This article originally appeared on VICE France
In the past, summer meant at least one guy yelling "Shit, look at her tits!" as I was waiting to cross the street. I'd ignore him and he'd call me a slut – because, when it was warm out, I sometimes had the gall to wear a tank top out in public. This scene would be play out whenever the sun was out. That is, until after ten years of trying to deal with my D-cups, I decided to go under the knife to rid myself of part of my breasts.
The operation for breast reduction is performed far less frequently than breast augmentation. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 1,300,000 women across the world have had silicone breast implants in 2015 alone, making it the most common form of plastic surgery in the world. The number of breast reductions worldwide in that same year was 423,000.
I was flat as a pancake until I was 16. I hit puberty late and had never had to wear a bra before. Boys mocked the fact I didn't have any breasts, but I didn't care – I liked my chest that way. Like a model's, I thought. Then one day they started growing at a phenomenal rate, which really hurt. In six months I went up three cup sizes. It shouldn't have come as a complete surprise – all the women in my family have large breasts. Like hair colour or eye colour, boob size is hereditary. But in my family it's never been a source of pride – as it is for, say, the Kardashians.
In fact, having Kardashian boobs when you're not Kim Kardashian – when you're not a celebrity and don't make money from your appearance in some other way – isn't as much fun as it can look. In fact, even Kim Kardashian has confessed to having had a huge complex about her breasts as a teenager. "I remember crying in the bathtub. I took a washcloth, made it really hot, put it over my chest and prayed, 'Please don't let them grow any bigger! They're embarrassing me!'" she told Shape in 2010.
Large breasts are heavy – a bigger cup size can weigh around 1.5kg, or 3.3lbs. That's like having a big melon strapped to your chest all day. Your back won't thank you for carrying that kind of weight around. That's why, in France, health services will cover a reduction if your breasts weigh over 300 grams each, and in the UK the NHS will cover breast reduction in cases where women experience back pain, neck pain and skin irritation.
Having heavy breasts might be a pain, but the way people respond to them can be an even bigger pain. Many men and women find it completely normal to leer at people with larger breasts, comment on them or worse. And it's not just insolent strangers – it's people close to you, too. Once, at a party, a friend came up behind me. "For a laugh" he decided to surprise me by grabbing my breasts, as if they're public property. It cost me a rum and coke and him the price of a new shirt.
"My worst experiences were back at school," Manon, 26, tells me. She went from a 36E down to a B cup last October. "Boys are really unbearable in their teens." I know this all too well – boys would entertain themselves by unhooking my bra at lunchtime, taking it from me and chucking it around like a ball. In the worst cases, they touched me like I was something someone had brought in for show and tell. It was a terrible feeling, but no one seemed very appalled by it. We didn't realise at this time that it wasn't something trivial – that this was well and truly sexual harassment.
"I often heard someone behind my back saying I've got 'a great pair', and then recounting everything they'd like to do to me."
Stephanie underwent a breast reduction six months ago. She tells me that it was this kind of harassment that led her to feel disgusted with her own body. " I don't like men looking at me – even now," she says. "I don't want to please men with the way I look, because they don't please me at all." Manon weighed the decision for five years before she chose to have the operation. "It's tiring; it wears you down eventually. Everything becomes unbearable."
"I often heard someone behind my back saying I've got 'a great pair', and then recounting everything they'd like to do to me," Manon says. Stephanie adds, "There are men who won't hesitate to mime a tit wank in the middle of the street."
I've also noticed that, between the sheets, some men are only interested in one thing: your boobs. Those guys tend to ignore the rest of your body – your mouth, your back, even your clitoris. I'm not exactly a prude, but having a grown man suck on my nipple for an hour makes me think of breastfeeding at best, or being a cow at worst. Neither thought is comfortable, nor arousing. Then there are the guys who, faced with an imposing pair of naked breasts during sex, choose to ignore them completely. When they're as difficult to miss as mine, that's frustrating too.
Not being able to leave your big breasts at home can be just as annoying at work. Manon recalls a day when she arrived at work and her shirt fell open when she took her coat off, exposing her E cup bra to all, including "this insufferable guy who had been leering at me for months". Women already reckon they're not taken seriously at work – about half of women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. If you have exceptionally big boobs, you're likely one of those women.
"Eventually I just started dressing down," says Leonie, 35, who works for a large private sector company. She traded the blouses that "made me look like a bimbo" for oversized jumpers and large T-shirts until she had her operation. "One day a colleague told me that he was sure he had to work harder than me because he didn't have big breasts," she recalls.
Friends can have as little sensibility about the issue as colleagues. Manon recalls her mates telling her that she was being stupid when she told them she planned to have a breast reduction. "They said that having a big chest was great – both for pleasing men and for breastfeeding," she says. That's assuming, of course, that she aimed to please men, that all men love big breasts and that she wanted to breastfeed or even have children. And even if she does, it's not relevant – if a breast reduction goes to plan, it has no effect on her ability to breastfeed at some point.
The women I speak to don't regret their decision for a second. "It changed my life," says Johanna. "I can wear a bikini again and undress in front of my partner without feeling uneasy." Stephanie is the only one who's slightly disappointed. She asked for a B cup, but for whatever reason ended up with a D. "I still have a complex about it. I think my surgeon prioritised current beauty standards over my well-being, over what I asked for. Now I have to wait two years to have the procedure again."
I had a lot of doubts before having my operation. The idea that someone would cut a piece off of the most sensitive part of my body was a source of anxiety – plus I'm terrified of hospitals. I wasn't thrilled about the thought of being on an operating table for three hours under general anaesthetic and with a risk of tissue damage to the nipple. On top of that, I had people telling me that I was mad, that they dreamt of having tits like mine. I ignored them. Last January, three days after my 26th birthday, I had my operation. Today, I'm certain that it was one of the best decisions I've ever made. My breasts are no longer a burden.
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