Human Studies

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 255–273 | Cite as

To Learn the World Again: Examining the Impact of Elective Breast Surgery on Body Schema

  • Sara Rodrigues
Theoretical / Philosophical Paper


This paper comprises a feminist phenomenological exploration of women’s experiences with breast augmentation and breast reduction. Situating the results of semi-structured interviews in the context of body schema, this study discloses how women perceive, think, feel and respond to bodily change created by elective breast surgery. Women’s narratives express that breast augmentation and reduction shifted their conception of the lived body and its possibilities by provoking bodily reorientations and adjustments as well as changes in bodily sensations. In contrast with body image studies that emphasize elective breast surgery as transforming attitudes towards the body, this phenomenological investigation reveals that elective breast surgery also galvanizes a relearning of the world and a rearticulation of embodied doing.


Body schema Phenomenology Breast augmentation surgery Breast reduction surgery Female body experience Cosmetic surgery Embodiment Feminist theory 


  1. Alcoff, L. M. (2006). Visible identities: Race, gender, and the self. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, A. P., & Jones, B. M. (2000). Patient satisfaction with Trilucent™ breast implants. British Journal of Plastic Surgery, 53(6), 479–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker, J. L., Kolin, I. S., & Bartlett, E. S. (1974). Psychosexual dynamics of patients undergoing mammary augmentation. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 53(6), 652–659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blood, S. K. (2005). Body work: The social construction of women’s body image. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. Bogdanov-Berezovsky, A., Silberstein, E., Shoham, Y., & Krieger, Y. (2013). Capsular flap: New applications. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 37(2), 395–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carman, T. (1999). The body in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Philosophical Topics, 27(2), 205–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cash, T. F. (2004). Body image: Past, present, and future. Body image, 1(1), 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cash, T. F. (2008). The body image workbook: An eight-step program for learning to like your looks. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.Google Scholar
  10. Cash, T. F., Duel, L. A., & Perkins, L. L. (2002). Women’s psychosocial outcomes of breast augmentation with silicone gel-filled implants: A 2-year prospective study. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 109(6), 2112–2121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Boer, M., van der Hulst, R., & Slatman, J. (2015). The surprise of a breast reconstruction: A longitudinal phenomenological study to Women’s expectations about reconstructive surgery. Human Studies, 38(3), 409–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dolezal, L. (2015). The body and shame: Phenomenology, feminism, and the socially shaped body. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  13. Ferreira, M. C., Costa, M. P., Cunha, M. S., Sakae, E., & Fels, K. W. (2003). Sensibility of the breast after reduction mammaplasty. Annals of Plastic Surgery, 51(1), 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fielding, H. (1996). Beyond the surface: Towards a feminist phenomenology of the body-as-depth. Ph.D. dissertation, York University. ProQuest, NN14662.Google Scholar
  15. Gallagher, S. (2005). How the body shapes the mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gallagher, S., & Zahavi, D. (2013). The phenomenological mind. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Gladfelter, J., & Murphy, D. (2008). Breast augmentation motivations and satisfaction: A prospective study of more than 3000 silicone implantations. Plastic Surgical Nursing, 28(4), 170–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grogan, S. (2008). Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women and children. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Grosz, E. A. (1994). Volatile bodies: Toward a corporeal feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hagerty, R. C., & Uflacker, A. (2009). Central mound technique for breast reduction. In M. A. Shiffman (Ed.), Mastopexy and breast reduction (401–406). Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hanley, F. (2005). The dynamic body image and the moving body: Revisiting Schilder’s theory for psychological research. Scan Journal 2(2).Google Scholar
  22. Heyes, C. J. (2009). Diagnosing culture: Body dysmorphic disorder and cosmetic surgery. Body & Society, 15(4), 73–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kruks, S. (2014). Women’s ‘Lived Experience’: Feminism and phenomenology from Simone de Beauvoir. In M. Evans, C. Hemmings, M. Henry, H. Johnstone, S. Madhok, A. Plomien, & S. Wearing (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of feminist theory (75–92). London: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Leder, D. (1990). The absent body. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Levin, J. (2008). Bodies and subjects in Merleau-Ponty and Foucault: Towards a phenomenological/poststructuralist feminist theory of embodied subjectivity. Ph.D. dissertation, Pennsylvania State University. Accessed 31 July 2016.
  26. Lipworth, L., & McLaughlin, J. K. (2010). Excess suicide risk and other external causes of death among women with cosmetic breast implants: A neglected research priority. Current Psychiatry Reports, 12(3), 234–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2007a). An unpublished text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A prospectus of his work. In T. Toadvine & L. Lawlor (Eds.), The Merleau-Ponty reader (pp. 283–290). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2007b). The child’s relations with others. In T. Toadvine & L. Lawlor (Eds.), The Merleau-Ponty reader (143–183). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2013) Phenomenology of perception (D. A. Landes, Trans.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Millsted, R., & Frith, H. (2003). Being large-breasted: Women neogitating embodiment. Women’s Studies International Forum, 26(5), 455–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mishara, A. (2005). Body self and its narrative representation in schizophrenia: Does the body schema help establish a core deficit? In H. De Preester & V. Knockaert (Eds.), Body image and body schema: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the body (127–152). Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moi, T. (1999). What is a woman? Sex, gender, and the body in feminist theory. In T. Moi (Ed.), What is a woman? And other essays (3–120). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Reich, J. (1974). The surgical improvement in appearance of the female body. The Medical Journal of Australia, 2(21), 767–774.Google Scholar
  34. Sarwer, D. B., & Crerand, C. E. (2004). Body image and cosmetic medical treatments. Body Image, 1(1), 99–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sarwer, D. B., Grossbart, T. A., & Didie, E. R. (2002). Beauty and society. Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, 22(2), 79–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schilder, P. (1950). The image and appearance of the human body. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  37. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2005). What are we naming? In H. De Preester & V. Knockaert (Eds.), Body image and body schema: Interdisciplinary perspectives on the body (211–231). Amsterdam, NL: John Benjamins Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Slatman, J. (2007). Recognition beyond narcissism: Imaging the body’s ownness and strangeness. In H. Fielding, G. Hiltmann, D. Olkowski, & A. Reichold (Eds.), The other: Feminist reflections in ethics (186–204). London: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Slatman, J. (2012). Phenomenology of bodily integrity in disfiguring breast cancer. Hypatia, 27(2), 281–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Slatman, J. (2016). Is it possible to ‘Incorporate’ a scar?: Revisiting a basic concept in phenomenology. Human Studies, 39, 347–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Slatman, J., Halsema, A., & Meershoek, A. (2016). Responding to scars after breast surgery. Qualitative Health Research. Scholar
  42. Sperlingl, M. L., Høimyrl, H., Finnerupl, K., Jensenl, T. S., & Finnerupl, N. B. (2011). Persistent pain and sensory changes following cosmetic breast augmentation. European Journal of Pain, 15(3), 328–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Taipale, J. (2014). Phenomenology and embodiment: Husserl and the constitution of subjectivity. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Toombs, S. K. (1992). The meaning of illness: The phenomenological account of the different perspectives of physician and patient. Dordrecht, NL: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Toombs, S. K. (2001). Introduction: Phenomenology and medicine. In S. K. Tooms (Ed.), Handbook of phenomenology and medicine (1–26). Dordrecht, NL: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Weiss, G. (1999). Body images: Embodiment as intercorporeality. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  47. Young, I. M. (2005). On female body experience: “Throwing like a Girl” and other essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ryerson UniversityTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations