Somewhere between Facebook, OKCupid, and Kickstarter lies a social network connecting people in the name of friendship, fun, and crowdsourced breast implants.
MyFreeImplants (MFI) turns 10 this year (predating Kickstarter by four years), and according to company founder and co-owner Jason Grunstra, 37, MFI has paid out more than $5.4 million to board certified plastic surgeons around the world.
MFI was born at a Las Vegas bachelor party attended by Grunstra and his friends, a party hosted by a cocktail waitress with “the most perfect set of breasts,” according to the MFI press kit. These breasts, which had recently been “done,” became a topic of conversation, and another waitress remarked that she too wished to have her breasts done—the only hurdle was the $6,000 price tag. Grunstra’s crew began yelling out, “I got $5 on it!” then $10 and $20 and $50, and by the end of this auction-like endeavor, the woman had secured 20 percent of the cost of her implants.
The front page of the MFI website echoes of a porn site—there’s a picture of a scantily-clad women pulling on her bikini bottoms, and a man in a suit with a beautiful woman on each arm—but many MFI users attest that they value the friendships and goodwill of MFI and could care less about sexual content.
“This is not a cam site,” wrote a benefactor named trekkiedude on his MFI blog last fall. “This is not a sugardaddy site. This is a social networking site and community of friends, with one particular subject matter at hand. The ladies here want to get work done, and the gentlemen here want to help them along their journey.”
On MFI, women earn a dollar for each message they receive from a benefactor, who are free to donate larger amounts as well. Users and benefactors can play virtual games such as chess and backgammon, share photo sets and videos, and they can participate in contests—anything from “Best Nipples” and “Best Kitty IV” to “Eight Ball Pool Tournament” and “Dave’s MFI Lottery.” The donated money is held in escrow until the user reaches her fundraising goal; then MFI pays her surgeon of choice.
“On MyFreeImplants, there’s a little something for everyone,” said Grunstra in an email interview.
Chris, a benefactor in his 50s from the U.K.’s Birmingham area, says that MFI is no different from Facebook, and men seeking racy photos or explicit video chats should look elsewhere.
“There’s no shortage of websites if that’s what they want to do,” Chris said in a phone interview. “The girls who are on MyFreeImplants are there for them[selves]. They’re not there for us.”
According to Chris, who also donates to Blue Cross, a charity for sick, injured, and homeless animals, and National Trust, a historic space restoration organization, another big misconception is that the women of MFI are vulnerable and exploited.
“You could turn it ’round and say that the women could be exploiting the men,” he said. “They get the surgery. In practice, we don’t get anything but a short or long-term friendship with somebody who may be on the other side of the world.”
Chris’ girlfriend doesn’t mind that he uses the site; in fact, he suspects she would consider joining MFI herself if she weren’t put off by the idea of surgery.
“But she doesn’t object to me spending small amounts of money, or relatively small amounts of money, helping other people to do it and having friendships with them,” he said, noting the money he spends on MFI is money he’s not spending at the bar or on soccer. “The fact is I’m at home when I’m doing it, which is probably a bonus, especially from my girlfriend’s point of view. She’d probably rather I sat at home than sat in a bar somewhere.”
At time of interview, Lovely Peaches, a 24-year-old MFI user from the Midwest, had raised about $3,500 of the $10,000 needed for a tummy tuck and Brazilian butt lift she hopes will bring back her pre-pregnancy body. She successfully earned a breast implant surgery in 2012 (a prerequisite for pursuing other cosmetic procedures on MFI, she said), and when she wasn’t happy with the results, she returned to the website two months later to raise money for a revision. Peaches said her first surgeon gave her implants but not a lift, which caused the implants to “bottom out,” or drop below the natural crease of the breast.
“The site ended up being a lot more than I ever thought it would be. It’s truly about so much more than boobs and money.”
