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I Had a Breast Reduction During the Pandemic and it Changed My Life

I knew that I wanted to have a breast reduction the moment I found out what it was. I was 14 and the 17-year-old Modern Family actress Ariel Winter had just gone viral for revealing she had a breast reduction. I remember reading an article where she talked about the pain and discomfort she felt before her surgery and it was as if she was reading my mind. Comments I saw on the article were controversial, with many people objectifying her or wondering why she would do such a thing at a young age, but I thought she was so brave. I knew I was going to do the same thing one day. 

I started to identify myself as the girl with big boobs after my 10th birthday. My friends would always point it out and compare how “developed” I was and how flat they were. I remember my mom taking me bra shopping when I was in the third grade. Having to start wearing bras when none of my friends did just made me feel embarrassed. 

But it didn’t really bother me until I got to high school. Seemingly overnight, I grew to a D cup by ninth grade. I would pray to the universe that they would stop growing, but they never did. By the time I was 16, I was a 34G. At that point, I could not find bras that fit in regular stores and ended up spending hundreds of dollars on bras from specialty shops. Not only did my clothes stop fitting, but exercising became unbearable. I developed scoliosis in my back and the negative attention I received made me want to hide every day. I got stared at, cat-called, and everything I wore that was tight-fitting immediately became inappropriate. 

One memory that sticks out to me the most is from my Grade 12 prom. I felt pretty and confident in my champagne pink, low-cut dress. I was chatting with my friends when a guy, I barely knew, came right up to me, pointed at my breasts, touched them and said, “wow, your boobs are HUGE!” That night, I slept at a friend’s house and cried the whole night because of how much I hated the way I looked. I got rid of that dress a few months later because I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. I still can’t look at pictures of myself from prom without thinking about what that guy did and how much shame I felt. I had waited years to have a breast reduction and this moment is what provoked me to finally pull the trigger.

I ended up getting a referral to a plastic surgeon through another doctor after having another unrelated breast surgery in July of 2020. I had done plenty of research beforehand to make sure it was something I wanted to do, but before my consultation, I was still very nervous. In Nov. 2020, I met my plastic surgeon for the first time. 

At this point, Ontario was in its second wave of COVID-19 and I had to go to the appointment alone. I phoned my mom from inside the office so she could hear the entire consultation. My doctor spent over an hour with me taking measurements and discussing the reasons why I wanted to have a reduction and the potential risks. We both decided I would be a good candidate for a breast reduction and my surgery was scheduled for May 4. 

The process from scheduling the surgery to the actual surgery date was more challenging than I expected. I had to wait months for my OHIP coverage form to be processed so I could have my surgery partially covered by insurance and done in a hospital. About a week before the surgery, I was told it had to be rescheduled because of the third wave of COVID, wherein all non-essential surgeries were cancelled and there was an influx of COVID patients in the OR. In the end, my surgery was rebooked for the end of July. Even then, I did not know if it was happening for sure until my surgeon called me a few days before the scheduled date and confirmed the appointment. 

Most people who knew about my breast reduction were very supportive, including my parents. However, some people were against it. A few friends made comments about how I already looked good the way I was and one guy I was going out with, at the time, told me not to do it. Some people even said that my breasts “weren’t even that big.” But I had been waiting for years, and with the support of other people in my life, I knew it was the right decision. I wasn’t ashamed of it. On July 27, 2021, at the age of 20, I finally had my breast reduction. 

The entire recovery process took about two months and the first week was the hardest. My parents told me to prepare myself for a lot of pain, but overall, I found the experience to be merely uncomfortable. The surgery was four hours long. When I woke up, I was wearing a surgical chest binder and had two drains that I had to keep in for the first week. The pain was bearable, but not being able to move or lift my arms at all was uncomfortable. I could not exercise, bend down, or lift my arms above my head for about eight weeks which was difficult when you have two dogs running around your house. I had to wear a bra 24 hours a day during the entire recovery time and was stuck sleeping on my back. There was one setback where one of my incisions opened up, but luckily, with care, rest and extra stitches, the area healed without me having to go through another surgery. 

The first time I saw myself without any bandages was about one week after the surgery. I had the binder taken off and when I went home, my mom and I looked at the incisions for the first time. I was expecting to look like Frankenstein’s monster, but when I saw myself, I immediately cried. I was just so happy. I kept telling my parents, “I feel so light now!” 

One of my friends told me that when I sent her a photo of myself for the first time without the binder on, she began to cry because having the surgery was something I had talked about doing for years. She was so happy for me. 

That’s not to say the journey was particularly easy. For the first few weeks after surgery, it was difficult for me to recognize myself in the mirror because I had hated the way I looked for so long and constantly identified myself solely as “the girl with big boobs.” After the initial surprise wore off, I even wondered whether having the surgery was a mistake because I was so unused to my new body. When I began healing, not having to worry about what I was wearing or whether clothes would fit me was disconcerting. After about a month, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t constantly obsessing about what I looked like or whether my back was hurting, which felt like a wave of relief. 

It’s now been almost four months since my breast reduction and it has been the best four months. I can wear the clothes I want, and every time I look in the mirror, I see what I believe I was always meant to look like. As soon as I tell people I had a breast reduction, I often hear stories about how their mom, friend, or sister’s friend’s roommate had a breast reduction, so I know I’m not alone in this experience. Working out has become so much easier and I no longer worry about how I look or whether I will get inappropriate comments when I go out. Going through this process was an emotional journey for me and experiencing it during COVID-19 added an extra layer of stress. But knowing the weight that has been lifted off my shoulders (literally), I would not change it for the world. 

Julia is a storyteller and bookworm based in Toronto, Canada and is currently pursuing a degree in journalism. Julia believes storytelling has the power to create change and is particularly interested in stories about feminism, mental wellness, and literature. When she's not hanging out with her two dogs, she can be found with her nose in a book.
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