Filmmaker Carol Ciancutti-Leyva and her mother Audrey Ciancutti in Washington D.C. Audrey testified at the FDA Advisory Committee Hearings on Breast Implants.

Filmmaker Carol Ciancutti-Leyva and Dixie examine the remnants of a silicone breast implant.


Carol Ciancutti-Leyva

By the time I started this film, I believed that my mother’s illness was caused by her silicone breast implants. Her decline in health had been a gradual one and it took some time before we connected what was happening to her health with her implants. It was not surprising to me that silicone implants, which no matter how you look at them, are two bags of various chemicals inserted into the chest cavity, could be wreaking havoc on her body. When she first had her implants put in at The Mayo Clinic in the early 1970’s, there was virtually no information available about the pros and cons of implants. Her doctor there said they were safe and we all believed it. I was young, in high school, and not paying close attention.

Even after her first rupture a year after her first surgery, I didn’t think twice when the surgeon said he would put in a new implant. Over the years, various mysterious symptoms came – extreme fatigue, chronic rashes, fevers, joint pain. Eventually, my mother found a doctor that believed the silicone in her body could be causing this constellation of symptoms. When I started to pay attention, I believed it as well. It actually made logical sense to me. My mother had two ruptures of silicone implants – where did that silicone go and what did it do in the body?

In 1999, I picked up a prominent newspaper and I read a front page article that read “Mayo Clinic Study Finds Breast Implants Safe”. I thought how could that be… safe? Then came more questions- how was this study done, were there other women who experienced the same problems as my mother, were there doctors who believed implants could cause problems, how did the FDA regulate this product, and ultimately why did women want this product?

The first time I filmed was in Washington D.C., at a rally on Capitol Hill. About two thousand women came from all over the country to demand that the US government require manufacturers to do more research on implant safety. I roamed the crowd putting the camera and microphone in front of anyone willing to share their story. I heard the same story, the same symptoms, the same despair from women from all walks of life, from all over the country. Was this coincidence? Chance? Was anyone paying attention? If this were a group of men harmed by a particular product would the world be paying closer attention?

I didn’t set out to make a film that proved implants were harmful. I intended to make a film that looks at all these questions. The challenge of course is that I brought a point of view to the table. I believed and still do believe that implants have the potential to be harmful to a woman’s health. I also believe that I can have a point of view and be open to listen to people who believe implants are safe. We live in a world today where people’s opinions are either black or white. However, now, the desire, the need, and marketing of implants are all grey areas. There are no definitive answers.

I wanted to understand and listen to the conversation around breast implants –the regulation of implants by the FDA, the science on implants, the business of implants, women’s knowledge about risk, existence of informed consent, the desire for implants, and the cultural promotion of implants.

Of course, in the 10 years it took to get this film funded, made, and out into the world, the subject of breast implants has taken on many faces and points of view. As of today, the popularity of the operation is on the rise and has been for several years, along with corporate profits. Breast implants remain a prescribed part of the recovery process for mastectomy patients—implants are presented as a given for women losing breasts.

For augmentation patients, the cultural aesthetic of breast implants is one that is desired and sought out. Just recently I heard an interview with an up and coming actor and he was asked “Do you like women with real breasts or fake breasts?” (As though this is a legitimate, important question.) He replied, “It doesn’t matter as long as they look good.” That is the optimal phrase – LOOK GOOD. The messages are bountiful in today’s media that we must all “look good,” women and men alike. Breast implants are now marketed as the “Naturelle Collection” with different styles to choose from, as though we are buying a dress.

My ideas and thoughts about breast implants and what they represent in our world today have of course changed and evolved as I have made this film. My goal was to make a film that made us all think, question, and debate not only breast implant safety but also the quest for perfection and beauty that we all confront at every turn.