OH, MY GOD! THERE'S NOTHING THERE!" cried syndicated talk show host Jenny Jones, 47, noting for the first time the results of the surgery that reduced her bra size from 36B to 36AA. If she was stunned then, today she is feeling almost giddy relief. "I finally unloaded them," she says. "I can hug people again."

"Them" are Jones's breast implants. After six operations—she had the original implants replaced four times—and 11 wars of pain and embarrassment caused by repealed hardening due to silicone implants, a year ago Jones went under the knife one last time. Like thousands of the estimated 1 million American women who have had cosmetic breast augmentation, she had her implants removed.

In a three-hour procedure, Dr. William Shaw, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at UCLA, removed the silicone implants and the encapsulated scar tissue around them. He lifted and reshaped the remaining breast tissue and delicately cut away sagging excess skin. The original implant surgery cost $1,500; the removal, $6,000.

The greatest cost, though, is Jones's rueful knowledge that she has ended up with less than she started with. Marred with the scars of seven operations, her breasts are no longer symmetrical. And they are numb. Jones saw a psychologist for a couple of months after the implants were removed to help her through a difficult period of adjustment. "Whether I liked my breasts or not," she says, "that is what I looked like for the past decade. I don't look great, I don't have cleavage. But I sure am better off without them. I really feel free."

There is a bonus: Everyone thinks she has lost weight. Her wardrobe assistant, for one, was thrilled with her boss' return to her old figure. "She said that my clothes are finally fitting," reports Jones. "I used to look heavy because I was top heavy."

Following a March 1992 PEOPLE cover story on her ordeal, Jones received hundreds of letters and phone calls from women with similar tales of woe. "I thought I had problems," she says. "There are women with 15 or 20 or 25 operations, 10 sets of implants and a lot of illnesses. It was very demoralizing stuff to hear." Many described burning in the shoulder, pain, lumps and arthritis. "It's not coincidence," says Jones. (Indeed, in the spring of 1992 the Food and Drug Administration severely restricted the use of silicone gel implants for cosmetic purposes, except in cases of reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy.)

Jones also discovered that, despite public hearings and high-visibility lawsuits (in Chicago, 58 women filed a suit last January against 35 manufacturers, claiming their implants had caused severe illnesses), many women were still unwilling to discuss their implant problems. She wants to change that. In June 1992, with $50,000 of her own money ("I am not Oprah; that's a lot of money for me"), she set up the Image Foundation, which encourages women with implant problems to seek medical help.

To raise money for the foundation, Jones is compiling a book of celebrity muffin recipes with contributions from the likes of Liz Taylor, Ivana Trump and John Goodman, and she's including her own recipe for chocolate-sauerkraut muffins. When it becomes financially able, Jones hopes the foundation can provide books and videotapes to schools to teach girls and boys they don't have to conform to someone else's idea of beauty. "Women feel that they should look like the women on the cover of Cosmo," she says. "But those are not realistic role models."

She has received support for the real Jenny Jones, as opposed to the enhanced version, from her boyfriend of eight years, Denis McCallion, 45. A former production executive at Walt Disney Television in Los Angeles, McCallion moved to Chicago in August 1992 to spend a year running the Image Foundation without pay. "I did not fall in love with Jenny because of her chest size," he says. "It was not an issue as far as I was concerned, and it never will be."

Jones intends to keep hammering at the issue from the bully pulpit of her show. "Now, I have something to talk about," she says. And she thinks her audience will listen. "After all, I have one of the most famous chests in the nation."

MARILYN ACHIRON
GIOVANNA BREU in Chicago

  • Contributors:
  • Giovanna Breu.