by Danielle Joffe
I present my naked 34-DD breasts to eight male medical students in crisp white coats who scribble notes on their clipboards at NYU Langone Hospital. I might try to flirt with them if I wasn’t perched on the edge of a hospital bed with my dressing gown pulled down to my waist.
I am still flat-chested when my mother’s good friend Alan, who is 37, gives me a good-night kiss at the end of one of my parents’ dinner parties. I might think that kind or comforting if his poofy lips didn’t linger so long on my mouth.
My surgeon stands before me, an ample-bellied, short man, who comes highly recommended as the “absolute top” plastic surgeon in Manhattan. He pokes at my breasts with a blue marker, making dots here and there, strategizing the best way to perfect my female form. I ignore the hot blush of my cheeks and submit to the redesign. One of the residents interviews me in his I’m-gonna-be-a-doctor voice, “And when did you first notice the size of your breasts as a problem?”
I pause for a moment, unsure of how to answer. “Um, 16?”
I am newly fully bosomed, and after five years of good-night visits, Alan takes my virginity in my bed, on my birthday. He doesn’t ask; he just takes it. I didn’t struggle or cry; I think I thought I was his for keeps. But soon after, he disappears from my life, leaving me to wonder about what part of me he no longer wanted.
I awake from the surgery and sob from the pain.
Weeks later, in the doctor’s office, my bandages are unwound. The nurse hands me a mirror.
My skin is corpse pale, splattered in purple and green bruises, and painted in orange antiseptic dye, the blue marking pen dots still visible. Two hard and lumpy torpedo-shaped mounds with upside-down T-shaped ruddy scars reach across my torso.
A ring of puckered, bloody stitches encircles each of my nipples. The nurse sees my distress and chirps like Glenda the Good Witch, “At some point, your areolas were snipped entirely off your body and sat together on a dish while the surgeons tailored the rest of your flesh to a C-cup before they were sewn back in place!”
My surgeon walks in to admire his work. He tells me not to worry and that my new breasts will be beautiful once they recover from the shock and trauma of all they have been through.
He adds, “You are going to love me when you are 50.” Before I can ask, “Why so long?” he walks out the door.
After Age Twenty-one and Before Age Fifty
With each new boyfriend, I argue with myself about the best time to recite my small print. Do I blurt it out at the first kiss or whisper a trigger warning right before my bra comes off? I imagine they will run out the door, horrified, but no one does. Some ask questions, Why? being the most common. I offer a carousel of responses: It didn’t feel like me. I wasn’t at home in my body. I didn’t like the men who liked big boobs. It was too hard to find a bathing suit. I don’t mention Alan.
With my fingers, I trace my fine scars, now hidden by the perfected swell of my 34-C breasts. I acknowledge my surgeon’s skill but also, and maybe for the first time, wonder at my own ruthlessness. What part of myself did I want to excise?
Danielle Joffe is a spiritual psychologist, acupuncturist, and lecturer. After a lifetime of living in all kinds of places, Danielle is amazed to find herself right back where she was born in Fairfield, CT. She and her husband share a home with Emerson, their Aussiedoodle, and an orange cat named Charlie.