How Breast Implant Size is Relevant to Tax Policy

April 14, 2014
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In filing one’s taxes, it may be necessary to distinguish between breast implants that are merely “large,” and breast implants that are “extraordinarily large.”

The relevant ruling on this subject came in 1994 in a case known as Hess v. Commissioner. The plaintiff, a self-employed exotic dancer, had implants that expanded her bust size to the size 56FF. For tax purposes, she treated these as a deductible business expense on her schedule C. The IRS contested her deduction.

The purpose of deductions for business expenses is to avoid multiple levels of taxation on goods that are put together cooperatively by several businesses. This is good tax policy.

However, a substantial difficulty in this is determining the difference between consumption goods and legitimate business expenses. A carpenter should be able to deduct the cost of wood he uses to create furniture to sell – tax is paid on the income used to purchase it, and no further tax is necessary. But deductions are not a free excuse to make all of one’s income tax exempt by listing a bunch of personal purchases, and the IRS is right to be skeptical of abuse of this provision.

The relevant issue in Hess was whether breast implants – traditionally thought of as a luxury good bought for personal benefit – could be considered a legitimate business expense. Given that the plaintiff was an exotic dancer, she had a fair argument. But in general, taxpayers aren’t allowed to treat personal appearance expenditures as business expenses unless they aren’t suitable for personal use. Hess, arguing pro se, convincingly established that her implants were inconvenient in everyday life due to the sheer enormity of her breasts. The courts ruled in her favor:

Because petitioner's implants were so extraordinarily large, we find that they were useful only in her business. Accordingly, we hold that the cost of petitioner's implant surgery is depreciable.

There is good reason to believe the courts got this one right. As a matter of good tax policy, those expenses that go towards a taxable final good or service should not be hindered with additional taxation.

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