In September 2018, I got my breast implants explanted.
The surgery was simple. Dr. C. made two-inch-long incisions and extracted a pair of saline water balloons from the exhausted skin sacks where they’d spent the previous 13 years. One moment they were inside of my body, and the next they were at the bottom of a red biohazard trash can in the corner of the room — where they belonged.
Physically, all the removal required was showing up, $2,000, 1 milligram of Valium, and my love at my side, holding my hand.
Mentally, it was vastly more complicated, and I had to dig deep to tunnel safely through to the other side.
I realized that I couldn’t understand how to move forward without exploring the question, “Why the fuck did I get them in the first place?” I wonder if any of us, in the moment we make the choice, really knows. I definitely didn’t.
The first time my boobs changed my life
As a newly minted teenager, my breasts changed my life’s trajectory. They weren’t the whole of the shift, but they were a substantial part of it. The life I knew before my breasts developed and the life I lived afterward bore no resemblance to each other. Both lives were real, but neither was whole or true.
Growing up, I was an outcast — a pariah. I was skinny and awkward, ill-groomed, and unaware of the social norms everyone else seemed to intuitively understand. The things that made me exceptional were also things that painted a blood-red target on my back.
And my classmates rarely passed up an opportunity to take a shot.
I was desperate for connection and tried so hard to fit in, but my clumsy attempts to assimilate were ridiculed. I was poor and shabby, and when I opened my mouth, more often than not, I shoved in both feet. I fixated on random shit, like the spelling bee and gymnastics, and only talked about myself and my interests. I didn’t know how to talk about anything else.
And for that, I suffered. I was crazy smart and devastatingly ignorant at the same time.
Fast forward five years and puberty gifted me nine inches of height, delicate bone structure, and giant boobs.
The dads called me, “The One with the Body.”
Everything about me was exaggerated in seemingly just the right way. I grew 34D breasts that were grossly disproportionate and impossible to ignore on my skinny 6-foot-1-inch, 135-pound frame. And I did not see that shit coming. The U-turn damn near gave me whiplash. It was as if I woke up on the day I turned 15 in an alternate dimension.
In this new world, I was a varsity cheerleader and varsity volleyball starter. I got invited to the cool parties. I dated the cute, popular boys. I was “discovered” by my modeling agency walking with my friends through my shopping mall. The dads called me, “The One with the Body.”
I garnered a lot of attention, so much so that there were times it felt unsafe. When I needed to leave the house in those moments, I would hide in baggy clothes, no makeup, and a ballcap.
The catalyst for the change in my social status, and thus my entire life, was my physical appearance. I was still the same socially awkward weirdo on the inside. I just grew taller, stayed skinny, and grew boobs.
The world rearranged itself around me, and attention, accolades, and opportunities dropped at my feet because of my appearance. It seemed that all of my problems with external acceptance were solved.
My new silhouette brought a new set of problems for which I was even less prepared.
Someone who couldn’t leave me
Six years later, I became a 21-year-old bride on my honeymoon with my new 25-year-old groom.
Throughout our marriage, my ex regularly cited that trip as one of the happiest experiences we ever shared. When he said it — and he said it a lot — I always smiled and nodded, never giving voice to my opposition. There was no point.
I still can’t imagine what he remembers as happy. For me, the trip was foreboding.
I didn’t know him. We had gotten engaged after six weeks of dating, the summer before my senior year of college, and I was so happy to be getting married I’m not sure that I cared much about to whom. Getting married meant I’d have someone who could never leave me.
The hustle required over the next year to finish my undergraduate degree, grieve my seven-month-old birth daughter, whom I had recently given up for adoption, and plan my wedding so that I could get married 10 days after graduation didn’t leave me much time or energy to learn more about the man to whom I was committing my life.
I figured we had the next 60 years together on the horizon, and there was plenty of time for discovery.
I wanted so badly to be the last couple standing during the anniversary dance at my grandchild’s wedding — the two who kept on dancing when the DJ said, “Okay! You gotta go unless you’ve been married at least 50 years!” I’d hold my beloved’s hand, and we’d sway, forehead-to-wrinkled forehead, the glow of the life we’d built together — brick by brick, year by year — radiating through the room.
And I thought I knew enough about him to look forward to it. But on my honeymoon, I got a crash course in my new husband that left me less than excited about what was to come.
I learned so much on that trip.
First, I learned to stay quiet and passively agree at check-in to switch rooms to one that had a better view than the suite included in our honeymoon package. The only downside was that it had two full beds instead of a king.
His justifications of, “We can’t pass it up! That view is like $300 more per night” and “Isn’t it nice to be able to stretch out?” and “We didn’t come all the way to the ocean to not see the ocean” sounded reasonable enough through the filter of my budding resentment.
