How do you really feel about your breasts?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in addition to ramping up awareness of the disease that makes up almost 30 percent of cancers among women in the Philippines, this time of the year also prompts us to take a long, hard look at our pairs—not through the lens of their supposed value as sexual objects, but as things that are, simply, part of our lives.
Carla*, a 26-year-old Pinay, was often told that she was “blessed” to have her DD breasts—but “blessed” is far from what she felt. All her life, she had to put up with the constant pain and daily inconveniences brought by her disproportionately large pair—not to mention the sticky stares she had been getting since she was a kid. Here, she gets candid about why she finally got breast reduction surgery last year, how the procedure and recovery went, and why it is one of the best things she has ever done for herself.
Tell us how you felt about your breasts prior to your breast reduction surgery.
I was always “the small girl with the big boobs”—that’s how people knew me. I couldn’t really blame them—a 4”11 girl with DD breasts is hard not to notice. People called me “blessed” and “gifted,” and would often ask me to “give them some.”
I felt like I never looked good in anything I wore, and that I couldn’t really move enough. I hated my body for a long time.
It was hard to make others understand the pain of having to carry extra pounds on my chest every day and the difficulty of doing basic things such as taking a shower (I’d have to lift my brests to wash my torso) or sleeping on my side. I was always a sports fan, but never played any because wearing a sports bra, running, and sweating all at the same time physically hurt me. I liked to swim, but eventually stopped because of the way strangers would stare at me in a bathing suit. The thing that was hardest to deal with was the way people would look at me, especially older men. I remember being about 10 years old and wearing large shirts because I felt uncomfortable when I was out in public.
I felt like I never looked good in anything I wore, and that I couldn’t really move enough. I hated my body for a long time.
When and why did you decide to get the procedure?
My dad was the one who broached the idea when I was in high school. He assured me that he and my mom were going to cover the costs, but at that time, the idea seemed absurd to me. I was afraid of any kind of medical procedure, and it was too much to ask for from my parents. Additionally, losing the ability to breastfeed and the sensation in my breasts seemed like too big of a sacrifice for me then.
It wasn’t until I started working when I actually considered it. I was doing project-based work that required frequent local travels and at least 12 working hours on some days. The back pains were getting worse, and wearing a wired bra for more than half a day was a struggle. Some nights when I’d get home and remove my bra, I’d feel gravity’s literal pull, as if my breasts were going to fall off. The little inconveniences started to pile up, too. I was hitting everything—and as a short girl, everything is chest level. I couldn’t buy clothes I actually liked and I could barely get a decent swimsuit. It cost me a fortune to buy bras because only certain stores sell DD or E cups.
Last year, on one of my usual days of complaining to my best friend, she commented that it’s only going to get harder when I get older, so better to get a surgery done while I’m young. When I got home, I searched for before-and-after photos of women who underwent surgery and I remember thinking, “Holy crap, those look like my boobs.” That night, I told my parents that if their offer still stood, I wanted to have the surgery.
How did the other people in your life react when you told them you were getting a breast reduction?
My friends were pretty excited, even if we were all going to miss the boob jokes. My boyfriend was very supportive, although people seemed to worry about him as much as they did me. “How does he feel?” was a staple question, and I always just shrugged; honestly, I didn’t really ask because it shouldn’t really matter. One day, I just told him I was doing it and he just asked if I was sure and then said, “Okay, that’s good.” Months later, I asked him how he felt about it. “It’s your body, you can do whatever you want with it” was what he said. I didn’t think I could love him more at that moment.
My boyfriend was very supportive, although people seemed to worry about him as much as they did me. “How does he feel?” was a staple question, and I always just shrugged; honestly, I didn’t really ask because it shouldn’t really matter.
Tell us how you prepared for the procedure.
I read blogs and watched video blogs, all of which were about experiences of foreign women. I looked at before-and-after photos. I researched as much as I could to affirm to myself that I was making the right decision. When I was more convinced, I watched YouTube videos on how surgeries go because I wanted to know what would happen to my body. Somehow that comforted me more than it scared me—there was some sense of control in knowing what was going to happen.
We have a family friend who’s a plastic surgeon and would do the job at a discount. When we first met him for a consultation, he assessed and measured my breasts. He informed me that I probably would not be able to breastfeed, as nerves and mammary glands are cut off in the process, and that I might not get my sensation back, not 100 percent at least, and even that could take years. But by then, my mind was pretty much made up.
How did you feel leading up to the procedure?
On one hand, I was scared because it is a major procedure, after all. On the other, I was quite nervous—what if they don’t look nice? There were other sources of fear and anxiety too, especially in relation to my employment. I timed the procedure such that I was unemployed at that time because of the mandatory six weeks of complete rest, but I needed to have a plan, and decided on job-hunting during my recovery period.
Such fears easily dissipated once I thought of the new life I was going to have post-op. It really felt as if everything was going to change for me. I would still be the same person, but I was sure my lifestyle and general approach to things would change.
How much did the entire procedure cost?
I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to worry about the costs because my parents had committed to sponsoring the surgery, and because we were given discounted prices. The operation itself originally cost P300,000 and the anesthesiologist’s fee was P100,000. My hospital bill reached about P150,000 during my four-day stay. There was an additional P10,000 for another doctor who assisted. There were expenses before and after, such as for lab tests and post-care. Because the doctor was our friend, he waived all post-operation consultation fees, but I assume that would’ve been several more thousands, depending on the results and any complications. It would’ve cost my parents over P600,000, but they spent less than that.
