Women vie for votes in breast implant contest

Nathan Hall

Annie Reeves said she does not come to this nightclub often but signed up because she wanted to feel better about herself.

“I don’t really know much about the surgery, but I do know I want to be a model for Playboy someday,” Reeves said.

Reeves, 19, a cosmetology student at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn., is part of a nightclub promotional trend catching on in college towns nationwide, but brand new to St. Paul: free breast implants.

This unique approach to a sometimes controversial medical practice comes when the Food and Drug Administration is currently considering loosened regulations on silicone breast implants.

The promotion for St. Paul’s Warehouse nightclub, in conjunction with Clear Channel-owned affiliate radio station KDWB FM, has been wildly successful, with more than 200 women so far signing up, proprietor P.J. Augustyn said.

The Warehouse was pulsating with techno music and packed with college-age women Tuesday, where an estimated 20 women signed up for the contest.

Augustyn, 40, said each woman completes a contact sheet, composes a short essay on why they are the most deserving of breast augmentation and has her picture taken. The picture is then posted along with her first name only on the Warehouse’s Web site.

Once Augustyn has a sufficient pool of applicants, Warehouse Web site visitors can vote for each woman and the winner will be presented with a cashier’s check they can spend as they please, Augustyn said.

Augustyn, his employees and KDWB disc jockey Curt Copeland said although handing out elective cosmetic surgeries in the same casual fashion as a Corvette or a trip to Cancun is a first for Minnesota, it is not new to the United States. Orlando, Fla., New Orleans and San Diego are other large cities with clubs offering similar promotions.

Although Augustyn said he has yet to receive a formal complaint, some University students said they were firmly against the giveaway. One such student, Katherine Strande, is president of the University’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

Strande said she was troubled that despite claims of links to cancer and dozens of other medical conditions, breast implants do not face the social stigma of abortion in today’s conservative political climate.

Strande said one possible cause for the renewed acceptance of breast enhancement is television programs such as ABC’s “Extreme Makeover,” a show featuring women competing for the privilege of receiving thousands of dollars’ worth of plastic surgery and a Web-based voting system similar to the Warehouse’s.

“Mainly I just feel sorry and think it’s incredibly sad for the girls who feel it’s necessary for them to go through all of this,” Strande said. “I wish I could tell all of them that they’re already beautiful, but ultimately it’s their choice to make, not mine.”

Augustyn said he felt giving away a check to receive a potentially dangerous medical procedure was not exploitative.

“People have been pleasantly surprised that it’s not a ‘Girls Gone Wild’ or wet T-shirt contest type of event,” Augustyn said. “We’ve had a great deal of curiosity calls and initial skepticism, but they all quickly understood it’s all handled extremely tastefully.”

Although opposed to the Warehouse’s promotion, Strande said her group had no set plans for how her student group would voice their disapproval.

More than 167,000 women purchase reconstructive breast implants every year, according to industry statistics. The July issue of the medical journal Archives of Surgery found that at least 15 percent of all silicone implants rupture within 10 or fewer years.

In January 1999, a Washington federal court awarded $10 million in compensatory damages against Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. to an attorney who proved her implants caused her to contract sclerosis. Immediately after, silicone implants were taken off the U.S. market except for women who have had medical breast surgery.

Mozell Miley, a press representative for ABC’s “Extreme Makeover,” declined to comment, but did issue a general statement that said the show ranked No. 2 in the recent ratings sweeps period behind “The Bachelor.” “The Bachelor,” another ABC reality TV program, features 25 women competing to marry a single man.

Nathan Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]