Timmie Jean Lindsey

Image of Timmie Jean Lindsey in 1962

HOUSTON, 16 March 1962* — today Timmie Jean Lindsey underwent the world’s first silicone-gel breast implant surgery. The 30-year-old mother of 6 whose poverty-level income qualified her for free medical care entered the hospital to have rose tattoos grafted off her breasts and was propositioned by two surgeons, at least one of whom “liked large breasts” and fancied his breast implant innovation as a rival to the work of Houston cardiac surgeon Michael DeBakey. Not especially interested in the breast augmentation surgery, Lindsey agreed to undergo the procedure if the surgeons would also “pin back” her ears which she was uncomfortable with the appearance of.

Today’s implant surgery increased Lindsey from a B-cup to a C-cup and launches an industry that 50 years from now will be as controversial as it is successful. In the future you will be able to do a Web search (the “Web” is a thing that a 6-year-old nerd named Tim Berners-Lee will, when he is 36, invent in 1991) for “breast implant” or “Timmie Jean Lindsey” and you will find myriad articles declaring either the total success or total failure of her surgery. Many websites, mostly from the cosmetic surgery industry or individual plastic surgeons, will declare her implant surgery to be still flawless 50 years later, and that surgeries like Lindsey’s provide “a new sense of confidence for women.” Other sites will detail the years of pain Lindsey has undergone and her desire to remove the implants coupled with her fear of another surgery.

In 2011, 307,180 American women will undergo breast enhancement surgery, 80% of them for cosmetic reasons. This will bring the total of American women with augmented breasts to somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million or 1.3% of the women in America. The surgery will also be extremely popular in Britain. Also in 2011, 19,766 American men will undergo breast reduction surgery. It is easy to critique opportunistic cosmetic surgeons like those that propositioned Lindsey, the plastic surgery industry, and the culture that supports it, yet it is also true that numerous women do, early or late in life, find themselves uncomfortable with their body image and realize a real improvement in their sense of self through cosmetic procedures. We don’t critique people for inventing hair dye, should breast augmentation be different?

American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2011 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report

One might further imagine that in the future other nerds like Berners-Lee will create “Virtual Reality” or “Virtual Worlds” where bodies can be effortlessly reshaped including making breasts as small or as large as one can imagine. What do you think of the cosmetic surgery industry and the shapes of avatars? Is Lindsey’s surgery the invention of “confidence for women?” Or the manufacturing of a “porn aesthetic” as a standard for women to live up to? Does it make women more complete human beings or objects to be consumed? Jump down to the comments section and chime in!

Texas Monthly Magazine, August, 1995

* as far as I Rez has been able to determine, and as surprising as it seems, apparently nobody has a record of the exact date of Lindsey’s surgery. It is interesting to see how many sites on the web repeat the same phrase “Spring of 1962.” A few sources cite “March 1962,” and R. Trentham Roberts’ impressive site The 60’s at 50 has the best information I Rez has found. Working with Dr. Michael Middleton, a radiologist with the UC San Diego School of Medicine, Roberts has pinned the surgery to the range of dates between 14 and 21 March 1962.

Given this window and the lack of an exact date, I Rez has chosen to imagine the surgery as taking place today, Friday 16 March 1962, as today is also the date of the 1st launch of the Titan-2 missile, capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to a target 9,000 miles away at a cost of US$3.16 million per launch (1969 dollars) Houston: big oil, big money, big rockets, big breasts.

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

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