Back in her lean years as a stand-up comic, Jenny Jones cracked a lot of self-deprecating cleavage jokes. But on Feb. 24, 1992, the Star Search alumna and budding daytime talk-show host was telling the press that her breasts were hardly a laughing matter. Six silicone-implant operations since 1981 had left her scarred, misshapen, and benumbed, Jones claimed. She wanted to lend support to others who’d experienced negative side effects — of the 150,000 women then receiving implants yearly, according to the FDA, about 2,500 had reported illness or injury — and dissuade those pondering surgical bust enlargement.
A few critics sniped that the uncommonly intimate revelation — arriving complete with a panel discussion on her program, an appearance on rival yak-fest Donahue, and a People magazine cover story — was all too well timed: a sensational sweeps-month gambit calculated to inflate the Nielsens of Jones’ struggling six-month-old show.
However, the issue at hand was more topical than Jones’ typically flighty fare (sample: “Girl, I Hate to Be Rude…But You Look Like a Dude”). Discontented augmentees had figured frequently in the media, thanks to a $7.3 million California ruling on Dec. 13, 1991, against Dow Corning Corp., one of the nation’s biggest silicone-implant manufacturers. “With implants so much in the news,” remembers Jones, “I thought, Somebody’s got a ‘before’ picture of me. Somebody’s going to go to the tabloids. I didn’t want to be exposed that way. And I thought I could actually make a difference.”
Dow Corning tried in vain to absorb the negative publicity, claiming that silicone seepage — a side effect that Jones suffered, though none of her implants were made by that company — wasn’t “a safety issue,” and that “millions of women…have a compelling need for this device.” (Some 80 percent of implants are inserted in healthy women.) Four months after the ruling, the FDA-flattened firm was out of the silicone-implant biz for good — and Jones’ fifth and final pair were out of her body: “Every doctor said, ‘You don’t want to do that….They’re going to look like basset hound ears.”’ But Jones stood her ground, turning down 20/20’s offer to send cameras into the operating room.
Now 51 and helming her show’s seventh season, Jones says she has never regretted her confession, though going public hasn’t had the lasting cultural impact she hoped for. “What shocks me,” she says, “is that more women than ever seem to be getting implants, and now, like Pamela Lee, they don’t even try to hide it. At least in my day it was something you never talked about.”