These days, talking about our bodies isn’t as taboo as it was anymore. Even in conservative Asian cultures such as ours, we’ve shifted towards franker discussions of our relationship with sexuality and self. In ‘Intimates’, we’d like to kickstart open conversations about the wellness of our private parts—in both the physical and psychological sense. Today, we talk about reduction mammoplasty.
A reduction mammoplasty starts, like most surgeries do, with a dose of general anaesthesia that puts the patient into a state of controlled consciousness. With a surgical scalpel, the doctor traces an incision around the areola before cutting diagonally down below the crease of each breast.
From this opening, they then remove excess breast tissue, fat, and skin to reduce the size of the breasts to a cup the patient requested. The breast is properly reshaped, and the skin is sutured to mark the successful completion of the surgery.
The procedure is one shrouded not in secrecy but social illiteracy. It’s an entirely reasonable phenomenon given that mammoplasty’s famous sister—breast enlargement and augmentation—has become more socially fashionable. This comes amidst the rising awareness of a society where women are independently empowered over the choices they make on their bodies.
The sinking weight on my chest
I was first made aware of my above-average chest at the tender age of 13. It happened when I shared a toilet stall with a female classmate as we changed into our P.E. uniforms. As I unbuttoned my blouse, my classmate stared at my chest and asked, “Why do you have a cleavage?”
“Why don’t you?” I replied.
Little did I know that that fateful conversation would begin my self-conscious journey with my chest. I don’t hate my body, but the weight and heft of my breasts have not only caused me physical problems but psychological ones too.
I could never truly get used to the incessant stares—could anyone in my predicament ever? Unless I drown myself in oversized clothing, I couldn’t simply mind my own business and fade into the background. It felt like someone was always watching my every move—like a caged animal for the adoring public’s viewing pleasure.
Knowing that my chest would always warrant stares, I decided to redirect that attention elsewhere. Brightly coloured hair and bold tattoos became my shields, a crutch I employ to convince myself that they’re admiring those deliberate works of art and not gazing at my God-given anatomy, whose size and shape I have no control over.
It’s more than just fat removal
Having an above-average chest size in Singapore garners very little sympathy amongst my peers. Friends often remark how ‘blessed’ I am with a noticeable and ample chest and not an airport runway as local parlance dictates.
I was made to think that my problems weren’t real problems. It was a constant struggle to find a pair of bra that adequately fits or at least fits sufficiently well enough for my breasts to simply stay within the confines of the cup.
Understandably, I had no one to relate to until, like every Gen Z looking for affirmation in life, I randomly stumbled upon breast reduction surgery on the Internet in my youth. I was 15 when I learned about the surgery, though I veered away from the idea of actively pursuing the procedure due to its highly invasive nature.
Loss of nipple sensation, decreased milk production should I choose to breastfeed in the future, potential breast asymmetry, blood clots, infection, and persisting pain are just some things that might occur after a mammaplasty.
In addition to complications, I also had to consider the hefty price tag of this life-changing surgery.
Breast reduction surgeries do not come cheap—they range anywhere between S$18,000 to S$43,000. Unless I can prove to my insurance company that the surgery is medically necessary, it seems that buying ill-fitting bras for my 36G chest is the only option I could afford.
At some point, I decided to turn my frustration around and learned to be more comfortable in my skin.
I stopped hiding my figure in oversized clothing and fully and completely embraced my chest size; I was a woman feminists would be proud to call a daughter.
Slowly but surely, I gained confidence in my body and felt empowered with what I was endowed. I posted some cute photos of myself on Instagram in a bikini top in the spirit of ‘feeling myself’. But in true ‘the internet is full of disgusting people’ fashion, I immediately got sexualised and harassed online.
My photos were reposted on NSFW blogs on Tumblr. It felt like I was reduced to nothing but yet another set of tits online.
On the flip side: A supportive online community
While the Internet became a source of harassment and insecurity, it was where I found a community of women who also struggled with their chest size, taking to popular social media platforms, TikTok and Reddit, to share their breast reduction surgeries. These posts were extremely informational and gave full detailed accounts of how the operations were done.
Shazcious was one such user who decided to share their experience on a public forum as they found it hard to find first-hand information on what reduction mammoplasty looks like in Singapore.
