“Having breasts is part of being a woman”

As a high school student, Emmy Toebes (22) has seen all of her friends get bigger breasts; hers stopped growing at 14. All of her life, she has received unpleasant remarks about her body, and it has made her feel insecure as a woman. Now, years later, she is considering breast augmentation.

Story and photos by Willemijn Besaris

In the Netherlands, an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 breast augmentation surgeries are performed each year using a breast implant for aesthetic reasons, according to the Dutch Society of Plastic Surgery. Emmy’s first consultation took place recently but she still has doubts about the procedure.

Emmy is sitting on a chair at the dining table, in front of her is a cup of tea. In her living room is a painting on the wall, with different kind of breasts painted on it, in the middle a sentence that says: “Calm your tits”. She laughingly points to a pair of breasts on the canvas, “That’s the way I want them”. Emmy studies Creative Business in Amsterdam, is a naturally beautiful person and says she is not very insecure about her looks. She recalls that she has always been on the thinner side and was often called ‘plank’ or other comments about her breasts during her time at high school. “I think that got stuck in my head.” She looks back on her high school days and recalls that all of her friends were getting boobs, and that she was left behind in that. “All my girlfriends got fuller bosoms in high school. I was always kind of jealous of that.”

For a second consultation, she visits plastic surgeon Gijs Selms at the Jan van Goyen Clinic. In front of her on the table are several silicone implants. She looks at them mesmerised and grabs one. “The implant you are currently holding, with a rough exterior, we have not been using since 2019. Research has shown that lymphoma can develop with these implants”, Dr. Selms tells her. “I’ll just give you a sports bra and then you can try on a few different ones and feel which size you feel comfortable with.” Emmy stands in front of the mirror and looks at her potential new breasts. She beams: “I really do like this, it shouldn’t be bigger than this.” Yet there is also doubt. She asks the surgeon: “Do you have a daughter?” He says that he has four daughters. She said: “What would you say to them if they wanted a breast augmentation?”

Emmy hold a breast implant and puts it under her tank top.
Emmy tries out the implants. | Photo: Willemijn Besaris

During the photo shoot for this reportage, there is not a trace of insecurity in Emmy. “A photo without a t-shirt? No problem! Just close the curtains, otherwise it will be nice for the neighbours!”. Even though she’s insecure about her breasts, she’s simultaneously sure about herself and with such ease in front of the lens. How long has this idea of having bigger breasts been developing? “It comes in waves”, Emmy explains, “I feel like it makes me more feminine. Sometimes, when I have a shirt on, it almost looks like I’m flat. I don’t feel comfortable with that. For me personally, having breasts is part of being a woman.”

I feel like it makes me more feminine.

But what about women who have A cups and are satisfied and confident with it? Are they also not feminine enough? “That has to do with your own point of view, of what a woman should look like. The environment I find myself in also plays a part, with girlfriends who very easily make this kind of choice, to have something improved by the plastic surgeon.”

Having silicone implants is not entirely without risks, according to scientific research and documentaries. One of the documentaries, called Moord tieten is about a woman who had to have her breast implants removed after seven years because they were leaking. Emmy also saw the documentary and it did cause her to have second thoughts. “I investigated it and during the consultation with the plastic surgeon I also asked questions about it. She says that there are risks involved. And, that you are going to be cutting into a healthy body.Which does make me wonder if I should do this.

Even though Emmy has her doubts, she’s still sure of her decision. “My mother once suggested that I should talk to someone about this. For me personally, comments like that I am a plank will always stay in my head unless I make the choice to have surgery. Then I will be able to let it go.”

Emmy hold a sign with different sizes of breasts on it and points to the form she likes.
Emmy points out the breasts, she likes most. | Photo: Willemijn Besaris