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Kirana Wanandi / Gavel Media

Breaking Down the Plastic Surgery Stigma

In February, I got a surgical breast reduction. While most of my friends were donning self-tan in preparation for the 100-Days Dance, I was driving back to Connecticut, jittery with nerves and excitement. I had never been under anesthesia before, much less had such an invasive procedure. Two nights before I left, my dear friends surprised me with a cake (appropriately) in the shape of a cleavage. We laughed as we shared the sweet treat, but deep in my stomach, a pit formed. I had scheduled the procedure back in August, but it only began to feel real at this moment. 

Years of discomfort, pain, and insecurity led to the difficult choice of getting a reduction. I think most people can remember how awkward it was when their bodies started to morph into that of an adult in their tween and teen years. Hormones shoot through you at a rapid rate, making you doubt everything you thought you knew about your body. As a lifelong dancer, I was shocked when I looked in the mirror and my leotard and tights created an hourglass silhouette instead of one that resembled a diving board. As I got older, my chest just kept growing. In my junior year of high school, my boyfriend texted me after class one day, saying, “I wish you wouldn’t wear that shirt. Other guys are looking at you, you know.” I looked down at the black Madewell sweater my mom had bought me for Christmas, one I’d worn to church and my grandparents’ house. The neckline sat just above my collarbones. Yet, the DDD chest that sat below it sexualized it, at least in the eyes of 17-year-old boys. I know now that those were the words of an insecure, idiotic teenager, and the sweater was more than appropriate for class. At the same time, that day stains my memory as the start of a period of shame towards something I could not control. 

Simultaneously, I was beginning to feel intense pain in my neck, back, and shoulders. Prior to cross country and track meets, I doubled up on sports bras to decrease the gravitational strain on my back. In fact, I would wear a sports bra at every chance I got, even under regular clothing, because the support it provided was a relief to my muscles. I also attended physical therapy sessions, complete with electric stimulation and dry-needling therapy, all targeted at easing my pain. Nothing helped. Eventually, I came to BC, where I faced a new host of challenges. The “going-out top” quickly became my sworn enemy. The strappy, no-bra Shein look was simply not realistic for me unless I wanted to give Sunset Cantina an accidental strip show. Borrowing from friends was out of the question; if I could squeeze into someone else’s shirt, I’d immediately rip it off for fear of stretching it out. Years of living like this made the decision of a reduction feel like an easy one. 

That is, until February 9th, when I was sitting in the West Hartford Surgical Center, feeling the heavy thud of my heartbeat underneath my soon-to-be-reduced chest. Clad in a pastel green gown and blue grippy socks, I swallowed down a lump as my surgeon calmly explained the procedure to me one last time. Though I nodded along, I had no need for his explanation. Hours of research on Youtube, TikTok, and WebMD, along with conversations with a friend who had gotten the same procedure had burned into my mind the exact pattern the scalpel was about to take. I knew the list of possible risks like the back of my hand. I had done every possible thing to prepare myself for this moment. And yet, I was afraid. No, terrified. If I had sat there for fifteen more minutes, I probably could have convinced myself to back out of the surgery altogether. I followed the doctor into the O.R., where I was introduced to a team of nurses and an anesthesiologist. Many people who go under anesthesia remember being asked to count down from 100. I remember sitting down on the bed, then nothing else. Blink. I was in the recovery room. 

The following few days were a nauseated, sedentary blur. I drifted in and out of consciousness, propped up against a wrap-around pillow, as I was not yet able to lie down out of fear of ripping my stitches. Three days in, I walked for ten minutes on the treadmill on the lowest setting. Four days in, I took my first shower. The next day, I returned to BC. Despite the fact that I was still recovering, I was adamant about not missing too many classes, or too much of my final semester. 

The return to campus was nerve-wracking. I had emailed my professors that I would be missing class for surgery, but gave no further information. Usually, a student returns from surgery in a cast, or on crutches, but outwardly, I looked generally the same. I could feel their gazes linger for just one second extra, wondering perhaps what surgery I had received, or if I had lied to get out of class. My friends, who of course knew the details, could immediately tell the difference. If other people noticed, they did not say. 

This did not stop me from worrying about it. While I was happy with my decision, I was still anxious about others’ perceptions of me. BC is the kind of school that is just small enough that you often feel you know everyone. That can be comforting when you arrive to class and already have three friends to sit with. Other times, it means stressing endlessly over how “everyone” knows something, or is talking about you, even when that isn’t the case. When people asked where I had been at social events, or mentioned they hadn’t seen me on campus in a while, I struggled to find the words to explain my situation. “I was home, I just had a couple of doctor's appointments,” is usually what I landed on. It wasn’t that I was uncomfortable with people knowing, per se. I was, though, concerned with the stigma associated with plastic surgery. I remember once, in high school, scrolling through a classmate’s Instagram to try and decide if the rumors about her getting a nose job were true. Why I cared, I cannot remember, but I did. I wouldn’t blame people if they were doing the same thing on my own social media, but the anxiety of wondering about it led me to delete a host of pictures from my profile. 

Then, spring break came. Along with hundreds of my classmates, I boarded a flight to Punta Cana for a week-long stay at the Riu Republica. While I was worried about being in recovery while on vacation, Spring Break also provided me with a burst of confidence and excitement for the future. For the first time, I could easily swap clothes and bathing suits with my roommates. This feeling has continued to excite me since. My first shopping trip post-surgery was an insane splurge; I was so excited by all the styles I once felt I could never wear. Other things have changed too. Exercise is worlds easier without the suffocating feeling of extra weight on my chest and lungs. Slowly, I’ve felt the tension release from my shoulders and neck, providing relief after years of pain. 

Of course, there are some negatives. Oftentimes, I look in the mirror and wonder if I really know what my body looks like. After spending my adult life looking one way, it’s hard to visualize that now, I look starkly different. Despite this, I maintain that this was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I chose to share my own plastic surgery experience because I am sure I’m not the only BC student who has struggled with a similar decision, and know that it isn’t often talked about. I would encourage any BC student struggling with the decision to get plastic surgery to ignore the opinions of other students, and make the choice based on if it’s best for them.