Guest Post: Breaking the Breast Reduction Stigma
I am twenty-three years old, about to be twenty-four. I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. I live in Durham, North Carolina now. I tend to be a bit clumsy, a bit quirky, and a bit of a goofball. In 2015, I received my degree in creative writing from the University of North Texas. I’ve been with my boyfriend for over three years. I have a stuffed animal collection that any seven year old would envy. I love food probably more than anyone else you know. I tend to talk a lot, but I promise I listen just as much. I started binge watching television shows before it became the cool thing to do. I continuously refuse to be ordinary when I know I have the potential to be extraordinary.
All in all, that’s pretty much me in a (somewhat biased) nutshell. Most likely just like you, there is a lot going on in my life that very few people know about. So to be writing this, to be telling my story, is difficult for me. As open as I am, there are still parts of my life that I’ve kept quiet. One of the things that I’ve kept on the down low is my battle with myofascial pain syndrome (with specific trigger points). It’s essentially just big words for having extremely tight muscles in my neck, shoulders, and back.
Let me start at the beginning. I started wearing a bra at eight years old. I was only in the third grade. And when I say bra, I don’t mean a training bra with elastic that does almost nothing. What I mean is that I started wearing a real bra with underwire and support when I was eight years old. It wasn’t a decision I made for myself. The societal expectation is that if you have any showing of breasts, you have to keep yourself strapped down. So, my parents made me wear one. My breasts didn’t stop growing. By the time I graduated from college, I was a 32 G. That may not seem that large. I mean, it’s large, but it’s not out of this world. But to put it in perspective, I was five feet tall, weighed 110 pounds, and was a 32 G. My breasts literally took up my entire torso. You can tell when you look at this picture of me at my boyfriend’s college graduation:
It was actually extremely difficult to find a picture like this. I hated my breasts for so many reason that I think I hid my chest when taking pictures. Rarely did I take a picture like this. The only reason why I did this one is because of how important of a day it was.
Before I get into the physical repercussions of large breasts, I need to get into the emotional aspects. When your chest takes up that much of your body, everyone seems to think it’s okay to talk about it. Growing up, I was reprimanded by teachers for wearing the same type of shirt that my all of my friends wore because I was the one who showed cleavage. When I was in middle school, one of my teachers pointed out that my cleavage was showing in front of an entire class of thirty kids. In high school, boys thought it was okay to throw things down my shirt, trying to see if it could land perfectly in my cleavage, even when I was just wearing a t-shirt. I had multiple people in college, including former roommates, talk about my breasts during the very first conversation we had together. My breasts made me feel large and uncomfortable in my own skin. I’ve always been more than the skin that I wear, but during those times… it was difficult to realize it.
I don’t think I ever wore a proper sized bra for my breasts. I would go to specialty brand name bra stores and be told they only go up to a D. Somehow, I would still get convinced to buy and wear a D cup. Wearing bras can do significant damage to your muscles. Wearing bras that are too small can do even more damage than that.
My trap muscles started to hurt, not just while wearing a bra, but all of the time. After a few years, I began to feel this burning sensation from the very top of my neck, to the very bottom of my back. A few years after that, I began to feel the tension. It was everywhere. My muscles refused to release and relax. (Imagine having the worst type of knots in your neck, knots in both shoulders, and knots all throughout your back for ten years straight.) I have scoliosis still to this day because once you have it, you can’t really go back. It was bad enough to hurt, but okay enough for doctors to think they didn’t need to do anything about it. My posture became the worst because I was always leaning forward. I went to physical therapy multiple times and nothing changed. My parents were advised by my pediatrician that chiropractors were bad, as well as muscle relaxers, as well as… pretty much anything that would actually have helped me. I started getting headaches, some that were so painful I couldn’t even sit up. It took over my life.
The worst part about it all is that no one took it seriously. My family didn’t seem to understand that I was in true chronic pain. I remember always being criticized for costing them money in “unnecessary” medical bills. I remember my dad always rolling his eyes at me when I tried to tell him I wanted a breast reduction to ease the pain. I remember being told that if I just stopped drinking caffeine or started working out more or just simply stopped slouching, all my problems would be solved. I remember my brothers always being treated like the worst was going on anytime they had a slight stomach ache and then being ignored anytime I couldn’t even stand because my back hurt so badly. It became the most frustrating aspect of my entire childhood.
Fast forward to college where I was actually able to make decisions for myself. I saw a new doctor on my own terms, but even then… it wasn’t great. I did get confirmation from multiple doctors though that I should pursue a breast reduction. The only thing is that a breast reduction usually costs more than ten-grand. My insurance company was supposed to cover all “medically necessary” surgeries. Even though I had the right criteria, I was denied. I actually received a letter from them stating that there was no evidence in pain with large breasts. They continued on to say that they do not cover plastic surgeries ever, unless there was medical evidence that could deem it necessary (which, I did have). Then they finished it off by essentially telling me that my pain was not that bad. So not only was I being denied recognition by those not in the medical field, but I was also being denied recognition of my pain by insurance companies.
