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Court Allows Exotic Dancer to Deduct Breast Implants

Cynthia’s cups runneth over

By Julian Block
Julian Block
Courtesy of Julian Block

Just because you incur expenses for business reasons does not mean they automatically qualify as deductible. The Internal Revenue Code stipulates that these outlays must be "ordinary and necessary" in relation to your business.

Moreover, the law generally categorizes what you spend to improve your appearance, general health, or sense of well-being as nondeductible personal expenses. It should come as no surprise, then, that lots of business-versus-personal disputes wind up being resolved by the courts.

A case in point is that of Cynthia Hess, known as "Chesty Love" in her show biz endeavors as an exotic dancer. The Hoosier hoofer persuaded the United States Tax Court to uphold a deduction for surgical breast implants to enlarge her bosom.

Fade to when Cynthia, then known as "Tonda Marie," launched her topless career on the night club circuit. She was able to get gigs. But because of a hereditary deficiency, she had to settle for smaller earnings than other, better-endowed ecdysiasts. (Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls—an admonition that those who, like me, are of a certain age, will remember as one of the running gag lines on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.) So Cynthia's agent persuaded a willing client to undergo surgery that enlarged her bust size—first to 56FF and then to 56N. (No, those numbers are not misprints.)

With humongous stats and the new stage name of "Chesty Love," she resumed performing and immediately experienced an uplift in earnings, an increase that was unquestionably fueled by chats with talk-show hosts, such as the celebrated chest connoisseur Howard Stern and Sally Jesse Raphael.

Cynthia's career-enhancing move notwithstanding, her implant deduction fell flat with bluenose bureaucrats. The IRS contended that the Tax Court should characterize the outlays as nondeductible personal expenses.

Get real, responded Special Trial Judge Joan Seitz Pate, who reasoned that for someone like Cynthia, top-heavy breasts are business assets and implants are a necessary "stage prop." Hence, no personal benefit derived by Cynthia from those particular implants, which, Judge Pate pointedly noted, are not the type usually sought by women seeking to enhance their personal appearance. Instead, it was Cynthia's craving for more “checks to barer” that motivated the dancer to undergo surgery that so enlarged her breasts—each weighs about 10 pounds—that her appearance became "freakish."

Even worse, as Cynthia testified, she and her husband routinely endure off-color, vituperative comments from people they encounter; consequently, she has decided to have the implants permanently removed when her exotic-dancing career ends.

To buttress her decision, the judge compared the implants to work clothes and uniforms, which are allowable only if they satisfy a two-step test: (1) required as a condition of employment and (2) unsuitable for everyday use. It was a cinch for Cynthia to get over the first hurdle; her large, cumbersome breasts are a "costume," needed to retain her employment as a professional exotic dancer.

As for the second stipulation, the court cited Cynthia's testimony that she would remove the implants each day, were that possible. As they cause bacterial infections and other serious medical problems, her understandable preference would be not to "wear" them while offstage.

Verdict: Implants so extraordinarily large are "useful only in her business" and, therefore, deductible.


Published November 30, 2009

Julian Block is an attorney and author based in Larchmont, N.Y. He has been cited as “a leading tax professional” (New York Times), "an accomplished writer on taxes" (Wall Street Journal), and "an authority on tax planning" (Financial Planning Magazine). For information about his books, visit JulianBlockTaxExpert.com.

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