How did the actual procedure go?
I checked in at the hospital on a Sunday for my 7 a.m. operation the next day. That night, my doctor visited to do the final markings on my chest. I didn’t realize before then just how accurate one had to be in performing the operation—it wasn’t like breast augmentation where you just insert implants, I was told. Because fats, tissues, and skin were going to be removed, everything had to be precise to ensure that both breasts were roughly the same size.
We settled on a B cup because it was the usual size to go down to, and to ensure that in case I did gain weight, the breasts wouldn’t balloon again and thus render the operation a waste. The anesthesiologist also checked in on me, explained his role and what was going to happen, and had a painkiller patch plastered on my back.
The next morning, I woke up to nurses prepping me for surgery. They let me put on compression stockings to help with blood circulation. I remember feeling extremely excited at that moment—I had a picture taken as I was transferring beds, and I had a huge smile on my face, to which my mom commented that I didn’t look like I was about to undergo a major operation. Then I was wheeled in the operating room, sedated, and soon knocked out.
I finally saw my new breasts—not so glorious, as the wounds were still fresh, but smaller. Even then, they already looked wonderful to me.
I had this whole idea in my head that when I woke up, it was going to be this grand moment of lifting the gown and seeing my new breasts and crying out of joy. In reality, it was pretty anti-climactic. I woke up in the recovery room, groggy from the meds and with an extremely dry throat. The pain in my throat was due to the tube they inserted to reach my lungs in order to aid in my breathing. I called out for water, but was told I couldn’t take in anything for the next several hours. I tried to move, but couldn’t. All I wanted to do was see my new breasts, but that had to wait. I was told the surgery lasted for eight hours, and I was two kilos lighter.
When the great reveal came, it was still pretty anti-climactic—they lifted my gown and all I could see were bandages and a tube that drained all the blood. It wouldn’t be until the next day when the doctors came to check on them that I finally saw my new breasts—not so glorious, as the wounds were still fresh, but smaller. Even then, they already looked wonderful to me.
I stayed in the hospital for a few days. I was told there could be complications, such as continuous bleeding or lack of blood supply in the nipples because nerves are cut off in the process of detaching the nipple from the breast. Mine was the latter. The tissues in my right nipple were dead—it was black for a few weeks. My doctor immediately brought in MEBO burn ointment, which he said would help regenerate the tissues. They had to monitor my blood drainage, which was fine, and assess if the right nipple would improve with the ointment, which it did. By Thursday afternoon, I was back home.
Take us through your recovery.
I was advised to allot six weeks for recovery. I’m not a physically active person in the first place, but having to stay still, lie in bed for weeks, and be completely helpless was difficult. I needed help to do everything: get on and off the bed, put on my underwear and all my clothes, wash my body, and pick up and carry things. Because the wounds were still fresh, they couldn’t get wet, so my mom had to use a wet face towel and wipe my body every day. I was able to take a full shower a month after surgery once the wounds had closed and I could lift my arms. The important thing was not to put any kind of pressure on my chest, which was why I couldn’t push or pull doors, carry things, and sleep on my side.
Two weeks after surgery, I had to remove the painkiller patch, which was when I truly felt the pain. It took a few days of taking oral painkillers before I got to manage again.
I had to see my doctor twice a week for three weeks so he could clean the wounds and assess if he could remove the other stitches. I’d go on to see him once a week a few more times before he was able to clear me to go to work and go back to my normal life, with the provisions, of course, that I couldn’t put any pressure on them and that I always had to protect them. I celebrated every little victory, such as being able to creatively lift myself off the bed, shampoo my hair, put on my underwear, and turn to my side on the bed.
About three months after the procedure, I had a new job and was allowed to do work-related travels. I was finally transitioning to this new life.
How do you feel about your breasts now?
Having the surgery was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Some days when I look at myself in the mirror and actually see my torso, I can’t believe there was a time when I couldn’t. There was so much body and so much beauty behind those breasts that I almost forgot about. And I no longer have to worry about feeling inconvenienced doing basic things which might not seem monumental to others, but are for me. There’s a sense of freedom and control that I gained after the operation. I see the scars and my slightly distorted nipples every day and I just breathe a sigh of relief that I survived the eight-hour operation, the weeks of no showering, and the months of pain, immobility, and helplessness.
What lessons have you learned from your breast reduction journey?
I was self-conscious growing up because of how disproportionate my body was. Society told me to embrace my breasts because they’re a “gift” and a “blessing”; in return I had to deal with disrespectful strangers gawking at them, and pain, of course. I tried to accept them as a way to redefine what “sexy” and “confident” meant to me, but at the end of the day, they were too big a burden to carry—literally.
What I got from the conversations I had about the surgery is that a woman wanting a breast reduction, and the procedure itself, are very uncommon, even more so for Filipinas because of our body type. It’s expensive, too. Because of these, I guess, it does not seem like an option to many.
Furthermore, women’s breasts have always been sexualized, such that looking at them in ways that don’t relate to their being part of the beauty standard is uncommon and surprising to many. There’s ignorance with regards to breasts as a source of nutrients, similar to how there’s oblivion with regards to breasts as a source of pain. The reactions in relation to how my boyfriend feels about the whole thing were telling as well.
While I completely understand the certain implications of a procedure like that in a relationship, I guess as a society, we have much to understand and accept about women’s autonomy over their bodies. As women, we have to make these decisions for ourselves, and such decisions must not be understood or accepted in the context of our relationship with men.
*Name has been changed