Prior to her surgery, Peaches’ bra size was a 36D, but she suffered from a congenital abnormality known as tuberous breasts, which can result in a variety of atypical breast shapes, from conical to narrow to puffy nipples and areolas.
“I never had great boobs,” Peaches said in a phone interview. “Then having children and breastfeeding kind of compounded the issue. So since about the age of 14 I’ve wanted [implants].”
Peaches said she is “beyond happy” with her revision, an implant and lift combo performed by Dr. Don Revis of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who is certified by both the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Surgery, according to his website. Her new breasts are a 36K, but she said they measure bigger due to the fact that they are perfectly round.
“I’m probably more like an H,” she said, “which looks good on my 5′ 9″ frame.”
In terms of MFI, Peaches said her experience with the site has been a fantastic one. “The site ended up being a lot more than I ever thought it would be,” she said. “It’s truly about so much more than boobs and money.”
Go through the MFI blogs and you’ll find an array of content, from posts about homemade dog food to workplace politics to new nail polish colors and weekend cocktail ideas. trekkiedude, whose sole profile picture is of Benedict Cumberbatch as Star Trek’s Khan, wrote expressively of a friend’s suicide on the anniversary of their death; another of his posts detailed the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical which, according to his blog, is often used in industrial solvents, as a fire retardant, and as an additive in certain junk foods (dihydrogen monoxide is a chemically clever way of saying water). Another benefactor, jmw627, lamented of his unrequited love for his friend Michelle—he was in love with her, she was with another guy, and it was time to let her go.
“It’s really hard for me to meet people and I don’t have a lot of close friends outside of work,” he wrote. “Michelle was pretty much it.”
Aside from criticism and concerns about sexual content and exploitation on MFI, there are also concerns for the health, safety, and wellbeing of those seeking breast implants through the site. British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) Council Member Mary O’Brien said that she and her fellow Council members “absolutely reject” the concept of MFI.
“It’s contrary to the fundamental principle of providing a safe, professional, confidential, respectful, and compassionate environment for women to make an informed choice about breast augmentation,” O’Brien said in a phone interview. She went on to explain that sites like MFI trivialize major surgeries and put pressure on women’s decisions surrounding their health. At the same time, she said, women who use such sites are risking their jobs and reputations when they send risqué photos out into the ether.
“The fact that women are encouraged to solicit donations by providing intimate photographs in pursuit of breast implants is truly appalling,” said O’Brien. “Although thinly veiled as charitable, websites such as these fall down because, in any true respect, compassion and charity are not accompanied with an obligation to provide intimate photographs to a stranger.”
According to Peaches, everyone on MFI is understanding of each others’ comfort zones, and she never felt pressured to supply explicit photos. She said she raised her money through blogging, chatting, and getting to know the benefactors of MFI.
“You can do it however you want to do it, and stick to your level of explicitness, or none at all,” she said. “Everyone can do it their own way. That’s what’s so great about it. You’re not forced into doing anything you don’t want to do. People will still help you because they want the friendship.”
YouTube personality Morgan Joyce, on the other hand, ranted about her “scummy” experience with the website in a video she published in 2013, her main qualm being that she was misled by MFI ‘s representations as a friendship-based social network. Every guy she spoke to wanted to see her naked, she said, and she earned a mere five dollars before deleting her account the first day she signed up. Joyce ended up paying for her implants herself.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not bringing myself down to that level,” she said. “I’d rather spend my own hard-earned money than getting naked to strangers on the internet. If you want to do that, that’s fine with you, go on ahead to MyFreeImplants.com, but like, to me it was absolutely nothing like it was described.”
Grunstra is quick to counter criticisms such as those from BAAPS. He said that people use MFI of their own free will, and the real health risks in cosmetic surgery come from loan companies that extend a line of credit to prospective patients in a matter of minutes.
