Three days ago I had one of the most important surgeries of my life! A long-awaited breast reduction surgery. Before I get into what the surgery was like, in my next post, I wanted to share the background on my “why.”
Having breast reduction surgery isn’t the end point of a long, tumultous journey with big breasts.
It is actually a mid-point stage in what has really been a bigger story about shifting my beliefs about who I am and what I am capable of.
Thursday’s surgery was about the removal of breast tissue, yes, but it was also about the removal of the final self-limiting beliefs I had about my body and what I am capable of.
So let’s begin…
The relationship with my body & breasts
As I’m sure many of you do, I’ve had a long and interesting relationship with my breasts. I clearly, clearly remember the day my Mum bought me a camisole top / training bra when I was in primary school in the UK.
I was only 8 years old, but already I was becoming quite “chesty” as my teacher had politely described. I remember the day my mum bought the camisole home, genuinely excited for her growing girl. As I sit here typing, I remember my fingers jabbing under the camisole, scratching the itchy skin, irritated by the lace. I remember crying in our driveway one day after school, clawing at it and being generally miserable.
I definitely remember the school summer sports day, two weeks later. I don’t remember where I placed in the egg and spoon race, but I remember running with the egg and spoon in one hand, the other arm strategically placed against my bouncing chest.
I wasn’t only trying to relieve the discomfort of the bouncing, and the scratching of the lace. My arm across my chest was a symbol of early attempts to shield myself from the attention of others. I was beginning to learn at that young age, that others were paying attention to my body. My teacher, who called me chesty, the boys who called me big beluga, my female classmates giggling on the school ground about their bodies and the commensurate attention from the boys.
As a big breasted woman, all of this happened quite early for me, but I can’t help but think this is the norm in 2018. With unprecedented exposure to chemicals that disrupt hormonal patterns, girls are hitting puberty much earlier. They are experiencing all of these things, that used to be exclusively the domain of junior high.
I entered the teen years, where I was initiated into the typical teenage experience of ups and downs of body image and a rapidly changing body. It was a confusing time. I felt like the body I was inheriting was mismatched to the body in my mind. I was aghast at photos and reflections in the mirror. I felt like the way people saw me was very different from how I saw myself. It was in junior high school, that the volume of other people’s judgements of my body increased. Not only that, but I started listening to those judgements.
In grade eight, I tried out for the senior volleyball team. I knew after months of hard work doing drills, that my technical skills were up there with the senior team. I had the drive and the discipline. To my total surprise, I didn’t make the team along with all of my friends I had practiced with. Chatting with the coach afterward on what drills I could do to improve, the coach mentioned that it would be good for me to work on losing some weight. It was confusing to me. Weren’t my skills up there with the others? Why was the shape of my body an issue? What does this have to do with my volleyball game?
This initiation into the world of external judgement continued off of the volleyball court. I knew I was a hard worker when it came to sports. I had a lot of grit, but I found myself constantly being chosen last in gym class for teams. People assumed based on my body appearance that I wouldn’t be any good.
I’d like to say that at that age, I had the awareness and confidence to not lose my way and to fight against those assumptions, but I bowed to them. All of a sudden I lost my inner compass. The external world began to shape my beliefs. I started pretending I was sick on gym days and avoided PE like the plague, even though inside I lit up with excitement at the thought of a competition. The fear of judgement and the belief I wasn’t good overtook the competitive spark inside of me.
In the coaching world, we call this the development of self-limiting beliefs. This is when we have a story about ourselves, and a set of beliefs, that limit what we think we are capable of. They can be triggered by one event, or message. Or they can be triggered by a series of events.
Once these messages have been reinforced a few times, they become a narrative, or a story that we really hold to and believe. They become part of our story about ourselves, even if that story is not based on reliable evidence.
I began to believe that my active life wasn’t about what I could physically do. It was about what I physically looked like. THAT was the determinant of what I could show up and do in my active life. Fat girls aren’t athletes. Fat girls don’t do sports. Fat girls aren’t good at athletics. Fat girls don’t belong on the PE field.
That belief was first installed in grade school, then again with the volleyball situation in junior high. Then, again with phys ed classes when I was consistently chosen last.
I hate to say it, but the influences also came from my own family, society and culture. My dad had taken to calling me “round like a donut” and commenting on my boobs.
As junior high progressed, I went from trying out for teams, to pretending I was sick when we had gym units. I remember faking a sprained ankle, dark eye shadow and everything to mimic bruising, so that I didn’t have to particpate in a sports day.
All the while, the bouncing of my large breasts was a factor, but also my Mum’s messaging of “we’re just not built to run.” Big breasts mean you can’t do sports.
When messaging comes from all directions, it truly becomes entrenched and I think this is why so many of us came out of the 1990s with body image issues. I loved reading the magazines of the 1990s. Teen, YM, Seventeen. Do you remember seeing big boobs on the cover of those? Definitely not. Do you even remember articles about sports and female athletes – not really, I remember quizzes like “does he like you” and the ads for maybelline lip chaps, and my beloved Backstreet Boys!
All of this led to the foreclosure of my athletic identity. 15 years of mindset conditioning, starting with those first moments of a child, where everybody was talking about my breasts.
