Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

The Hornet

Serving the Fullerton Community Since 1922

The Hornet

“Why I got a breast reduction at 17”

 

By Annisa Charles

One April morning of my senior year of high school, the stress of getting ready for graduation, AP tests, theater rehearsals, internships, and giant class projects was starting to take a toll on my body. I always had tight pain in my upper back and shoulders due to scoliosis. That morning my back felt tighter, so I lifted my arms up to stretch my back and POP!

A rush of pain ran down my right arm and spread up through my shoulder to my neck. I was able to put my arm down, but I was stuck looking like Quasimoto. I walked over to my parents’ room, looked my mother in the eye, and all I could say was, “I can’t go to school today.” My parents exchanged looks of confusion and asked why. Bursting into tears, I yelled, “I’m stuck!” 

That is when my parents realized something was wrong. I wasn’t blaming scoliosis for this; it was my breasts. I had an H-cup and was still growing. I blamed them for why I was in physical therapy, for being bullied, for my constant pain, and now this. 

An H-cup is a quintuple D, and those types of bras are usually very expensive since they are so much larger than a normal bra. I was forcing myself into DDD-cup bras or just wearing tight sports bras over my normal bras. Many people compared my breasts to watermelons, and with the weight on my shoulders, I would have to agree.

That morning, I was rushed to my physical therapy office, where a therapist said I most likely pulled and ruptured a muscle that was too tight and told me to wear a sling for three weeks. 

This was the final straw. I was 17 years old and most of my peers were preparing for vacations, going away to college, and enjoying their last bit of being a child in the summer after high school.

“I was preparing for only one thing: breast reduction surgery.” – Annisa Charles

I was an “early bloomer.” By the age of nine, I was already a B cup. I was only in training bras for a month, more so to humor me with Hannah Montana designs. Others noticed my growth and poked fun. In elementary school, no one knew they were boobs, and saw them as fat.

In junior high, I grew to a D cup. I accepted the continued harassment because I convinced myself that if I laughed as well, maybe it wouldn’t get to my mental state as bad. They told me I would have saggy grandma breasts by the age of 25. When running for PE, people would ask if I got hit in the face by my own boobs and if I would get a black eye. In the pool, kids said I couldn’t swim because they were anchors. In the locker room, girls snickered at my bland beige bras while they all wore shimmery pink and beautiful floral ones. While most of my friends wore a size medium in shirts, I was an XL because nothing would fit over my breasts. 

In high school, I was mistaken for a senior multiple times. I took this as a compliment until I realized it always came from just my male peers and older men. 

Kids at school gave me nicknames, like ‘Melons’ or ‘Big Tit Niss’ and my own friends couldn’t help but join in on the jokes. I never knew how to respond to these comments, so I just kept laughing along.

Freshman year was also when I started having unusual upper back pain. As the months went by and I went up in cup size to a DD, my pain grew worse. It got to the point where standing while working for five minutes would send a pain down the right side of my back. By the end of sophomore year I was in physical therapy.

One year into physical therapy a male therapist in the office asked how I was doing. I told him my back hurt more than usual. All he did was laugh, look at my chest as I was doing my exercises, and asked, “Have you thought about getting a breast reduction? That would probably solve some of your problems since you’re so large chested.” My usual physical therapist, Lauren, heard him and led me to a different part of the office to do different exercises. 

I felt violated. Once again an older man was commenting on my large chest in an inappropriate manner. But I couldn’t get his comment out of my head. When I got in the car with my mother, I mentioned the option of surgery. She said if the doctors and therapists can all agree and convince the medical insurance that it is needed, she was open to it.

July 8th, 2017: Eight days after the surgery and the author’s first outing. Photo Credit: Annisa Charles

During my next appointment, I asked Lauren about breast reductions. She told me she knew others who had undergone the surgery and don’t regret it. 

Four months later I was in my orthopedic office for my normal check-up. At this point, I was excited. I had done some of my own research and I concluded that I wanted a breast reduction. My orthopedist was on board. She sent the referral to my insurance and now all I had to do was wait. My mother was worried our insurance would not cover it because our medical insurance was through Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and how many children’s hospitals can do breast reductions? 

We finally got a letter back, and they accepted the referral for me to go see a plastic surgeon. 

A few days before my initial consultation with the plastic surgeon was when my back popped and I was in a sling. At the appointment, he agreed this surgery needed to be done, but wouldn’t be able to do it until October. We got a referral to another surgeon who could fit me in on June 30. After that, I could expect a two-month recovery.

Everything was falling into place on the medical end, but I was still clouded by doubts or worries — mostly from my family and friends. 

Most knew this was a major surgery and warned me repeatedly about that, but others commented on how boys would react. Many friends and even some of my mother’s friends told me men like big boobs, and I should just embrace them. So I researched stories of women who got this surgery done. It was rare to see someone my age. Mostly women in their late 20s or mid-30s got the surgery, but they all had the same reasons as me: back and neck pain, body image issues and nerve pain. So why couldn’t others be happy that I was finally going to start feeling better? 

Surgery wasn’t going to be easy. The normal surgery risks are there, like bleeding, infections, and reactions to anesthetics. And for an invasive surgery like this, nerves will be cut. Most of the time the nerve endings are able to reattach and all normal feeling will come back to the breasts. But doctors warn that there is a possibility of permanently losing feeling to the nipples, resulting in not being able to breastfeed. The Mayo Clinic even suggests that women who want to have children wait to have this procedure until after they are done with breastfeeding. 

While breastfeeding seemed like a good enough reason for most people to tell me not to do it, I didn’t care. I was 17, and the idea of having children was not a concern of mine. I was in so much pain, it didn’t seem worth enduring it for years just so I could breastfeed a future child. Besides, my mother did not breastfeed my siblings or me. I could give that up.

Scarring is another downside to surgery. There will be scarring around the nipple, leading down in a line to under the breasts. I scar easily, so I knew my scars would most likely be more prominent than most. As people commented that men like big breasts, they also commented that scars would be noticeable to them. To me, no relationship was worth the pain I was in daily. For much of my life men had leered at me because of my breasts; I wasn’t going to let men’s perceptions of me—or imagined perceptions—keep me from taking care of myself.

June finally came at a snail’s pace. Being wheeled into surgery, most people would be terrified of whatever risks could happen. But I had been waiting for this day. I was ecstatic about going through those white doors. 

The author’s mother (featured on the right) was very supportive of her decision and knew how much pain she was in. Photo Credit Annisa Charles

After I woke up from the surgery and tried standing up, my mother stopped me before I could fall. I looked at her and said, “I can feel my shoulders are lighter.” 

Going over the paperwork two days later when I was coherent, I realized it said they took 2.3 pounds off of each side. Almost five pounds off my shoulders. That’s a two-liter bottle of soda, gone! When looking in the mirror every day after the surgery, I was amazed by how small I looked. 

“Going into surgery I was an H cup, and I came out a D cup. To this day, I feel like an A cup.”Annisa Charles

Do I still deal with pervy guys and unwanted attention? Yes. As I have realized over the years, remarks will be made no matter my size. While the cruel high school nicknames have disappeared, they still haunt me, as I was taught at such a young age to hate and fear my body. But I do feel much more confident in my body now that most of my back pain is gone. 

I did lose feeling underneath my breasts and in one of my nipples for about a year. While the feeling is fine in both my nipples now, I still have no feeling under my breasts. But I don’t mind it. It beats having a thrown-out shoulder. And for the scars, yes, they’re there. I tried to find ways to make them less apparent at first, but I have come to love them. They are a mark of who I am and the battle I fought.