The Reality of Breast Reduction Surgery

I am 13 years old, and every night before bed, I kneel down at the window in my bedroom to say my prayers.

“Dear lord, please help me get an A in math class, get my braces off before 8th grade graduation, and please give me boobs so I can fit into Victoria’s Secret bras. Amen.”

Be careful what you wish for.

I didn’t get an A in math, but I got my braces off before 8th grade graduation, and my last wish took a little longer to come true, but God certainly gave me the boobs to grow into Victoria’s Secret bras… and out of them. For 8th grade graduation my mother and I went to a tailor and had him take in a size 00 dress because the top was too big and wouldn’t stay up. I wasn’t just a member of the itty bitty titty committee, I was the president. I was the chick holding itty bitty titty committee meetings in my basement. Where we ate carrots because someone told me they help boobs grow. Apparently that helped everyone else, because slowly but surely, every member of my personal chapter of the IBTC left. So there I was, all alone in my basement, at a single chair. Eating carrots like a freaking rabbit.

“Hi my name is Eli and I have the chest of a 10 year old boy.”

“Hi E–

Oh wait, that’s right, there was nobody to respond, because at age 13, I was convinced I was the only one without boobs.

Flash forward three years. The Nordstrom dressing rooms have become my personal hell. It was in the Nordstrom dressing room that a nice saleslady looked at a 16 year old me with sad eyes and said,

“Oh honey, that won’t do.” she took my current bra away as if it was something to be ashamed of and replaced it with the ugliest thing I’d ever seen in my entire 16 years. A size 32DDD Spanx bra. Disgusting. If you don’t know what a spanx bra is, A) you’re very lucky and B) to give you a visual, imagine the last possible thing you’d ever want to be caught dead wearing. That’s a Spanx bra. An over the shoulder boulder holder, a piece of machinery, also mistaken for a weapon– that’s what I’m wearing while everyone else has pretty, frilly, pink lacy bandeaus. I’d resurrect from the dead just to take that bra off myself so I didn’t have to spend the rest of eternity wearing it. I walked out of Nordstrom that day with $300 dollars worth of bras that still barely fit, and it wouldn’t be the first time in the following two years that I’d be promoted in the upstairs department.

My issues only started with the ugly contraptions someone hated himself enough to call a bra. My three favorite pastimes; theatre, running, and shopping were suddenly overtaken with the constant reminder that I would never reach my full potential because my boobs were too big. I wore two sports bras to every cross country practice and I chafed on my bra line until my skin bled. Imagine running with two five or six pound weights strapped to your chest. That was my reality.

I avoided shopping at all costs. Retail therapy wasn’t therapy. Shopping practically required therapy for me. Do they have boob therapy? Because I needed it. I left every dressing room in tears, every store frustrated and empty handed. For a girl who should have been reaching for a size small I was simply out of luck. Size small fit everywhere but in the chest region. Tight shirts made me look like I was “asking for it” and suddenly the label was “slut”. Baggy shirts looked like tents. I’m pretty sure a family of five could’ve camped out under that tent. It was a disaster. I didn’t shop online because that requires guessing that something would fit, and there was no guessing. I pretty much knew nothing would fit. Scarves were my best friend. I had tons of scarves, in the spring I wore linen scarves. People would be like “Why are you wearing a linen scarf right now are you a 40 year old woman that summers in the Hamptons?” and I’d be like “Sure let’s go with that.”

Senior year of high school my musical director cast me as the leading lady and then asked if I could get a bra that would make the girls a little “perkier”. The girls weren’t going anywhere. The girls were pretty much shit out of luck. I sat in the costume room for three hours until they had destroyed every dress they had in the costume shop to so they’d fit as a size small everywhere and then size XXXXL for my boobs. I couldn’t even do theatre, my favorite thing in the world, without a reminder that my boobs were huge and uncontrollable.

The situation hit my last nerve when I began to realize that my boobs weren’t just a body part, they were my defining feature. I was “the girl with the big boobs”. People knew me as “Eli, you know with the big boobs.” I couldn’t be the short girl, or the girl with the pretty eyes, or the one who sings. I was the one with the 5’4 tiny body and the catastrophic boobs. I don’t think I ever got to know anyone without hearing “So just curious, what bra size do you wear?” or “how do you even exercise with those”. At age 18 the answer to that became the size you don’t even want to know because I don’t think I do anymore and I don’t know any different.

 I pity my freshman college roommate who had to say “Eli seriously, you look great” every single time I got dressed to go out, because that always ended in one hour of me trying on the shirts that every other girl looked great in, crying hysterically, and putting on the same shirt I always wore, with a sweater so I could sort of cover myself in an attempt to help my confidence. I loathed my body. I stared at myself in mirrors and cringed when I saw the size of my chest. Every comment about my boobs was like a dagger through me, another reminder that I was struggling to get dressed in the morning. Every “I would pay to have boobs like yours” came with a half hearted thank you, but wishing I could say. “NEVER wish you could have boobs like these unless you too want to hate yourself.”

