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(TARA HARDY FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(TARA HARDY FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Getting the weight off my chest Add to ...

The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

It’s getting easier to say now that it’s over. I had breast reduction surgery last month. There, that wasn’t so bad.

But there is very much a psychological barrier to leap when it comes to talking about those most obvious of feminine symbols. It could just be my personal perception, but I rather think I will blame society for the gigantic tangle of sensitivity, assumptions, hypersexualized stereotypes and low-grade jokery that comes with this delicate territory.

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I have always been large-breasted. Photographs of my two long-gone, long-suffering, large-breasted grandmothers prove that my genetics did not stint with me.

As I headed into my early 40s, well, let’s just say that the pressure began to grow. D cups, double Ds, then to Es, followed by the truly alarming prospect of Gs. I didn’t know where the alphabet of bra sizes ended, and I decided to not have to find out.

The concept of what breasts mean in Western society has changed. More than symbols of sexual attractiveness or old-fashioned baby-feeding equipment, breasts have started to become things for women to guard and cherish; heralded in our newspapers and health websites as things to fight for and acknowledge.

A six-pack of tissue boxes sports more pink ribbons than tulips these days. A grown man – or an eight-year-old boy – can wear an “I love boobies” wristband with seeming impunity.

All over the world, fine, brave women fight to keep their breasts as cancer worms its way into their bodies. And all over the world, women face recreating their breasts as they rebuild their lives after surgery and treatments.

And here I was, looking to rid myself of a perfectly good, if somewhat unruly, pair. Was this selfishness? Was this the vilest form of vanity?

A tremendously down-to-earth plastic surgeon assured me that my plight truly qualified under the definition of “medical,” helping me over a lingering suspicion that I was being a big sissy about this and should just go up a shirt size and soldier on.

What a relief to hear that. Needing to wear three bras in order to ride a horse now seemed to me to be going beyond reasonable compromise. The joys of Yoga Wednesdays and spontaneous Just Dance parties with the kids had already become things of the past. Even my chiropractor had admitted that her treatments for my neck and back pain were not going to overcome this burden on my front.

The evening before my surgery, I took a long bubble bath complete with tea and toast and a couple of large, self-indulgent glossy magazines all balanced on the rack over the tub. I had heard that people who lost a body part to disease or damage often mourned it for years, and that seemed understandable. I was about to lose a body part – well, body mass, really – even if it was for a good reason.

I decided to celebrate my impending loss instead. The breasts and I exchanged a few last grateful words and I hope it went some way to making up for all the cursing, blaming and several incidents of hopeless weeping in underwear department change rooms that they had provoked over the past few months.

I was finally confident that this was the right thing to do. I knew that life would be better afterward.

I won’t traumatize you with the total number of grams taken off both breasts by the wonderful surgeon. Suffice it to say that next time you choose a family-sized portion of ground beef at the supermarket, weigh it in your hand and think fleetingly of me.

Recovery, both physical and spiritual, has been swift and mostly pain-free. Naps were taken and John Irving novels read. Friends brought lasagnes and took me on gentle car rides to matinee rehearsals at the National Arts Centre. I am very blessed.

I am currently part way through my surreal, pyjama-clad six-week “retreat” and do not suffer too dramatically from the Cooped Up Inside blues. My heart and mind feel good – very, very good – and I think the rest of my body agrees.

Looking down at myself now, I see a simple C cup; a mild, unremarkable C cup where once raged an uneven burden of resentment and humiliation. Underwear department change rooms will witness no more silent, desperate anguish from me.

I had breast-reduction surgery last month, I am happy to say. A weight off my chest, back and neck for sure, and a far lighter heart to go with it.

Kate Aley lives in western Quebec.

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