History of Breast Enlargement

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Breast enlargement has probably been a goal of women since prehistoric days. Primatologists have long equated human breasts–which are unusual because of their enlarged, apparently engorged state–with the sexual swellings that most primates show in their buttocks, but relocated to the front as part of our adaptation to upright living. In his book, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, evolutionary psychologist Christopher Ryan claims that men are essentially programmed to respond to large breasts as signals of fertility and youth, and it is likely that even in prehistoric days women had tricks to do the most with what nature gave them.

We do know that even the earliest written texts equate large breasts with fertility, health, and attractiveness. One of the most famous of course is The Bible’s Song of Solomon, which describes ideal breasts as perky, full, and symmetrical, but it is far from the only one. Another good example is the Ramayana, in which Sita’s breasts are described as “like the swelling fruit of tala leaves” in the words of translator R.C. Dutt. Islamic poetry of the Middle Ages frequently praises the graceful curves of women’s breasts. English literary giants Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Spenser all allude to an ideal of voluptuous breasts.


Although ancient Minoans had a vest-like corset that propped up the breasts for display, most ancient breast support consisted of binding breasts. In India, however, by the first century, women were wearing tailored blouses, called kanchukas that seem designed to show off the breasts. A variation on this that seems to have been designed to support aging breasts was the ravake, which dates from the 12th century, and by the 16th century. Another type of bra used in India was called the kuchavastra, and though descriptions don’t give a good idea what it looked like, scholars link it to the thin strip across the nipples seen in sculptures of the period.

The first real efforts to maximize the breasts in the West started in the Renaissance when décolletage became very popular, to the point that it became common for even upper class women to bare one breast, and at least one dress designed for the wife of Charles I would have fully revealed the queen’s breasts. Corsets were used to flatten the belly and chest, and they pushed breasts up and outward, creating unnatural, but very popular fullness in the upper part of the breast (something many women seek breast augmentation to replicate).

Even in the Victorian era, when baring breasts was strictly forbidden, the size of the breasts was enhanced by tightlacing the waist. In the Edwardian period, corsets took on what is described as the S-form, which introduced a bend at the waist to push the buttocks back and the breasts forward.


There were also many patent medications and devices marketed during the middle to late 19th century that promised women would get larger breasts. These included at the simplest a corset or similar device fitted with extra padding, but also included “trainers” and suction devices, creams and salves that, like today, probably did not work at all.

It was during the Victorian period that surgical breast enlargement began. Unfortunately, it began very badly. The first recorded surgeries for breast enlargement involved the use of paraffin wax. It was not universally a failure–it sometimes resulted in enlarged, hard breasts, but more often the result was potentially deadly infections and lumpy breasts. However, the procedure continued to be in demand until an alternative was developed.

During the 20s and 30s fat transplantation was attempted. Lumps of fat were removed from the abdomen, buttocks, or elsewhere, and placed in the breasts. Because the procedure gave good initial results and seemed to have lower risks than paraffin wax, it became more popular. Unfortunately, the procedure’s results didn’t last, as the body tended to re-absorb the fat, which was transported without a blood supply and quickly died. By the 1940s, this procedure was largely abandoned.


Although surgical breast enlargement was essentially abandoned by the 1940s, this did not mean women stopped trying to enlarge their breasts. How could they, with screen sirens like Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and others, showing off their curves in theaters, and, for the first time, in homes through the magic of television.

At this time, breast padding became a multimillion dollar industry, but women still looked for methods of true breast enlargement.


In the 1950s, surgeons believed they had found a new method for surgical breast enlargement. Surgeons begin using sponges, sometimes wrapped in a polyethylene jacket. Dr. Robert Franklyn in LA was the main user of this type of implant, but a few others did as well. The results were not long-lasting, and often led to shrunken breasts and infections. Many women had these breast implants removed quickly, but periodically plastic surgeons report removing them from patients to this day.


As women learned of the perils of sponges, they began to turn to a newly invented material for breast enlargement. Silicone was initially invented as an engine lubricant. It is a relatively inert material that can easily be sterilized and injected. It was first adopted, according to conventional wisdom, by Japanese prostitutes in the postwar period and eventually moved over to the US. It became popular among showgirls and dancers, but those most dedicated to its use were from the transgender community. Some women, such as pioneer provocateur Carol Doda, had numerous injections with no side effects, but in many cases the use of the substance result in discoloration, granulomas, and disfigurement limited its popularity. And the number of deadly complications eventually caused Congress to ban silicone injection in 2004.

An underground industry of silicone gel injection still exists, but women and transgender individuals should steer clear of this potentially deadly practice.


Silicone-filled breast implants were invented in 1961, first implanted in 1962, and since then they have remained the most popular choice for breast enlargement because of their great, long-lasting results and high safety record. Concerns about the safety of breast implants led to their withdrawal from the market in 1992, but none of these concerns were able to be documented and the FDA re-approved them for cosmetic breast augmentation in 2006.

Furthermore, the FDA’s 2011 assessment of studies by breast implant manufacturers Allergan and Mentor confirms that silicone breast implants are not associated with autoimmune diseases, connective tissue disorders, breast cancer, or fertility problems. It also means that finally women can have surgical breast augmentation knowing that they fully understand the possible complications of the procedure.

Phoenix breast surgeons use the most advanced procedures available in breast augmentation, procedures that are safe and deliver consistent, predictable results. To learn more about breast augmentation please contact our practice today.

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