted, for free, while having fun. It was not degrading at all."