Girls want them. Boys drool over them. Magazines worship them. Big boobs are kind of a big deal, and their reign shows no signs of deflating anytime soon. In this cleavage-obsessed society, bigger certainly seems to be better.
But for busty collegiettes like Megan Sweet, a junior at Michigan State University, having big bra buddies isn't all that it's made out to be. In fact, it can be downright suffocating; having big girls can be a pretty weighty problem. Glamorous bra shopping? Forget it. Boyfriends lined up at the door? Only if you like being objectified all day, every day. Running along the beach in slow motion à la Kate Upton? First of all, good luck finding a swimsuit that's both supportive and not absolutely hideous. Second of all, running? Very funny. Oh, and don't even get us started on button-down shirts and sagging.
For Megan, dealing with all the hassles of being bigger-chested was simply a part of life; she had been one of the first girls to start developing in middle school and had been busty ever since. However, she soon realized that she had to do something about it —having 36Fs was inhibiting her ability to run and play sports, and it made finding cute clothes that would fit nearly impossible.
"It was always annoying being bigger than my friends, especially when we would go shopping and nothing would fit over my chest," Megan says. "I'm a very active person, but if I tried to lose weight, I could never lose it from my chest. The bigger I got, the harder it was to run and play sports. Being so big was limiting my activity level, comfort and self-esteem."
Plus, the attention she was drawing was not the kind she wanted, and it made her feel uncomfortable in her own skin.
"I felt that all guys looked at was my chest, and I hated how everything I wore turned into major cleavage," Megan says. "Some people think that girls with bigger breasts enjoy the attention, but I've never felt that way. When I started college, I was very uncomfortable with my body, and I relied on wearing sweatshirts to hide my chest."
Megan had had enough. So, after a lot of contemplation, she decided to get breast reduction surgery during her sophomore year of college. And ever since, it's been like a weight has been lifted off her chest (you guessed it, pun intended!).
What is breast reduction surgery?
Breast reduction surgery, or reduction mammoplasty, is a common procedure performed to lift and reduce the size of breasts through the removal of excess breast tissue, skin and glandular tissue. The nipple and areola, which may need to be reduced to match the smaller breast, are also moved up to a more suitable position on the breasts as part of the procedure. According to Dr. Dana K. Khuthaila, a board-certified plastic surgeon, women who experience serious discomfort and struggles with everyday activity as a result of the increased weight of their breasts are good candidates for breast reduction surgery.
"Most women who have very large breasts complain of back, shoulder, neck pain and bra grooves on their shoulders from the weight of their breasts," Dr. Khuthaila says. "In young women, that could affect their posture and make it very difficult to engage in sports or exercise. In extreme cases, some women experience rashes in the folds underneath their breasts, especially in extreme heat."
For many young women, being bigger-chested affects not only their physical comfort, but also their social, emotional and psychological well-being.
"If the breasts grow too big too fast in a young woman, it could affect their confidence and self-esteem as they become more withdrawn and less likely to be social or outgoing," Dr. Khuthaila says.
In 2013, over 62,000 women in the United States underwent breast reduction surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Experts suggest women wait until they reach physical and emotional maturity to get the surgery, but there is actually no age requirement. Breast reduction surgery performed on healthy young women specifically has few risks and has a high satisfaction rate.
Even with the many pros of getting the surgery, however, deciding to get breast reduction surgery wasn't easy for Megan. Now she realizes that it was the best thing she could have done for herself.
"I was very concerned with what others would think or say if I got the surgery," Megan says. "Then, all of a sudden, I just realized that I didn't want to live like this anymore, in a state of constantly feeling uncomfortable with how I looked. So I approached my family and some of my best friends, and they were very supportive."
During the surgery
Megan took the leap, but not without being aware of the risks first. Breast reduction surgery, like any other type of surgery, doesn't come without its own risks and shouldn't be taken lightly. The procedure can result in unevenly positioned nipples, unequal breasts, potential permanent loss of feeling in the nipples or breasts, permanent skin pigmentation changes, deep vein thrombosis, loss of skin and tissue, inability to breast-feed after surgery and damage to the breasts' blood supply. The actual surgery itself is usually two to five hours long and involves making cuts in the breasts, getting stitches and possibly using liposuction depending on the surgeon's methods and the patient's body type, which can increase swelling post-surgery.
"The actual surgery itself was pretty invasive, but it only took about two hours," Megan says. "Don't get me wrong, it was awkward and I felt very exposed, but I knew in the end I'd be so much happier. I spent one night in the hospital and was on a high dose of morphine."
Recovering from surgery
The recovery process can be tedious. Immediately after surgery, the incisions are covered with gauze and the breasts are wrapped in a bandage or supported with a surgical bra. Although recovery differs for every person, patients will need to take at least a week off from work or school post-surgery. Most women experience breast pain and discomfort for a week or longer, along with swelling and bruising for several weeks. Specific instructions will be given by surgeons about care for breasts, medications, concerns and follow-up appointments, but patients will typically be advised to walk and move around as soon as they can to prevent swelling and blood clots, but to avoid lifting anything over five pounds and raising anything over the head until they are released for activity. For Megan, her recovery went relatively smoothly and she could even tag along to the grocery store with her mom only three days after her surgery, but she still experienced plenty of discomfort and difficulties.
