Why the business of boobs is busting out from “bigger is better”
You’d think a Victoria’s Secret in every American mall would basically guarantee a bra for every pair of breasts nationwide. However, once you pass the iconic feather-winged mannequins with perky, pint-size chests in favor of the tables overflowing with itchy grandma bras, you start to realize how Buddy the Elf felt growing up with his North Pole peers: ridiculously large.
It wasn’t long ago that ample assets were big business, with breast enhancements far outnumbering reductions because of the perceived correlation between busty and beautiful. Lifestyles keep evolving, though, and in recent years, smaller breasts have proven conducive to more robust exercise, better back health, and the ability to button up shirts without giving people a front-row seat to the ugly bra you bought at the old lady department store. Apparently, Victoria’s Secret hasn’t realized that most of the female population still squeezes into bras that are traumatically too small. The practical solution nowadays: breast reductions.
It’s entirely possible that the bra industry hasn’t focused enough on accommodating larger-breasted women, ultimately making big boobs seem unfashionable. This explains the monumental rise in breast reductions over the years – according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, breast reduction surgeries rose by 157% between 1997 and 2013. But that alone doesn’t account for why young women have been looking to reduce their chest profile.
I was once one of these young women desperately searching for an answer that would solve my diminishing confidence caused by my breast size. At 15, I faced my biggest fear: getting fitted for a bra.
“34 EEE,” the sales lady announced after unfurling the soft yellow measuring tape from its death grip around my torso. “Unfortunately, we don’t carry bras in your size, but I can give you the names of some special stores for girls like you.”
Girls like me. My heart sank. I slumped over in the corner of the dressing room, eyes closed and imagining the reflection of my 34EEEs overtaking the three-way mirror. I needed smaller boobs.
Stacey Folk, the Denver-based plastic surgeon who ultimately performed my breast reduction, has seen an anecdotal jump in teenage breast reductions over the past decade. Folk has gotten two breast reductions herself, so she fully understands the urgency of women who want to get this procedure.
“I was a 34 DDD, now a 34D. I tell all of my patients that I have had the surgery, and even show them my scars if it helps, so I am pretty open,” she says. My breasts grew pretty quickly during high school… the biggest problem for me was feeling self- conscious about my appearance. I like fashion, and felt limited in what I could wear.”
In my experience, I felt the same limitations when, seemingly overnight, my burgeoning chest size hijacked my self-esteem. I squeezed into three sports bras every morning, my humiliation as transparent as the attempts to disguise my insecurity.
Hobart College sophomore Stella Jalai also struggles to reshape her body to better fit the Victoria’s Secret ideal.
“I tend to complain about having big breasts and not being able to wear certain clothes and looking fatter than I am because my breasts make shirts look bigger on me,” Jalai says. “Even though I get attention from boys, which gives me confidence, I always wonder if it is because they like my body or because I am an attractive person.”
There is an unspoken obligation for women to conform to a sexualized society that promotes perfectly proportionate bodies. This is evidenced by the rise in breast reductions among adolescents.
Tyler Greene, a first-year student at Richmond University, also thinks a smaller cup size would go a long way towards increasing her confidence.
“Smaller breasts seem very popular among celebrities, so I feel pressured to alter my appearance to look more like them,” she says. “There is a lot of pressure to attain the ‘perfect’ body, and it does not usually include large breasts.”
As these societal pressures rose around me, I no longer felt “normal” in my own skin. Despite this, I always knew I was Sophie underneath my strategic layers of clothing. While crude comments about my appearance eventually became background noise, I realized that, this being the 21st century, I had options.
After hours of research, I mentioned a breast reduction to my mom. Our conversation carried on for months as I peppered her with arguments in favor of the procedure. She grew to understand I was tired of the camouflage — I couldn’t run, jump, play sports, or sleep comfortably. My breasts were not only diminishing my confidence, but also my health and quality of life.
On June 15, 2017, I awoke from anesthesia 750 grams of breast tissue lighter. I wasn’t emptier, though, but rather overflowing with self-love. The walls of adversity and self-recrimination that had built up around my midsection gave way to joy and acceptance. I escaped a place of isolation to emerge stronger than ever. For the first time in three years, people, including me, saw and accepted me for who I am. Finally, Sophie Schlosser came out of hiding once and for all.
This was originally printed in Equal Time Magazine’s Fall 2019 print issue. Read it here.