The unspooled roll of hospital paper dulls the coldness on my back as I lie on the bed, waiting for expert hands to weigh up the scale of my disproportionately large boobs. My breasts are heavy, pulling my flesh on my shoulders. I have adopted a permanent stoop, curving my spine to hide my breasts. I can’t help it.
The doctor approaches and vindicates years of my thoughts. The breasts are too big for me, they weigh me down, I don’t need them. I have never needed them but in years gone by, when I mentioned the pain — physical and mental — that my own skin brought me, I was often met with stock phrases: "People would pay to have those boobs!" Or a request to "send them my way!" after I’d had my use of them, like a thrifted shirt passed onto a new owner.
It all came to a head last summer when my long-term partner and I got married. In the run-up to our wedding, I had to have a special undergarment made — by somebody with experience in aeronautical engineering — to hold up my breasts. The bodysuit this woman crafted to hold my tits up was beyond what I imagined possible for me. It was backless and gravity-defying, a true work of art, completely brutalist in nature. Despite all this, I was exhausted by the effort of it all, not least in the time spent away from my wedding day to peel off the contraption to go to the toilet, an effort that was tiresome, uncomfortable, and, most importantly, the last thing I wanted to be doing. Looking in the mirror while pulling on my dress, I decided that enough was enough. I booked my first breast reduction consultation.
In the run-up to the surgery, I trawled TikTok for first-person accounts of breast reduction. What had prompted the decision? What was the recovery process like? Women I didn’t know from all over the world offered up their experiences. Social media, a breeding ground for body shaming and negativity, became a sanctuary. One woman advised creating a photo album on your phone of 'perfect boobs' to show the surgeon, as 'small' is subjective. I began to look at social media in a very different way. The toxicity it can breed is obvious but I found it liberating.
I prepared for the surgery as if going into battle: new button-up pajamas, compression bras, a supportive foam wedge to sleep on at night. I documented the surgery day and the recovery process on Instagram, at first only on Close Friends, scared of the reaction. I need not have feared: friends from all over the world messaged to say they had considered this procedure and some even got in touch to say they’d undergone the operation, quietly and in private. The resounding commonality was a desire to live in a body that is pain-free. Sarah, 54, told me: "The tension and pain in my upper body evaporated after the surgery." One further thing was clear: cases of getting this life-changing operation done in the UK, where I live, and through the National Health Service (NHS) are rarer than hen’s teeth.
This sentiment was echoed by medical professionals. I spoke to Omar Tillo, MD, MS, a plastic surgeon at the Creo Clinic, who has worked across the NHS and private healthcare. He told me that the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) annual statistics showed a 19% increase in the number of breast reduction surgeries performed worldwide between 2020 and 2021. This was in conjunction with a decrease in the number of breast reductions offered through national healthcare services. Dr. Tillo said: "This is a non-ideal situation where those who can’t afford the surgery are left with no option but to suffer." To me, a breast reduction was a life-improving surgery. It should not be a luxury; it's a necessity in order to live a pain-free life in a body that feels like yours, like home.
The night before the operation, I felt sadness. Me and my tits had been through everything together. When people (usually men) brought unwanted attention to them, I referred to them as the Mitchell Brothers, a surefire way to dissolve any desire. I remember when my boobs arrived, as if overnight, lumpen and heavy. My school shirts could not withstand the pressure. The first time a button popped, it bounced across the classroom, the bead singing as it landed on the floor under the teacher’s desk. From then on, I layered jumpers over my tops for fear of bursting a button. I’ve been dressing with subterfuge in mind ever since: baggy tops and scarves as weapons of deception. Post-operation, I wanted to burn each of these items, welcoming a new body that I could live in as I wanted.
Robed up and ready, I walked myself to the operating room. My rubber-soled socks squeaked as I scooted up onto the bed. I gripped a comb to distract myself from the prick of the needle as the cannula found a vein in my arm. I woke up in the recovery room what felt like seconds later, a weight off my shoulders. It wasn’t until I’d returned to my room that I took stock of my new breasts. The scars are two deep aubergine anchors forming the new me. New nipples molded from the old. Kilos of tissue peeled away. A fleshy tapestry: beautiful and perfect.
Once home, the recovery began. Leaky wounds blushed through my T-shirt as I queued for coffee. A smear of blood on a naively chosen white top. Infections loomed, peeling open my skin, opening a window into the muscle underneath. Daily I would privately document the progress my body made. Check-ups came and went while medication wrestled my rebelling body into submission.
It takes time but the healing completes, swelling disappears, and scars settle. The final result is that my breasts have decreased from a UK F cup (a DDDD/G cup in the US) to a B. I've not regretted my surgery for one second. I regret not trusting my instincts years ago. My pain wasn't right, and not something I should have ever had to accept.