It’s safe to say that by the age of 18, I had gotten used to that heart-sinking feeling that accompanied dressing rooms.
It should have been perfect. The beach-chic high-low dress would make my legs look long and flow behind me like a superhero’s cape. On the hanger it had been everything I’d been looking for. Yet when I stared at myself in the mirror, my eyes fixated on the scoop neck, on the bodice that refused to hit my waist as it was supposed to, and on my giant monster rack that was ruining everything.
That time staring in the mirror should have been no different than any other. I was used to feelings of disappointment when I tried to venture outside of my cage of V-neck shirts and A-line dresses. I was used to that heavy-looking reflection. But for some reason, as I looked at myself in that high-low dress, some sort of resolve solidified within me.
I held my phone up to the mirror and took a picture in the harsh fluorescent lighting, documenting what would become the “before” picture. I refused to look this way again.
The boob issue, as I call it professionally, was never an out-of-the-blue one for me. I come from generations of heavy-chested women. I got my first training bra in the fourth grade and my first real bra in the fifth. By the time I hit senior year of high school, I was wearing 32DDD bras that were too small. I couldn’t buy colorful department store sports bras if I wanted anything resembling support. While my friends joyfully shopped at the women’s swimwear section at Target that I had long outgrown, I blew money on special-ordered bra-sized swimsuits. I looked big in pictures despite being a very active and fit teenage girl. My dance costumes, which were built to fit chicken eggs instead of cantaloupes, left me feeling awkward and exposed.
The worst part was not feeling conspicuous — it was feeling restricted. It was knowing that I would never have the same choices as my friends did in how I presented myself to the world, knowing that I would be forced to spend money I didn’t want to for out-of-the-way solutions. It was knowing that my options were often “bad” and “good enough” and that the only thing that could fix that would be changing my disproportionate body. That drastic measure was something I had long thought about but long feared, though as I looked in that dressing room mirror, it finally started to feel just slightly more sensible than it did scary.
And so, the summer before I came to college, I went under the knife.
It was not a decision I took lightly. My mom had first suggested it when I was 15 and in physical therapy for chronic lower back pain. But the perpetual backache never felt like a good enough reason to change my body, despite being the sole reason insurance would cover the procedure. Instead, two and a half more years of sadly staring into mirrors eventually stiffened my resolve. In the grand scheme of things, the procedure was a relatively quick fix — a tiny hiccup in my long summer, a blip on my long-term radar and a lifetime of better self-image. The hope for some relief in my back problems somehow felt more like an added bonus to me.
And yet, even as I prepped for surgery on a foggy morning in July, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. The permanence of what I was doing still terrified me. I felt dizzy as my surgeon marked me for incisions. At the prick of the IV, I gripped my mom’s hand until my knuckles turned white. I was trembling in the operation room until the moment the anesthesia dragged me under.
And then … I was different. It took about two weeks post-surgery to finally see what I had decided upon, the stitches finally dissolved and my mobility finally freed. I stared at myself in the mirror, and for the first time, I saw someone proportional, someone still curvy but blessedly normal-looking in a way I hadn’t felt since elementary school.
I knew then that it would all be worth it. I would spend most of freshman year self-consciously hiding my now barely visible scars from my roommate, afraid of the stigma, but I still never regretted my decision. And though the people that grew to know me during college would often never know who I had been before because it wasn’t the type of knowledge I wore readily on my sleeves, I was comfortable in the private knowledge that I had done the right thing for me. Maybe I did it for the self-image instead of the health concerns, but that didn’t make my decision anything to be ashamed of. I was a happier person and that was what mattered.
I rummaged through my closet for that high-low dress from that dressing room all those months ago, the one that had made me feel embarrassed and defeated and convinced me at long last that I had the right to control my body and free myself from the way that it had always controlled me. And as I slipped it over my head, its long billowy skirt still reminding me of Supergirl’s cape, I had to fight back tears of joy as my reflection stared back at me, wearing the dress that had once disappointed and shamed me and my body.
At long last, it fit me perfectly.