By her 18th birthday, Laura Kearney realized "the girls" weren't growing -- but she pushed aside thoughts of breast implants.
For eight years, she resisted the pressures of society -- images of stars and starlets, the focus on female anatomy. "It's everywhere in your face," says Kearney, now 26. "I felt like less of a woman."
In the end, Kearney finally did do it -- tossed the padded bras forever, opting for silicone breast implants. "It may seem petty to some people, but felt I needed to do something about it," she tells WebMD. "I didn't get a drastic implant, just one that suited me. I didn't want it to be, 'Look what she did.'"
The results? "I can't believe how real, how natural they look," Kearney says. "I can't even describe how happy I am."
In fact, she adds, the preparation for breast implant surgery pushed her into a healthier lifestyle. "I got into the vitamin regimen, quit smoking. It was a big opportunity for me to be a healthier person. It felt like everything was going in the right direction. It was so exciting."
Breast Implants: Expectations vs. Reality
Breast augmentation -- breast implant surgery -- is the top cosmetic surgery performed today, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. A total of 347,524 women had the surgery in 2007.
It's a major step for most women, and often a positive one. Studies have shown that breast implants can help boost self-esteem, body image, and sexual satisfaction.
But studies have also pointed to the critical need for careful screening by doctors, and self-awareness among women, before breast implant surgery. Women who may have psychiatric or alcohol problems before their surgery may be at higher risk of suicide years later.
Here are realistic insights from doctors and patients about the impact of cosmetic breast implants, and how to tell in advance whether implants may help you.
Breast Implants & Body Image
Laurie Casas, MD, associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, is a contributing author of a textbook on breast surgery.
Nearly half her patients are like Kearney -- young women whose breasts never developed, a condition called micromastia. "She had two nipples on a flat chest," she explains. "It looked like a prepubescent boy's chest."
She also sees young women who have developed asymmetrical breasts -- they don't match in some way, either in size or shape. It's a relatively common, embarrassing condition. One breast might be a D-cup, while the other is a B. Or there might be a half-cup difference between the breasts -- which might not sound like much, but can be very noticeable.
"They truly feel they have a deformity," Casas tells WebMD. "They don't feel they have a normal body part. It's a body image issue, not a self-esteem issue. They want that body part to look more normal, to look better in clothes and bathing suits."
All that rings true with Kearney, she says. "I look in the mirror now and think, 'That's the way I'm supposed to look.' I have more confidence now. I can go clothes shopping, and it's amazing how things fit."