The next year, I applied again with my new insurance company. They also denied me even though they also covered medically necessary surgeries.
I graduated the next year and was ready to leave Texas. I had applied with my new (and third) insurance company for the breast reduction surgery. My boyfriend received a job at (ironically) an insurance company in North Carolina as an actuary. After being in a long distance relationship for so long, we were ready to be together so I made the leap with him. Within a week of moving, I was approved in full for my breast reduction! Literally, I didn’t have to pay a single penny for it. Even better, I had moved to Durham, ten minutes away from Duke University. Not only was I going to finally get the relief I was looking for, but I was going to get it from a doctor affiliated with one of the best hospitals in the entire country.
I had the surgery as soon as possible. My doctor was great and even though the process was certainly an experience to remember, it was absolutely life changing. (I will go into more detail about the pros, cons, and tips of a breast reduction in a follow up article.)
Refer to the picture with my boyfriend above for the before and check out this picture for the after:
I would like to say that all of my problems went away. I would like to say I was magically cured of pain. But I’ll be honest with you: It wasn’t like that. I didn’t wake up after the surgery with a smile on my face and ready to take on the world. I woke up afterwards obviously in pain. After getting off the pain medicine after two weeks, I started feeling the tension in my shoulders again. I had high hopes that my life was finally going to be normal, but slowly, it all started coming back again. I was heartbroken.
My doctors became like my therapists. It was different having Duke on my side. I started seeing a non-operative spine specialist, a chiropractor, and a physical therapist. Each one was different from the doctors and specialists I had seen in Texas. My spine specialist helps by injecting minimal muscle relaxers into my bad spots every few months. My chiropractor actually spends time focusing on the joints and how my joints effect my muscles. My physical therapist spends a whole hour doing trigger point massages with me instead of the typical physical therapists who just teach you exercises on the first day and then do nothing afterwards. Even my plastic surgeon still has me check in every once in a while. I’ve never had such great medical attention.
It’s been a year since my surgery. It’s been a year of working hard on behalf of my health. And even though I was so worried at first that the breast reduction didn’t help, it absolutely did. It’s difficult to understand pain levels because pain is pain. What I felt after my surgery wasn’t the same pain as I had felt before it. It was just pain after being medicated with extremely strong pain killers. It was difficult at first to understand that and compare that pain to my pain beforehand.
I will tell you this: I feel a difference. Truly, I do. When I do my exercises, which are the same ones I had before the surgery, it actually makes a difference. When I was growing up, I was a competitive dancer. I had to stop because of the pain; I couldn’t even walk for a long amount of time, let alone dance. Not only did I run a half marathon after my breast reduction, but I did it in just a little over half a year after having it done. I am happier, healthier, and am finally realizing who I am beyond just my health issues.
My breast reduction was the start to bettering my health, not the answer to it. There’s a learning curve with what I’m dealing with. I’ve come to realize that this will be something I have to manage for the rest of my life. But knowing now that I can actually manage my pain and don’t have to just tolerate it anymore, is absolutely amazing!
Just as well, beyond the health aspect, I have the bonus of feeling more comfortable in my own skin. My 34 C sized chest fits me much better. I learned that it doesn’t matter what people think of me or what they say, but that doesn’t mean I became automatically okay with the size of my chest. I always felt was as though I was stuck wearing something that wasn’t the right fit on me. But now, it feels like the perfect fit.
My journey to a healthier, happier version of myself has been a rollercoaster to say the very least. It was one filled with unexpected turns, some low lows, and some very high highs.
There are some men out there, and even some women, who think that a breast reduction is the worst thing you can do… as though the size of your breasts defines who you are… as though getting rid of oversized sacks of fat will change everything about you… as though you are nothing more than your sexuality. I know that there’s the stigma out there. I still even get wrongly judged by some of my family members for it. I still am told by some that my problems were never real and not worth changing my appearance for it. I rarely wear bras anymore to avoid doing the damage to my traps all over again and I know sometimes it’s noticeable depending on what I’m wearing. I’ve gotten some nasty looks about it. It’s all contradictory. I can never win with everybody and I shouldn’t have to. Those who judge so harshly without truly understanding are not people I want to be associated with anyway.
I’m a rock-star for having gone through everything that I’ve gone through. I am stronger for it. My suit of armor is my strength and no one can tear me down for my health decisions any longer. I won’t allow it. I am so thankful for the doctors who have changed my life for the better. I am so thankful to have the best, most supportive person I’ve ever met as the love of my life. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to help other women going through what I have gone through.
I am thankful. I am courageous. I am a fighter. And I am so happy to finally be the real me.