This piece was first commissioned and published on The Pool. Now that The Pool is very sadly no more, and the entire site and its archive offline, I am occasionally running the stories I wrote for them as a contributing editor here on LibertyLondonGirl.
If you’d like to read my exhaustive guide to breast reduction surgery, from choosing a surgeon to post-op care, which I wrote as a result of not being able to find much useful information online, then click here.
And now, here’s my story:
Puppies. Baps. Melons. Funbags. Boobs. Knockers. Bristols. Rack. Hooters. Jugs. Bazongas.
You name it, I heard it where my breasts were concerned. There’s something about an extremely large bosom that makes people think they have ownership in your chest. They stare, they comment, sometimes they even go in for a nestle, or a quick feel.
And you know what? They can all do one.
Or at least that’s how I felt until April last year when I had a breast reduction and lift.
Coming round from surgery in London with two post-surgical drains dangling from my chest and my arms strapped to my side wasn’t the most enjoyable experience, but all I could think was thank f*ck for that.
Just over 1.5kg of excess breast fat, glandular tissue and skin was removed from my chest, taking me from a 32HH to a 32D, in an operation that lasted just over four hours, leaving an anchor shaped scar on both breasts, and sending me to bed for three weeks post-op.
I had been talking about having a breast reduction for years. But I was scared about the procedure – a general anaesthetic is a serious thing and someone I knew died of a blood clot after cosmetic surgery, was worried about the cost – I didn’t feel I could call on the NHS for a condition that wasn’t life-threatening and, with a disabled sister, I still had a nagging feeling that cosmetic surgery was an unjustifiable indulgence.
It’s taken me nearly a year since the operation to sit down to write this piece: I was worried about being judged, and I needed to come to terms with what I had done. Mostly, I needed to know, definitively, that I had made the right decision.
When I was fourteen I was bullied relentlessly by a girl at school. When she wasn’t shutting my arms in doors, or hiding my possessions, her favourite shouted epithet and ultimate putdown was to call me flat-chested.
I was a very late developer. I remember being stuck forever at that stage where my emerging breasts meant I needed to wear a vest under my school shirt, but there wasn’t enough to fill a 28AA training bra.
Then, one day as I was being teased yet again for being flat-chested, I realised that my development had finally overtaken that of my persecutor and I was now bigger than her. Ha. Sweet revenge.
Sadly that’s about the last time that I revelled in my mammary development because the damn things just kept on growing. And growing. By the time I was twenty-four I was an out-of-proportion size 12 and a 32E, and by my mid-thirties I was a 32GG.
I wanted to revel in my outsize boobery – after all, popular culture likes to posit that big bouncy breasts are the sine qua non of female body parts, but most of the time these felt less like funbags, and more like millstones around my neck.
Exercise was an unmitigated horror – being strapped into a sports bra AND a compression vest didn’t stop the movement – and the pain. Tennis, pool, basketball, hockey, rounders – anything that required me to move my arms was out as my breasts were always flopping about in the way. And don’t even get me started on horse riding and mastering the rising trot. Massages to try to iron out the constant aches in in my neck and shoulders required special pillows as I couldn’t lie flat to the table. My posture was shot – I had more in common with Quasimodo than Esmerelda.
And then there was the clothes problem. I used to love playing with my visual identity and experimenting with fashion. But, once I left university and hit an E cup, I had to buy for my shape and not my taste.
I did not, by any stretch of the imagination wear the clothes I would have chosen if I didn’t have to squash 2kg of breast into my tops. And, yes, this mattered to me: I’ve always worked in and around the fashion industry and I wanted, badly, to be able to express my personality through my clothes, instead of wearing size 16-18 shapeless sack dresses on my size 12-14 frame.
I couldn’t wear, in no particular order: shirts, tight T shirts, any light coloured tops, polo, crew or halter necks, batwing or Dolman sleeves, strapless numbers, bikinis, pretty lingerie, vest tops, waistcoats, suit jackets, trench coats, anything sleeveless, braces, shoestring straps, busy prints, corsets, fitted or high waists, anything tucked in, striped, elasticated, cropped, sequined, embellished or with writing on it, dungarees, pinafores, bias cut, wrap, maxi, or slip dresses, or 99% of most designer collections. And this wasn’t just because I didn’t want to show off my balloon-like breasts, I literally couldn’t get into most of the above.
It didn’t help that my out of proportion breasts practically started under my collarbone. This meant I always looked like an Oktoberfest barmaid, brimming with good cheer, in the most demure of outfits. I have nothing against a bit of cleavage but babies and small dogs could have got lost in mine, and I prefer men (and women) to talk to my face not my chest – You try being taken seriously in a work environment or on television if your chest area appears to be hosting two puppies wriggling in a sack.
When I reached a 32HH my breasts became more than just a bore to dress, and a magnetic sideshow for the male gaze. I would wake up in the night to hoick handfuls of sweaty boob out from under my armpits, and from the side I looked as if I would topple over in a heavy breeze.
My BMI was now in the overweight band, and on the fast track to obese, as exercising made me so physically uncomfortable. In hot climates sweat would pool under my breasts and I’d end up with painful heat rash, and sometimes I would find blood on my clothes after a long day where my bra had chafed against my skin. I developed permanent red welts under my armpits from underwires, and dips in my shoulders from extra-wide load-bearing bra straps.
I was equally fed up with experiences being limited by my bosom. I was refusing jobs, and invitations to travel, if they involved wearing anything even moderately revealing or, hideous thought, swimwear, avoiding film work, and finding it impossible to source suitable clothing for the events I have to attend as part of my job.
So I made an appointment to see a Harley Street surgeon in the summer of 2014 who, it turned out, had already operated on two of my colleagues. I had to wait another year to save the money for the operation – it was almost twice what I had budgeted for, but I wanted to be sure I was in safe hands, and I certainly wasn’t going to do it as a freebie press story. (I wanted full accountability if anything went wrong.)
I went under the knife on 30 April and spent just twenty-four hours in hospital, before heading home to bed. The recovery isn’t particularly painful per se, but the post-general grogginess, and the inability to move your arms (and the acute pain if you do) for several weeks means you are effectively confined to bed, propped up by pillows, whilst the scars close and heal.
About two weeks after my procedure I gingerly stepped into the beautiful waisted, full-skirted party dress (above) which had languished unworn at the back of my closet for years. I couldn’t raise my arms to pull up the zip, but even so I could see my body shape properly for the first time in years: The small ribcage that had lurked unseen behind my breasts since puberty, the neat waist that had always been overshadowed. That pretty dress that made me feel like a new woman. Reader, I burst into tears.
A year on, although I am still paying off the credit card bill, there hasn’t been a moment of regret. (I can absolutely understand why breast reduction is considered to have one of the highest levels of post-op satisfaction.) The most unexpected gain has been in time and money: it hadn’t occurred to me just how many miserable hours I spent trying to work out what the hell I could possibly wear for this event and that job, and how much money I was throwing at (usually unsuccessful) options.
Aside from from the pleasure I now take in exercise and in buying bras that don’t look like parachute harnesses, my self-esteem has risen dramatically – I hadn’t realised just how much the restrictions my heavy breasts placed on my life affected my mental well-being.
And, sometimes, I think that my greatest pleasure post-op comes when I forget to put on a bra when I leave the house.