"The overall level of pain after the surgery was never unbearable; I would take Tylenol and that numbed it fine," Megan says. "It was really only the first couple days that the pain was bad, then it was just uncomfortable due to the swelling. The swelling is definitely the most annoying part, as it takes months to fully go down."
A lot of the things that people normally take for granted, like showering and washing hair, became Olympic trials that required a tremendous amount of effort as Megan was confined to couch duty for a while after the surgery, unable to lift her arms above her head. Plus, she had to ice like crazy and wash the incisions daily, among many other things, like monitoring her temperature in case of infection.
But the biggest issue for Megan was sleeping—she had to sleep upright on her back for two weeks. To make up for the restless nights, during which she repeatedly woke up to stop herself from turning onto her side, she took a lot of naps. Talk about uncomfortable!
After Megan hit the five-to-six-week mark, however, things were almost completely back to normal. Typically, patients resume normal work and social activities within a couple of weeks of surgery, avoiding more vigorous exercise and strenuous activities until about three to four weeks after surgery to allow for adequate healing. Most regain full range of motion between six to 10 weeks after surgery.
One thing that is permanent, however, is the scars. While some incision lines can be concealed in natural breast contours, others will be visible on the surface. Although these scars on the breasts can almost always be covered by a bra or swimsuit, they won't ever disappear completely. But, as Megan puts it, "I have scars, but they will fade and I don't care what anyone thinks about them because I did this surgery for myself and no one else." And while the size of the scars will vary depending on the type of incision performed, surgeons will try to achieve the desired results with the shortest scar. Plus, improvements in surgical techniques are now allowing breast reduction surgeries to leave less of a mark on patients.
"With the newer techniques, now we can perform breast reduction surgery with minimal scarring," Dr. Khuthaila says. "The scars are around the areola and go vertically down on the breasts, which make them inconspicuous. This is called the vertical technique, or the lollipop incision."
Is breast reduction surgery right for you?
With the increased ease and prevalence of procedures that focus on improving women's well-being, it's very likely that breast reduction surgery has crossed just about every busty collegiette's mind at one point or another. But if you find yourself repeatedly coming back to the idea, it might be time to seriously consider getting a breast reduction. How do you know if it's right for you? According to Dr. Khuthaila, it's useful to read up on the procedure from reputable websites like the ASPS website.
Your decision should also depend on being able to find the right doctor to perform the surgery. "I advise them to do their due diligence in choosing the right doctor who is board-certified in plastic surgery and has extensive training in breast surgery and is familiar with the new techniques to minimize scars," Dr. Khuthaila says.
It’s also important to consider money. Usually surgeries can be huge hits to the bank account, but fortunately, breast reduction is covered by insurance in most cases because it’s often considered medically necessary. That being said, you should pay special attention when following the procedures set forth by your insurance carrier's policy.
"Some breast reductions are covered by insurance depending on the size of the breasts relative to the body," Dr. Khuthaila says. "They would need to get preapproval."
To get preapproval, your surgeon may need to take photos of your breasts and detail physical symptoms caused by large breasts to show that the surgery will be performed to relieve medical symptoms. The amount of tissue being removed can also determine whether the breast reduction surgery will be categorized as medically necessary. Start communicating with your carrier early so that you understand exactly what the carrier will cover, like lab costs, anesthesia fees and post-surgery garment costs.
And, as with all big decisions in life, getting second or third opinions can be just the voices of reason that you need. While breast reduction doesn’t have quite the same stigma as breast augmentation surgeries, it can still be difficult to avoid the influence of peers and social expectations. Listen to the advice of a few trusted friends and family.
Above all, however, the decision to get breast reduction surgery should be a personal one.
"It doesn't matter what other people say, because being happy with yourself is more important," Megan says. "The best thing about it is that you don't have to tell anyone you don't want to, because it's your decision. People notice that I'm smaller, but they assume I just lost some weight."
Dr. Khuthaila also believes that every women deserves to feel comfortable in her own body and should have access to procedures that can potentially help her live more easily and more fully. "Bigger is not always better," Dr. Khuthaila says. "Breasts should be proportionate to the body and should be an appropriate size for a woman's lifestyle."
Megan made a personal choice to get breast reduction surgery for herself. She hasn't looked back since, because now she can finally see the landscapes rolling by as she goes for a nice jog and find racks of cute clothes that actually fit when she tries them on. And while she’s still in the process of adjusting to being smaller-chested, her life has expanded with opportunities and changed for the better.
"Everyone I know who has gotten the surgery always says they wish they had done it earlier, so I'm so glad I decided to get it at a young age," Megan says. "I am so much more comfortable in my skin. I do not regretting getting the surgery at all. I can finally run and wear cute clothes, and I'm so much more confident now."
So if your girls are a substantial burden to you, you don't have to let them be a pain in the back and weigh you down forever. Breast reduction surgery certainly isn't for everyone, but for some collegiettes, downsizing might be just the thing to get you back on the sports field, in bathing-suit tops and to your confident, beautiful self. Boobs are kind of a big deal, but we know the real deal: bigger isn't always better.