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Sophie Foan

MA work

Breast Design and Women's Agency in America since the Silicone Breast Implant Scandal, 1988 to 2015

Pay just $3900 for the breasts you've always wanted. This is what a recent advert on New York's subway offers you. A model holds a pair of nectarines in her hands, which are replaced with grapefruits in the 'after' image. Breast augmentation is made to seem as casual, and straightforward, as shopping for fruit. 

Such an advert would have been unthinkable twenty five years ago. In 1991, photos of concerned looking surgeons holding broken and spilling silicone implants were splashed across the tabloids. Shortly afterwards, the US Food and Drug Administration banned the prostheses from the market, after finding they had not been sufficiently tested for use in the human body. Fourteen years later, implants were back on sale and breast augmentation is now one of the most performed cosmetic surgeries in the United States. How did this remarkable turnaround come about?

The dissertation traces the history of this controversial product, to find that developments in cosmetic surgery are not as advanced as the existing historiography might suggest. The protagonist that disrupts this popular assumption is an actant that is often taken for granted: the body, in all its fleshy materiality. Individual bodies and statistics of bodies have impacted on the design of breast implants, sometimes in ways that are quite disturbing. A woman's body also impacts on her experience and decisions about cosmetic surgery, which can be empowering, and at other times disastrous. All in all, the dissertation makes the case that surgery is more than apples (or nectarines) and oranges. Rather, women's embodied experiences, and the numerous choices involved in opting to have - or not have - cosmetic surgery are considered in this exploration of contemporary breast design in America. 


  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2016

  • My first degree was in History of Art, where I developed an interest in representations of beauty and the gendered body. As a design historian, I have expanded my research to examine how these ideals are embodied by individuals in everyday life using plastic surgery. My work focuses on the subjectivity of body design and the materiality of surgery. I practise an interdisciplinary approach incorporating fashion history, body studies, anthroplogy and feminist methodolgoy. 

  • Degrees

  • BA History of Art, University College London, 2013
  • Experience

  • Young consultant, Geffrye Museum, London, 2013–2016; Freelance editorial assistant, Octopus Publishing Group, London, 2016; Workshop facilitator, Show RCA, Royal College of Art, London, 2015; Publishing assistant, V&A Online Journal, London, 2015; Curatorial intern, Garden Museum, London, 2013–2014 ; Exhibitions intern, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2012–2013
  • Awards

  • The Bard Graduate Center Exchange; The V&A Travel Award