sweater

Taboo

Taboo: “a social or religious custom prohibiting discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing.”

My version of taboo: something that seriously freaks people out, causing them to avoid it at all costs, and even going so far as to shame the people who do talk about it, hoping that the shame will silence their words. I find this true for many topics, even ones that involve a thing half of the human population has—breasts.

Reading about someone’s experience with their boobs is probably not something you’ve sought out before. It certainly wasn’t for me until about six months ago. Talking about bodies, how they work and the gritty details about them, often sends people into a strange state. Embarrassment, shock, disgust—you never know how people are feeling because the subject is often taboo, especially when it comes to female anatomy. But here I am, about to talk about this taboo thing. Turn away now if you can’t handle it.

The story begins back in fourth grade on the day I wore my first padded bra. It’s not terribly unusual for girls to start wearing them at this age, but I was the first in my class to make this upgrade. The first day I wore it to school, I felt like a freak. Paranoia overtook me and I swore everyone knew I was wearing a real bra. My skin was on fire, and this alone was an indication that something was not right with me. Before anyone could ask, I ran to the bathroom and fumbled to take off the bra. As I shamefully returned to my backpack, intent on stowing it away forever, the bra was crammed in my back pocket. It only made me blush harder.

This was the beginning of a pattern I learned to despise. Compared to the other girls in my grade, I always had one of the biggest busts. This wasn’t really a problem until high school, when I hit an age where people felt like they were entitled to make comments to me about it. I started to feel the eyes of strangers on me. This never stopped, only worsened.

A desire to hide myself grew each year of school, partially because I was self-conscious, partially because of unwanted eyes. One day in summer school, a guy sitting in the next row thought that teasing me would be a fun activity for our ten minute break. In his mind, throwing raisins at my chest with the intent of getting them down my cleavage was a fantastic idea. He considered it a basketball game, and I just happened to have the biggest hoop. I hadn’t felt that much rage in a long, long time.

By the time I got to college, I had mastered the art of restraint. I was used to getting attention about my overly large breasts, but that didn’t mean I was comfortable with it. The summer following my freshman year of college, I became a tour guide for my school’s Admissions department. I gave several tours a day, none of which had any major problems… except for one particular tour.

I was giving a tour to a boy and his parents. It started out fine, but then I noticed the boy was giving me his full attention… just not to my face. Whenever I looked at him, even if I was in the middle of talking about the difference between apartments and dorms, or something else that was important to know, he was staring at my chest. When I caught him ogling me, I thought he might be embarrassed. Nope. He kept it up the entire hour.

This may seem like a harmless joke to some people. The kid who threw raisins at me in high school would probably see it that way. Others might question what I was wearing to cause him to stare. Does that even matter? I was doing my job, trying to be professional, and he had the audacity to be inappropriate about part of my body I couldn’t control.

Incidents like these were not rare. They made me want to hide, wear a cardboard box for the rest of my life, or even cuss out people I caught staring. I legitimately felt as if I looked like a porn star, and the attention I received only supported that feeling.

Social media always posts stories about how girls can increase their bust size, which push-up bras to wear to maximize their cleavage, or how to contour their chest to look like they are big-breasted. Those articles always made me feel ridiculous. Media outlets made it seem as if all the women in the world would kill to be my size… except, if they actually were, they would beg to be smaller again. The limitations that come with big boobs are overwhelming.

Let me put this in perspective for those of you who are having trouble comprehending the magnitude of my problem. Can you imagine having a baby strapped to your chest at all times? How heavy it would be and how far it would stick out? That’s kind of what having big boobs is like. Hard to hide and a pain to conceal. Nothing is comfortable.

This last summer, I’d finally had enough of the discomfort. I was tired of being stared at, of tightly binding myself to appear as small-chested as possible, and especially of having back and neck pain from the weight of my boobs. A breast reduction had never crossed my mind to fix the problem, mainly because surgery was bound to be expensive, and I’m a poor college student! But the more I looked into it, the more attractive of an option it became.

However, when I started contemplating plastic surgery, it made me doubt that my situation was even bad at all. Surely I wasn’t really that big? Everything I had to do to accommodate my boobs was normal, right? Right?

Wrong. When I brought it up to my friends, they parroted a million different complaints I made daily about having to deal with my boobs. My family reminded me of all the hoops I had to jump through to contain myself while wearing bathing suits, normal clothes, dresses, and basically any type of clothing. They all supported me and genuinely thought that surgery was a great option. Nobody laughed or called me ridiculous.

It wasn’t until I met with a second plastic surgeon that I finally stopped doubting surgery was an extreme, silly option. The first surgeon had told me what I expected to hear, but he was arrogant to the point of being annoying, so I sought someone else. My whole body was humming on the car ride to the consult. I was still working through stages of disbelief that surgery might be in my future.

Within the first few minutes of arriving at the office, I knew it was the right fit. The way my mom and I were treated by the staff calmed the rabid butterflies in my stomach, and I knew that if I was going to go under the knife, it would be with these people.

We began the consultation by talking with the surgeon, explaining my situation and asking questions. It was a normal talk without any plot twists; however, during the examination when my plastic surgeon first saw how large my breasts were, his eyebrows shot up and he remarked, “Oh yeah, you are definitely a good candidate for this.” The words weren’t as powerful as the expression of absolute surprise on his face.

Like I said, I’m a master at restraint. People never knew just how large I was because my tricks and illusions were fantastic at concealment. The tricks often came at the cost of my physical comfort, but if they warded off attention, they were worth it.

So, using the same speed I learned the illusions of restraint with, I scheduled a surgery date. It looked like Christmas was coming early for me that year, because the date was set on December 20th. Adrenaline streaked through my body like lightning when I set the date. Euphoria, fear, mild disbelief—I felt all of these emotions in the few months leading up to my breast reduction.

Only six months after I began to seriously toy with the idea of getting a breast reduction, I went in for surgery.

It’s funny how wanting to be operated on lowered the level of instinctual, panicky fear I had at the surgery center. Before the breast reduction, I would’ve rather run a 5k or given up all sweets for a month than have a needle poked through my skin. But this time, at the thought of the nurse sliding an IV into my vein, having my skin cut and stretched, my tissues removed, my entire chest rearranged, I didn’t flinch. None of it felt like a big deal anymore (coming from a girl who had to have extra nurses come restrain her when she got a chicken pox shot).

And just like that, at nearly twenty years old, I had a breast reduction. I joke that it was a quick way to lose five pounds, but the less funny part was the recovery. Although it only took three weeks until I was back to normal, the days leading up to that were hard. Intense nausea, pain, limited range of motion. But the suffering was worth the result.

Do I have any regrets? Absolutely not. Neither do the many other women I’ve spoken to who’ve had similar surgeries. There are more of us than people may think, and the solidarity of knowing that I am not the only female who has struggled with this makes it easier for me to write these words and submit them for public scrutiny.

After surgery, I no longer get ogled at by strangers (well, as much as any female can avoid that attention). I don’t have the urge to hide myself, but rather feel quite invincible. I can wear any shirt I want and not worry about my cleavage spilling out. I can run without pain and shop for clothes without feeling like my world is coming to an end. Even the tiniest aspects of my life now hold so much potential.

Stories generally close with “The End,” but this one is more of a beginning. And no matter how taboo this subject is to society, I will never be afraid to tell the story of how a breast reduction changed my life forever.