I was standing in front of one of those awkward three-paneled mirrors in the dressing room, getting my first bra fitting in almost two years. I already knew what the bra saleswoman would say. She’d tell me my boobs were huge, and that I couldn’t wear any of the cute bras I had been looking at outside. But my sister was getting married, and as the maid of honor, I needed a bra for the dress I would wear. As the saleswoman took measurements, I checked my phone, trying to do anything besides catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. But what she finally said stopped me cold.
“You’re a size G.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had big boobs. If there wasn’t photographic evidence that proves otherwise, I would think I was born with them. I was never that self-conscious about them, though; sometimes it bothered me that I couldn’t wear dresses without straps or backless dresses, but in a world where many girls pine for double D’s, I often heard from my friends how lucky I was to be well-endowed. So even though my breasts had started giving me terrible shoulder pain and made it impossible to do things like run on the treadmill, I kept quiet.
Last year, I got out of a long relationship and decided to jettison my post-breakup blahs by hitting the gym. That plan derailed when I was unable to lose weight, no matter what I did. When I visited a doctor for some medical tests to find out what was wrong, she mentioned that I looked larger than I truly was and that much of my weight on my 5-foot frame was, surprise…my boobs. I realized then that the shoulder pain that I had felt didn’t have to be my reality. I finally felt that it was time to look into my options.
I called up a plastic surgeon my parents were friends with and finally admitted to the back pain, and to the fact that I often couldn’t sit up straight, as my core wasn’t strong enough to hold up my own boobs. He recommended a breast reduction.
To be honest, the idea of surgery freaked me out. I devoted two months to debating if I really wanted it. My insurance company told me that they’d cover the procedure, but as I looked at photos of post-surgery scars, I wondered if it was really worth it. But when I spoke with friends and family who had had the surgery, their responses were always the same: “My only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier.”
I took a deep breath and made the appointment.
One early September morning, I went under the knife. The surgery took three hours, during most of which I was sitting up strapped into a chair, so the surgeon could see how my breasts would fall while standing. He made three incisions: one around my nipple, one down the middle of my breast and one underneath. This allowed him to remove fat evenly. After I woke up, groggy from the anesthesia, my body felt like I’d had a cinderblock dropped on it.
The first three days were absolutely horrible. I could hardly sit up, and I was wrapped in my bandages so tightly that I could barely breathe. I felt claustrophobic in my own body.
Three days after the surgery, I had my first doctor’s visit, which I’ll never forget. I hadn’t been allowed to shower since before the surgery. My hair was a nest in a way I didn’t know was possible, and I wore a plaid flannel my friend had bought me for the occasion that said “I Hate Everyone” on the back because at the time I did. I was so scared, I could have vomited.
The medical staff took off my wrappings and my drains. (Drains are, hands down, the grossest thing ever; they’re small plastic tubes that drain all fluid that builds up from the surgery.) When the nurse finally removed the gauze, I grabbed for my breasts. The surgeon laughed and reminded me, “Those are yours, they are all you. You can keep them.” But I still felt as though there was no way these things were mine to keep. I worried, even though it made no sense, that if I leaned too far forward, they’d slip right off me.
Each day after that got a little easier. Within a week, two rounds of my stitches were removed. The rest would dissolve themselves. I was told it would take six to eight weeks for the swelling to go down and that I should massage my scars to reduce scar tissue from building. Within three weeks, I was back at work.
I told very few people about what I’d done, but everyone immediately started making comments like, “You look different, did you get your hair cut?” and “Did you lose weight? You look great.” No one was sure what had changed, but the fact that people noticed something made me smile. Soon, I was able to head back into the gym, and I ran on the treadmill for the first time since I had to run a mile to pass gym in junior high. I wore a size small T-shirt, and later that night, I stood in front of the mirror and cried. For the first time, I wasn’t controlled and confined by the limits of my own body.
A few weeks after heading into the gym, I went bra shopping, like I had so many months before when the saleswoman first told me I would fit into a size G bra. The carpet was light pink and there was jazz music playing, and I felt like I’d entered a gynecologist’s office. I wasn’t even sure where to start in the lingerie department. I felt as though I’d never been there before.
I walked slowly as I looked at all the bra options, not even sure what I could and couldn’t wear now. I picked up a purple demi bra and quickly put it down, thinking there was no way I could possibly fit into that. A saleswoman who was probably my mom’s age came over and asked if I needed help, and I felt like a little girl as I told her I was unsure what size my breasts were. She laughed and told me that we’d find out. She asked me to take her around the store and show her things that I thought were pretty. As she led me around, I must have looked totally lost. “I can wear everything in here?” I asked. She laughed again. “Yes, you can.” Like the proverbial kid in the candy store, I tried on dozens of options, all different shapes and sizes. Three hours later, I giddily left the store with a bra selection so pretty I wanted to display it on my coffee table.
Months later I still find myself staring at my chest when I walk past mirrors. Would I say that the breast reduction has been a magic, confidence-boosting wand for my self-consciousness? No. But would I say that when I look at my body now, I see something I truly love? Yes. And that makes the pain and the scars — which have almost all faded already — worth everything. When I try on something I couldn’t wear before, or when I run a mile without a problem, I smile to myself. These weren’t the boobs that came naturally, but they’re mine, and for the first time, I love them.