Entering high school, I opted out of physical education and participating in sports. Instead, I moved into sports medicine instead, where I could help others participating in sports and be in the background. I always admired the athletes I worked with, they seemed to be my tribe. Even in University, I gravitated towards my Kinesiology major friends. I didn’t join them in their sports, but deep, deep inside of me, I was drawn to their active lifestyles.
The stresses and lifestyle choices of University led to weight gain and my breasts continued to grow. The weight gain was a gift, because it led to my highest weight ever, and I decided to join Weight Watchers in 2007. During that year, I lost 40 lb and fell in love with running. Yes, I had to wear two bras – an underwire, then a sports bra on top, then a tight top to reduce the bounce, but I did it.
Slowly, other things happened. By chance, I was introduced to the world of CrossFit in 2010 where I was totally accepted and I realized that athletes come in all shapes and sizes. I loved it. It was a sport where I could compete on my own level, on my own benchmarks, with myself. It was a very empowering community and all around me I was surrounded by strong women of all shapes and sizes. Boob size had no bearing on athletic ability. Wait a minute, that’s not what I had told myself all my life? My belief systems began to loosen their grip.
I was introduced to the world of whole foods and paleo diets, and understood how to eat functionally, rather than emotionally. 2015 onwards I continued down the lifestyle transformation path. (big boobs still in tow, of course.) Oh, the boobs. I hit them on my cleans, and they were sore after workouts with many pushups, but I pushed through it, and the back pain that came with them. I remember even using Rogue bands during one workout to keep them from bouncing under my sweater.
The final piece of all of this was the dismantling of my long-held beliefs and narrative. By being a part of the Crossfit community, the grip of these narratives had been loosened by showing me how faulty my beliefs had been. On those rubber mats, and in conversations afterward with these completely badass female athletes, I had begun to realize that they didn’t’ believe the same things as me. They also believed different things about me. They didn’t look at my body and make assumptions about my abilities. In such a physical environment surrounded by insane bodies – the CrossFit gym – I learnt that how my body looked did.not.matter!
The last five years has been profound and completed the process of transformation.
I took my two-year professional coaching certification. The process led us deep into our own lives, understanding and breaking apart our own self-limiting beliefs, and connecting with who we really were at our core.
(You must undergo this process yourself if you are to be a partner and guide to others in their own process. Most accredited coaching programs will have you begin here before you even learn the science and practice of coaching.)
It all clicked. I had that ah hah moment. That moment of insight. All of the above clicked.
All those years ago, I had adopted external messaging that wasn’t even my own, and I had let it shape my lifestyle and beliefs about who I was. My big boobs and curvy body had activated a self-reinforcing negative feedback loop.
I had foreclosed on an athletic, active identity. Though I had clawed my way back to it in my 20s, it was really my 30s that I realized I can do whatever I want and fuckin right I am athletic.
What does that look like now? I am a very, very active mum of 3 little ones. I’m known among my friends as the sporty one. I love trail running. I jumped out of a helicopter at the top of a mountain and ran 21km down it pregnant. I mountain bike with firefighters. Hell, I think there’s an ultra runner in there. I have always wanted to run a 25 km ultra in the mountains. I wrote it down in 2010 as a BHAG (a big, hairy audacious goal that is unlikely, but inspiring.) Now, in 2018 I know that I’m going to do it. It’s coming up next. I’m excited.
So, you may ask, where do the boobs come into all of this? Carina, isn’t the point of this absurdly long-winded blog to talk about breast reduction surgery?
You bet. All of the above leads to my why.
Why did I decide to remove most of my breasts last Thursday?
Because I don’t hate them anymore. They don’t have the power they once did. They didn’t ruin my life. Because they are simply a set of tissues to remove to reduce some back pain. Because the life I see for myself is one that is extremely active, with high impact activities that will be eased by less bouncing 🙂 Because I’d simply like to wear less than 3 bras. That is all. As I write this it’s practical. Straight forward. Its not filled with angst or emotion or hidden motives. And that’s why I knew I was ready to remove them.
I couldn’t have done surgery in my 20s.
Why? I couldn’t have done it from a place of hating my breasts.
I believe I always have been, and am, an athlete. I have realized that I have potential that I haven’t even tapped in the world of trail running, because I never considered it.
I used to be bound by limits to my abilities, limits that were set by other people, because they looked at my body and those big breasts and told me so. People told me “you aren’t built for athletic stuff.” and then I told me “you aren’t built for athletic stuff.”
I have left that place of hating my breasts. I no longer think they block and control and influence everything in my life. I have moved from believing that stopped me from doing things, to appreciating them and knowing that they simply got caught up in the crazy world that is external judgement. They are a part of my body, yes, but I – and the rest of the world – attributed so much significance to them that played with my head and my belief in my abilities.
At 7:30 in the morning on Thursday, I laid under a warm blanket, preparing to be wheeled into the operating room and thanked my breasts. They’ve been part of me, and part of this fascinating journey. I went into surgery honouring them, and being at peace with them.
They didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t cause my athletic foreclosure, they didn’t prevent me from pursuing an active life. They were simply caught up in the crossfire of a society that attaches so many meanings to boobies.
The real work, the real weight lifted from my chest was letting go of those limiting beliefs about my ability.
The final removal of this breast tissue is just icing on the cake. Is it profound? Oh hell yes, in the three days since surgery it has already completely changed my posture, back pain and will surely change my running and activity life.