“Those loan companies make the surgery feasible in a matter of hours—hardly enough time to think through the seriousness of such a procedure,” Grunstra said. “On MyFreeImplants, even the fastest woman on record to reach her goal, 13 days, will have at a minimum 43 full days to consider (and reconsider) her breast augmentation.”
“Even with that extended duration,” he continued, “we would hope that any surgeon that a woman chooses would complete a thorough evaluation of the potential patient to ensure she is a suitable candidate.”
“Do I think the MyFreeImplants website is degrading? Everyone has a certain view. A lot of people might say that some modeling done in very fashionable magazines can be degrading to women.”
Dr. Leon Goldstein, a Connecticut and Rhode Island-based surgeon with 30 years of experience, said that once a person comes through his doors seeking surgery, he treats them as his patient no matter who they are or how they pay for surgery.
“I don’t view them or look at them as though they’re coming from any particular source, background, ethnicity, or whatever,” Goldstein said in a phone interview. “That doesn’t matter one bit. The decision of whether or not they’re going to have surgery is based on one—if I think they’re a good candidate, and two—if they wish to proceed with the surgery knowing the risks and the benefits.”
Goldstein, who according to his website has been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons since 1987, signed on as an MFI partner several years ago in efforts to promote his practice. Since then, he’s seen three or four patients who raised funds for their implants on MFI and operated on only one of them. He said that aside from being medically unfit for surgery, there are generally two scenarios in which he would determine a patient not suitable for a cosmetic procedure: if they’re tentative about the procedure or unclear on what they want, and if they’re seeking many surgeries or if they’ve had the same surgery multiple times from different surgeons, which could indicate the patient is psychologically unfit for surgery.
“Do I think the MyFreeImplants website is degrading? I don’t have an opinion on that,” Goldstein said. “Everyone has a certain view. A lot of people might say that some modeling done in very fashionable magazines can be degrading to women.”
When asked about financial planning for complications that could arise from surgery, Peaches said she expected her medical insurance would cover any emergency procedures, and she also felt confident that she could turn to her friends on MFI if she were to ever need another revision. Jen, a 27-year-old MFI user from Southampton, U.K. said her implants are guaranteed for their lifetime, and she’s saving up for when the time comes to replace them. She earned the funds for her implants, known as reaching “Hall of Fame” or HoF on MFI, in six months, and went from a 34C to a 34DD at the end of March for £3,995—just shy of $6,000.
Jen was very happy with the results of her surgery, and of her experience on MFI. She said she felt far more supported from the MFI community than she would have if she paid for her implants on her own. Grunstra also said there is a lot of support among the women of MFI, who offer each other tips and advice on preparing and recovering from surgery.
“One example a woman gave was to pre-open any screw-top jar lids,” Grunstra said. “It’s something we really take for granted, but we use a decent amount of pectoral muscle to open a brand new jar of peanut butter, and apparently that isn’t exactly easy to do after a breast augmentation! I never would have guessed. So it’s things like that that you probably won’t hear from your surgeon, but make all the world of difference in making the entire experience all the more worth it!”
This woman-to-woman support is available through blogs and Q&As, but women aren’t able to message one another on MFI. This is due to competitiveness, according to Grunstra.
“Women have greater success when they focus their attention on their donors, rather than on each other,” he said. “Women can often be very competitive with each other, and we want to take the competitive nature out of the equation as much as possible. She should devote herself to her goal, and not worry too much about what other people are doing or saying.”
Although women can’t chat with one another, they can sign up to become benefactors—in fact, a few of Peaches’ donors were women. Often times these women are previous MFI users who had their surgeries and “Pay it Forward,” or PiF in MFI lingo. And cisgender women aren’t the only ones who can use MFI to crowdfund their breast augmentations—at least one transgender woman has successfully raised money for her breast augmentation on MFI, according to Grunstra.
“There may be others, but we don’t ask people about their orientation,” he said. “MyFreeImplants provides a service, and it’s up to the members of the community to use the tools we provide how they best see fit.”