“I initially considered going to Thailand or South Korea for the operation as they were cheaper and more well known for plastic surgeries, but with the COVID pandemic looming, I decided it was best to do it in Singapore. It’s also more convenient should I need help from family and friends during recovery,” she shared.
According to Shazcious, 80% of their surgery is covered by insurance, while the remaining 20% is Medisave claimable. In the post, Shazcious also shared that breast reductions are only Medisave or insurance claimable if it’s deemed medically necessary by a doctor, and more than 500g of breast matter have to be removed.
“I think a lot of people do not know that and assume that all forms of breast reduction surgeries are not covered,” she added.
What Karyn learned from her recent surgery
“I’ve always wanted a breast reduction ever since I was young; I observed that my chest was bigger than my friends. I struggled pretty badly with body image issues and started to develop terrible back pains when I was in secondary 4,” Karyn shared over Instagram.
“The pains affected me daily until I got the surgery. The physical pain was my tipping point in pursuing this operation.”
For Karyn, the biggest hurdle is in convincing her parents to allow the surgery to take place. She remembers feeling excited in the days leading up to the surgery and only experiencing complete apprehension and fear while on the operating table.
“Post operation left me emotionally fragile because my prior body image issues made me overanalyse my new chest, thinking that they were still too big or uneven. I feared that I went through all that pain for nought,” she said when asked how she felt immediately after the surgery.
“Thankfully, now that I’m 11 weeks post-op, I can see a more accurate version of my ‘end’ result as the swelling subsides. Despite knowing that I have a few more months of swelling, I can confidently say that this was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Her advice to people considering this surgery is to be firm and unmovable about the size they want. “Often, plastic surgeons, especially those who are male, tend to recommend what they deem as “proportionate” and most “aesthetically pleasing”, which I think is a result of the male gaze. One of my biggest regrets was that I wasn’t as assertive about the size I wanted. I still think my breasts are too big for my liking.”
On a doctor’s note
While considering a reduction mammoplasty, I came across Allure Plastic Surgery’s blog post explaining why someone would pursue this procedure in Singapore. I reached out to Dr Samuel Ho, the head plastic surgery consultant, to better understand how common breast reduction surgeries are in Singapore.
“In the past, people used to have the misconception that those who undergo reduction mammoplasties were ladies with large breasts who simply wanted smaller perkier breasts,” Dr Samuel explained. “People are more aware now that disproportionately large breasts are a medical and functional issue.”
“The medical nature of the condition manifests in a variety of physical symptoms, such as neck and upper back pain, poor posture, skin rashes in the cleavage and breast folds, bra strap grooving, and fingertip numbness.”
He added: “There are also a host of psychological symptoms, such as social embarrassment, difficulty in fitting into clothing, and of course, the inability to participate fully in certain exercises.”
Dr Samuel performs this surgery once or twice a month but cautioned that not all those who seek a reduction mammoplasty could get one. He explains: “I do not perform the procedure if the patient is still developing physically, such as patients below the age of 16.”
He also shared that the patient’s expectation is essential. “It’s important that the patient fully understands and grasps the permanent nature of the procedure. It involves removing a portion of the breast glands (most patients assume it is only the removal of fat), which may impact breastfeeding in the future.”
“Patients with unrealistic expectations, such as asking for a reduction procedure without any scars, are also not suitable candidates.”
Embracing my chest — for now
Having spoken to doctors and fellow sufferers in service of this article, there’s little doubt that a reduction mammoplasty would change my quality of life for the better.
Peculiar as it sounds, I no longer fear potential post-surgery complications, scars or even disproportionate areolas. I’d rather risk complications on the surgery table than live one more day with the suffocating weight on my chest and the mental anguish that plagues my psyche.
I look forward to the unbridled joy of buying bras off the rack while shopping with friends, and, like a caged animal released back into the wild, I would finally be free of unwanted attention and gaze—well, at least that’s the plan.
But more crucially, finally, like many others, I would be able to happily fade into the background as I ride on public transport. Small things, I’m aware, but for someone with a heavy chest all her life, a privilege I fight tooth and nail to enjoy, one well-fitted bra at a time.