My breast reduction: why I had the surgery

Carla Jenkins … ‘I felt as if I had been through a battle and had emerged victorious.’ Photograph: Robert Perry

Three days before Christmas 2015, when I was 19, I had my breasts reduced in size. Sitting alone in my flat after the operation at Ross Hall hospital in Glasgow, I confronted my scars for the first time, and I cried.

It was not the first time that I had cried over my body, but these were not the tears of a miserable, frustrated teenager. I felt as if I had been through a battle and had emerged victorious. Holding those stitched-up breasts, a manageable 32E down from a 34GG, I was finally, gloriously me.

After Simona Halep was crowned the 2019 Wimbledon champion, I wondered if she had felt the same after her surgery 10 years ago. Halep, then a 17-year-old rising star, had felt that her chest was affecting her game, and opted to have her breasts reduced from a 34DD to a 34C. “It’s the weight that troubles me,” she said at the time. “My ability to react quickly – my breasts make me uncomfortable when I play.”

Today, as a 23-year-old journalist, I still feel the magnitude of my decision, and its impact not just on my body, but on my mental health and every other aspect of my life. I no longer need to hide my body under layers of clothing or sleep in a particular position to avoid strain. I can sit up straight without attracting stares, or accusations of being attention-seeking. Most liberating of all, the operation freed me from chronic headaches, and back and neck pain that had led me to take painkillers every day.

Patient satisfaction is high: in 2012, a 10-year retrospective analysis of 600 consecutive patients at a single institution in the US found that more than 95% of them would opt to have the surgery again. It concluded that there was a demonstrable improvement in the patient’s quality of life, regardless of their weight and size or how much breast tissue was removed.

The NHS criteria are supported by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which includes the Royal College of Surgeons and the independent assessors the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. A patient must have had a steady BMI of less than 27; their breasts must be of “massive disproportion to body habitus”; they could or should have “intractable intertrigo” (inflammation caused by skin-to-skin friction), “asymmetry greater than one cup size” and “significant psychological distress”.

But many women who have sought to have their surgery covered have complained of inconsistencies and lack of transparency over how to qualify. Amy Hill, a 23-year-old personal trainer, was initially rejected for a breast reduction despite a bra size of 28KK. “I hated my breasts – they were a constant strain on me,” she says.

Getting a bra was impossible. When she went to Bravissimo, a specialist shop with the slogan “inspiring big-boobed girls to feel amazing”, they told her that they didn’t make them in her size. “I cried in the changing rooms.”

For the best part of a year, she wore a bikini top. “It was all that would fit me. I would always attract unwanted attention: people thought they were fake. You could always see them. They were enormous.”

When Hill was told that she did not meet the criteria for a reduction – “they told me they didn’t affect me mentally enough” – she blacked out, she says. “I was so desperate for it. For someone to turn around and tell me ‘no’ – it devastated me.”

Source: Carla Jenkins article. Read the complete article on The Guardian here.