I hated my body and I thought there was nothing I could do about it. The fitting rooms, the spanx bras, the guy on the street yelling “nice tits” as I sprinted into my uber to go to my friend's dorm room. I thought there was no hope.

Watching me struggle through life with a major lack of ease, my mother brought up the potential of breast reduction surgery before I left for college. At first, the only thing I could really think was, ‘really, me?! Former president of the New Jersey chapter of the itty bitty titty committee? A four hour breast surgery? No way.’ but then I stepped back and looked at what I was dealing with. I couldn’t go a day without thinking about how much I hated my body, I couldn’t wear anything without choking myself, I didn’t own one bathing suit, I could barely go on my daily run without giving myself a major concussion and a nose bleed, and the comments were getting out of control. I couldn’t shut it out any longer. I couldn’t lie to myself, saying it was just my boobs and it wasn’t that big of a deal anymore. It was a big deal. It’s my life and my body, and it deserves to be loved and nurtured and respected. I deserve to be proud of my body and myself, not living with a constant reminder of why I shouldn’t be through a series of linen scarves and a developed curvature in my spine.

So I went to the plastic surgeon for the first consultation in July.

He looked at me in the eye and told me I was 100% a candidate for breast reduction surgery. On a medical necessity, meaning insurance would cover the entire thing. My left shoulder is an inch higher than my right, my spine has a major curvature, and my posture is a mess. I suddenly realized the problem I’d been riding off as “I can deal with it” level of severity, was “I can’t deal with this” level of severity.  I’d never had surgery before, never had an IV, never even been to the hospital. My pain tolerance is like cries when she stubs her toe low and my tolerance for needles is basically just… not. But he looked at me before I left and he told me, “If you go through with this, your biggest regret is going to be not doing it sooner.”

On May 4th, I put on my size 32E barely fitting Spanx bra one last time. I looked at myself in the mirror at the surgery center and I knew when I woke up in four hours, I’d have me back. I’d be Eli, the girl who sings. The girl with the green eyes. The runner. The writer. I’d be Eli, the short girl. I’d be anything but Eli, the girl with the massive boobs. They asked if I needed any medication in the I.V to calm my nerves before the anesthesiologist came in. I said no. I wasn’t nervous– I was excited. I was about to love myself in a way I couldn’t ever remember. I’d spent the past six years of my life going from hating being flat chested to despising being over occupancy in the upstairs region, and in all that time, I’d forgotten to love me. I was doing this for me, because I absolutely needed too. I was ready.

The plastic surgeon was right. My only regret was not doing it sooner. I woke up in a haze from the anesthesia and the doctors told me I could look down at my new and improved chest.

“Small.” I remarked in a haze of drugs before being wheeled out to my parents. My surgeon had taken off almost three pounds and a weight had literally been lifted off my chest. I’d gone down about five sizes.  Once I’d woken up from the drugs I didn’t put anything prescribed into my body. I was able to recover completely in two weeks with only advil and tylenol and milkshakes, of course. Obviously, there was pain, but I didn’t need one narcotic drug. Nor did I need bedrest. The night after my surgery, I put one of my old, cute tank tops over my surgery bra (which honestly I’d rather wear then the Spanx bra) and went out to dinner with my parents. I couldn’t believe I was wearing a flowy tank top and it actually looked good. The surgery was the best thing I ever decided to do, the most redeeming part of the experience, was that I didn't do it for anyone but me. I had one of my biggest challenges completely fixed (for free) and the recovery was nothing like anyone on the internet made it out to be. Through the discomfort and pain I was glowing – I felt this weird feeling of being happy and content with my body. I realized rather quickly, that this was how it felt to love myself.

 I’ve spent the last month and a half of my life experiencing things like I haven’t since I was the eighth grader asking god for boobs. I run in a single sports bra, size small, and I run fast. I have a slight shopping addiction now (maybe not the best thing), but it’s the first time I can go into a store and try on a top and actually buy it. I wear bathing suits, I wear bralettes and bandeaus, and I wear strapless things. I feel unstoppable. I feel confident and amazing and fierce. And I don’t really care what anyone has to say about the choice I made for myself. Because people certainly talk, and there are definitely some people who don’t support my choice and are spreading rumors. But that’s okay. All that matters is the happiness I feel having gone through with it, and being brave enough to want to talk about it. The journey to loving my body was not an easy one. It wasn’t something that happened over night. In fact, I’m still figuring it out. But for the first time since I can remember, I look in a mirror and I see someone I like. I see Eli. I can see beyond the boobs that nobody could see past for three years.

I’m getting used to this new lifestyle. I’m still trying on everything in my closet and everything in my mom’s (now that I can fit into it). I’m still looking down and feeling surprised that I can see my feet. I’m still decidedly never stepping foot in a Nordstrom dressing room in my life. But the best part is, I made this choice for me. I went through with the surgery not only for medical necessity, but because I wanted to love myself. And that, is the best feeling of all.