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The 'Explant' Trend: When Bigger Isn't Necessarily Better

In 2019, cosmetic work is as normalised and accessible as it’s ever been.

Lip fillers are freely admitted to, Botox has replaced anti-aging creams, and Instagram influencers are posting about their surgeons as much as they are fashion brands.

So why in an increasingly selfie obsessed world are a growing number of Aussie women now having their breast implants removed and going au naturale?

For Sydney-based personal trainer and influencer Cassey Maynard, it was both a health thing and a “vibe” thing.

She had her implants put in 11 years ago, when she was a 25-year-old flight attendant based in Dubai -- a city sometimes referred to as the plastic surgery capital of the world.

"Whatever you could get done, people were having done," Cassey told 10 daily.

"It was so common, it was like going out and having a drink."

Cassey Maynard had breast implants that took her from a "large B" to a double D. Photo: Supplied.

They gave her the confidence boost she wanted. But over the past year, things started to feel … off. She was experiencing a lack of energy. Then there was the vomiting, numbness, sensations that didn’t feel right.

“I went into investigation mode the next day,” she said. She’s having them taken out this week.

What is Breast Implant Illness?

There’s a closed group on Facebook called ‘Breast Implant Illness and Healing’, with more than 80,000 members worldwide. Included in the group’s description is the major disclaimer that it’s not there to provide medical advice, but “experience and wisdom” from women with breast implants.

That’s partly because Breast Implant Illness (BII) isn’t a medically recognised term.

Sydney-based surgeon Dr. Richard Sackelariou told 10 daily there a growing number of women asking about breast explants.

When patients ask about BII, he refers to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and points out that the science doesn’t exist.

breast implant
Thousands of women are citing something called 'Breast Implant Illness'. Photo: Getty.

“The WHO did an extensive study,” Sackelariou said. “They’ve said, we have looked for the science in this, there is no science. They have dismissed the illness.”

And yet, women continue to site it as a reason for having their implants removed, and Google Trends shows a major increase in searches for ‘Breast Implant Illness’ since mid-July 2016.

Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration announced it was looking into reports of BII.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that a small number of patients may have biological responses to certain types of materials in implantable or insertable devices,” the agency said.

The FDA linked it to inflammatory reactions and tissue changes causing pain, while people with implants say they have caused everything from fatigue and muscle and joint pain, to low libido, heart palpitations, migraines and depression.

RuPaul's Drag Race judge Michelle Visage linked her implants to a diagnosis of Hashimoto's disease, a connection her doctors have not verified.

Michelle Visage
Michelle Visage decided to have her implants removed. Photo: RuPaul's Drag Race.

Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration confirmed to 10 daily a number of women have reported symptoms — including lethargy, hair loss and pain — in relation to their implants, but is yet to confirm the two are linked.

“Research into associations is scarce, and data establishing a causal link has yet to be produced,” a spokesperson said.

“The TGA is working in collaboration with researchers and clinicians regarding these reports to establish data to help us understand the science behind any associations and inform future regulations of breast implants.”

If Not Breast Implant Illness, Then What?

Plenty of women having their implants removed have experienced a problem with them, while others simply decide the look isn’t for them anymore, Sackelariou said.

“Some have had some sort of scare, they’ve had a rupture, and then they decide: I had them in 10 years ago, when I was in my 20s. I’m in my 30s now, I have a family… do I really want this?” he said.

Others are concerned about future possible health problems.

Textured implants have been linked to anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL), a rare cancer of the immune system which forms in the fluid and scar tissue around breast implants.

In April, France became the first country in the world to ban textured implants due to the cancer risk. Australia did not follow suit, but the TGA convened an expert panel to investigate further. The latest figures from the TGA confirm 76 cases of ALCL in Australia.

But illness -- implant-related or otherwise -- is not the only reason women are having implants removed.

The Bachelorette’s Ali Oetjen has spoken about her regret for having breast augmentation, saying they were done for someone else, and “if I had my time over, I would not have gotten them done.”

In an open letter to her younger self, Victoria Beckham said her implants were “a sign of insecurity”, and that she should “just celebrate what you’ve got”.

victoria beckham
Spice Girl-turned-fashion designer Victoria Beckham went public about having her breast implants removed. Image: Getty.

Cassey said there was definitely an element of changing attitudes towards our own bodies.

“We’re working on self love a lot more,” Cassey explained.

“It didn’t used to be a thing where you spoke about self love.

"It was all skinny models on the runway, or the big boob trend. It was all a comparison thing, which obviously still happens, but people are more aware that that’s what they’re doing. We’re deleting people off Instagram if it doesn’t make us feel good.”

Her explant surgery doesn’t change her attitude towards plastic surgery in general -- she said her implants served her well, and she wouldn’t judge anyone else from seeking the same validation by going under the knife.

But she can’t hide her glee about having them taken out of her body.

“I’m very scared about the surgery,” she said. “But I’m excited.”

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au