“I just don’t want them anymore. You can make them as small as you want. A cup or a C cup and I will be okay,” said Payton to her doctor with an air of exhaustion during her consultation for breast reduction surgery. Also known as a reduction mammaplasty, during the outpatient procedure, surgeons remove breast tissue to achieve the patient’s desired size.
When Payton finally made the decision to move forward with her reduction, it was a culmination of years of neck and back pain, weekly chiropractic visits, and painful blisters constantly forming under her breasts. The DDDs on her 5’2” frame had been with her for as long as she could recall and even as a young girl, she skipped training bras and immediately was fitted into an adult option. Now, at 30 years old, Payton was exhausted from both the physical pain and the mental gymnastics that came with having bigger breasts; everything from looking “too revealing” in a dress that could completely cover smaller breasts and the circus that was online shopping when ordering an XL top to accommodate her chest but a small in bottoms for her petite frame.
Breast reductions are not a new phenomenon. In the United States alone, more than 90,000 are performed each year, according to the American Board of Plastic Surgeons. Yet, social media has revolutionized the plastic surgery industry and with it funneled a dramatic increase in patients. Research shows the popularity of TikTok and Instagram has steadily driven a sharp rise in those seeking plastic surgery with the intent of having a body that fits into society’s ever-changing, narrow ideal body image standards, and that includes an uptick in breast reductions.
Following her consultation, Payton excitedly scrolled social media eagerly anticipating finding other women who were embarking on a similar journey. She expected to hear about their experiences and get an inside look into what she could expect before her procedure. Instead, her feed was dominated by a continuous loop of before and after videos. She immediately went down a rabbit hole of women showing what they looked like in certain clothes prior to their breast reduction surgeries and then how they fit following the procedure. Breasts that previously spilled out of tops now sat up neatly in trendy mass produced clothing, including everything from crop tops and church dresses to lingerie. Tops that were pushed to the back of the closet because they were once considered “too sexy” because of ample cleavage were finally deemed acceptable for the women.
Payton was inundated with women who seemingly chose to undergo breast reductions for “the aesthetic,” or a certain look that would make their breasts appear more “appropriate” in both clothes and in the eyes of society. The comment section on the videos were filled with reactions from people saying, how “much better” the women looked following their procedures.
“The look” was one of the focal points behind Brittani Hicks’ decision to move forward with the surgery at 30. With a 34H bra size, she’d been told she needed a breast reduction since she was a teenager.
“For me, it was less about health issues. I’ve always been small and when I was a teenager I was like literally a stick with breasts. They just morphed my body so much,” she tells ESSENCE.
Following her breast reduction, where surgeons took out a little over three pounds of tissue, Hicks noticed an immediate difference in how she perceived her own body as well as reactions from people both in person and online.
“My confidence and my fashion shot way up. I used to literally just be into T-shirts and leggings because I felt like nothing I wore was flattering,” she says. “Now, I wear shirts that [are slightly] open in the front. I expose a little chest and it’s fine, but that’s not something I would have done before because everything I wore was sexualized.”
Research has shown that women with large breasts are perceived as being more promiscuous and more sexually open than those with smaller breasts. Viral videos and online commentators only further promote harmful messaging with responses that focus on how much more “appropriate” the women look in their clothing after their surgeries. This, in turn, can lead to women with larger breasts internalizing the idea that their bodies are inherently bad or inappropriate and need to be covered or changed.
Thousands of patients choose to undergo breast reductions because of physical discomfort, but the cosmetic benefits are rapidly overshadowing the medical needs thanks to social media and the prioritization placed on body image. Now everything from shape, lift, weight and fullness of your breasts are all factors for patients who choose to undergo the surgery.
The American Board of Plastic Surgeons emphasizes breast reductions will give patients, “Better proportioned breasts [and] your overall silhouette will be more balanced and attractive. Swimsuits, sports bras, and form-fitting clothes will look and feel better, helping boost your confidence during activity.” That language only fuels the idea that women with large breasts should prioritize aesthetic concerns and toxic body standards, which can have a damaging impact on a person’s self-image.
Simone Mariposa, an inspirational speaker and content creator who focuses on body liberation, spoke to us about how language is key to changing the conversation when it comes to how we talk about breast reduction surgery.
“When you have something bigger, you’re automatically sexualized. So regardless, if it’s just a bigger body or bigger breasts, anything bigger is sexualized,” she says.
“There’s room for nuance in the body liberation community. There is room for wanting to be who you are and not change [your breasts] and there’s room for people who want to change [their breasts],” she adds. “The mission of body liberation is always to love your body in every state and if you want to change it do it from a place of love.”
Breast reduction surgeries will continue to be one of the bedrock procedures in the industry, encouraged in doctor’s offices across the nation. Surgeries for any reason, medical or aesthetic, are valid and your choice, but the hope is that people are making the choice for healthy reasons – not because they feel like they’re being told that they should.
Brittany is a journalist who’s passionate about history and sharing stories from around the world. If she’s not on a flight headed on a new adventure, she can be found at brunch or with her head buried in a book. Follow her on Instagram at @around_the_worldgirl.