- “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage shows her breast implant removal in her new film “Explant.”
- The film explores chronic pain, fatigue, hair loss, and rashes that may be linked to implants.
- Advocates call the condition “breast implant illness,” but many doctors reject the diagnosis saying there isn’t enough evidence.
“My name is Michelle Visage, and this is what’s left of my tits,” the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” judge yelled to a stadium of fans while wearing a hot pink body suit that accentuated her flat chest.
For decades, Visage’s perky boobs were one of her most defining traits. A former singer for the pop group Seduction and a fixture of the New York City drag and ballroom scenes, Visage got her first set of breast implants at age 21, when she couldn’t shake the insecurity she felt over her naturally small boobs.
Her flat-chestedness “was always in the front of my mind,” Visage said in her documentary film “Explant,” which premiered December 15 on the Paramount Plus
But now, 30 years on, Visage is becoming one of the most prominent voices sounding the alarm about the dangers of breast implants, which she says caused her “breast implant illness,” with symptoms including heart palpitations, hair loss, chronic brain fog, and a thyroid condition that causes chronic fatigue, brain fog, and aching joints.
Tens of thousands of women have reported side effects after getting breast implants, from pain that leaves them bed-ridden for days to unrelenting rashes and nausea.
Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Ayesha Curry, Ashley Tisdale, former Playmate Crystal Hefner, and Playboy model Karen McDougal have opted to remove their breast implants, many citing the discomfort and sickness caused — they believe — by the devices.
But while women who report these symptoms are clear that their enhancements were to blame, the condition isn’t recognized by the greater medical community.
For years, doctors told Visage she was being hysterical
Visage told Insider she first felt symptoms a year after getting her first set.
She tried everything to cure them: she saw chiropractors and functional medicine doctors, tried cryotherapy and infrared saunas, and saw a cardiologist at age 23 because of her heart palpitations. At 29, Visage was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, a thyroid condition, yet doctors still said they couldn’t identify a cause.
A few years ago, at her wit’s end, Visage started looking for answers on her own, and found a Facebook group filled with women whose stories paralleled her own: feeling defeated, disbelieved, and too sick to leave bed.
“There are plenty of surgeons, both male and female that say that [breast implant illness] doesn’t exist and that we’re just hysterical. We need to go home, get laid, smoke some weed, have a glass of champagne, and take a Prozac or Xanax,” Visage told Insider.
It drove Visage to make a film.
“Explant” explores the breast implant industry, starting with the device’s creation in 1962, and how that changed body ideals. Visage also hears from women reporting side effects, and learns how they are advocating for themselves in the face of doctors’ disbelief.
Doctors have historically ignored links between breast implants and health issues
“Breast-implant illness,” a collective term used to describe the symptoms people have reported, was first publicized in a 1990 CBS broadcast by journalist Connie Chung.
Chung shared stories of women’s symptoms, and was accused of fearmongering by plastic surgeons, Insider previously reported.
In March 2019, the FDA held a hearing on breast implants’ links to cancer, after hundreds of women with breast implants reported developing a rare form of cancer called BIA-ALCL (breast-implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma).
Most BIA-ALCL cases were linked to Allergan’s textured Biocell implant, which has since been recalled. But the hearing directed attention to an uncomfortable fact: there’s a lot the medical community doesn’t know about the long-term effects of breast implants of any kind.
Due to the lack of research, doctors are reluctant to say breast implant illness exists, leaving women like Visage without answers to explain their mysterious symptoms.
Visage still supports plastic surgery, but wants more informed consent
The FDA now requires all breast implants to come with a black box warning, the most serious type of warning the agency has. It recognizes that breast implants aren’t harmless.
Still, women like Visage are advocating for more information and pre-surgery paperwork.
Visage said she isn’t against plastic surgery — she understands why someone might want to alter their body — but she’s now more skeptical about the industry.
According to a toxicology report shown in the documentary, Visage still has traces of the implants’ silicone throughout her entire body, which may explain why she says she still feels symptoms. A neurologist interviewed in “Explant” said it takes an average of 10 years to fully recover.
Visage hopes her own explant story will empower other women to ask hard questions.
“There’s a part of who I am that’s glamorous, who these kids look up to, and I didn’t want to appear weak,” Visage said of the reservations she felt sharing that intimate moment.
“But when I took myself out of it and took my ego out of it, I realized it’s more glamorous to be in control of my health… So once I took my ego out of it, I realized I honestly don’t care what I look like. This has nothing to do with what I look like. This has all to do with what I feel like, and to let women know that they are not crazy.”