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Was My Breast Reduction a Mistake?

It seemed like the only way to find peace in my body. In a new era of curvy acceptance, I wonder: Was I right?

“Your breasts are very large,” the doctor said.

I was 23, halfway through my annual exam, and it took me a good half-minute to respond. I wasn’t offended, exactly. I liked my gynecologist. A man in his late 60s, he was attentive, pleasant, always willing to answer questions. Now, he was examining my double-D-size breasts and saying what I’d known since I was 12 but had never heard stated so matter-of-factly.

“I know,” I said at last. “They’re huge.” I hesitated a moment, then added, “I hate them.”

“Have you ever thought about a reduction surgery?”

Sure, I thought. Every time I tried to wear a button-down shirt or go for a run or lie on my stomach. But I didn’t think I could actually go through with it. It was major surgery, after all. And permanent. And besides, I didn’t always hate my chest. There were some advantages. They certainly drew attention, not all of it unpleasant. When I finally got around to losing 20 pounds, they’d get smaller, wouldn’t they? And what about breast-feeding if I had kids? And what about the scars? And what about sex? I was still engrossed in this conversation with myself when the doctor handed me a card of a friend of his who ran the university’s main plastic surgery practice. “Feel free to give him a call.”

A few weeks later, I was in the surgeon’s office discussing back pain, and a few months after that, I opened my eyes in the hospital’s recovery room. My breasts, now reduced in half, were bound and bleeding, a throbbing, sutured wound wrapped with gauze. But even beneath the pain and fading anesthesia and tightly fitted surgical bra, I could feel the difference. They felt so small, so light, so … normal. They were the perky, bouncy, non-pendulous appendages I’d always dreamed of. I was certain I’d made the right decision. At least, I was certain at the time.

* * *

I was 10 when my breasts first appeared, and I was already painfully conscious of my weight. I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t thin, and when I began to develop, it felt like the universe was adding insult to injury. By the age of 12 I was a big, tall, voluptuous woman, though of course, I wasn’t a woman. I was 12! And as my breasts emerged, I don’t think my adolescent self could incorporate the idea that there was now a part of me, an extremely prominent part, that had no clear function, that would serve no purpose in the foreseeable future, that resembled and yet was distinct from the other parts of my body that I was always wishing and hoping would become slimmer and smaller.

I remember one afternoon, walking home from seventh grade along a bike path and realizing as I came around a curve that I was being followed. I looked up to the top of an embankment to a footbridge where a group of older boys stood above, laughing and jeering. As I turned my back, I heard one of them call out to another, “I can’t tell if it’s big tits or if she’s just fat?”

Ashamed, I never told anyone about the incident, but I did go on to ask myself the same question at least a thousand times over the next five years. A friend of mine who also had a reduction surgery described a similar experience, how she began to hate her triple-D chest at an early age, slouching and doing anything she could to hide them, because every day as she walked through the high school cafeteria, the football players would yell “boobs” as she passed. And another friend says, “Getting big boobs at the age of 9 completely warped me. It felt like my body was out of my control, werewolf-style.” She notes how “secondary sexual characteristics are very cruel in the sense that they make these tender body changes so public.”

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