I learned to shut down the part of me that had hoped to hear, “No thanks on the ‘upgrade.’ You can throw a mattress out on the courtyard for all I care. She’s the only view I’m interested in.”
I learned I could expect impatient sarcasm and not-so-passive, but definitely aggressive digs when I communicated that the idea of traversing a foreign jungle with a man who reacted with disgust at my expressions of fear didn’t feel safe.
I learned the extent of his willingness to leave without me when his eye rolls and exasperated sighs didn’t quell my fears.
I imagined a week-long sex-fest where we worshiped each other’s bodies, bonded as a newly minted pair, and rarely bothered with clothes or even leaving the room.
The sense of safety I thought would come when he slid that ring on my finger was revealing itself to be a delusion. I felt less safe instead of more. And I absorbed all of his tiny blows to keep the peace.
His annoyance was justified, I thought, and the discord was my fault for expecting that our honeymoon would be “eat, sleep, fuck, repeat” instead of “Do you think we can squeeze the jungle walk and the Mayan ruin tour into the same day?”
I imagined a weeklong sex fest where we worshiped each other’s bodies, bonded as a newly minted pair, and rarely bothered with clothes or even leaving the room.
I hadn’t anticipated spending every day on excursions. We should’ve talked about it beforehand, and I could’ve told him what I wanted. It was my fault. Which meant I told myself I could fix it.
“Just try, AJ. Jesus fucking Christ,” he said.
The first day of trying to “just try” consisted of accompanying him snorkeling, which resulted in a fight and being left to my own devices to manage a panic attack while he swam downstream, out of sight. I spent the remaining days of our honeymoon resigned to the fact that this trip wasn’t about us. It was about him doing things he wanted to do, and I could come along or not.
Most often, I chose not.
He took this picture of me standing on the shore on the day I went with him. He said he took it so that I could see how “silly” I looked when I wouldn’t go in. I wandered around for two hours waiting for him to reappear.
One afternoon, toward the end of our weeklong trip, he returned to the hotel room following whatever activity he had undertaken that day and got straight into the shower. He had a habit of taking at least one hourlong shower per day, which I had recently discovered was an excuse for an extended jerk-off session. I ignored it because, on some level, his well-practiced ability to satisfy himself suddenly worked for me.
I knew I would be alone for a while while he fucked other women in his mind and spilled the baby I wanted onto the shower floor. It was okay because I had a hunch that baby was already in my belly. And she was. Thank God.
My ex was fiercely territorial about my body. He wouldn’t get upset (at least not visibly) when men looked at me, but he would rage when he believed that I was “showing off.”
I talked myself into being flattered by his possessiveness.
He knew I had well-seasoned sexual past — partly from the traditional “getting to know you” dating conversations and partly from my exhibition of the kind of high-level sexual proficiency gained only through enthusiastic and committed study. But he had an aversion to any open discussion of it. He wanted to believe that my past didn’t exist, and that no other man had touched my body.
He needed to believe it.
He didn’t know how many men I’d slept with. He didn’t acknowledge I had been raped. I tried to tell him once through tears and he stopped me, saying he couldn’t handle hearing it. At the time, I thought he struggled because he didn’t want to imagine me hurting. It took me a while to figure out that his discomfort was about his aversion to the idea of other men having helped themselves to my body.
And so he showered with the door locked while I read my book on our balcony.
From that coveted, two-bed, partial-ocean view suite balcony on the third floor, I watched people lying on the beach and strolling through the sand. The resort allowed topless bathing, and, for days, I had been surrounded by women who seemed devoid of self-consciousness as they walked by with their breasts exposed, free, and beautiful in every imperfect iteration. I was so hypercritical of my body that I couldn’t imagine having that kind of confidence, and my breasts were a particular source of anxiety.
My new husband would stare at every one of those women — studying — and when a pair displeased him, he’d scoff and say something like, “She should put her top back on.”
I felt my body, my loyalty, my intentions, and my past shamed with that one comment.
I asked him at one point after he managed to peel his gaze from a particularly alluring pair of breasts, if he would like it if I took my top off, too. He seemed to enjoy it when other women did. And I knew from his porn selection that he was a boob guy.
Maybe if I bared my breasts, too, he’d want to sleep in bed with me.
I was hypercritical of my breasts then, but I would’ve gone topless to please him.
“Are you fucking kidding me, AJ? I thought you were ‘self-conscious!?’” he replied with the sarcastic flourish of air quotes. “We’ve been married for five days, and you’re already dying to show off your tits to other men? I should’ve known.”
I felt my body, my loyalty, my intentions, and my past shamed with that one comment.
He snatched up his sandals and towel and stormed back to the room. I stayed poolside for another hour, waiting for my eyes to stop welling up so I could go back to our suite and apologize without my voice cracking.
Back on the balcony, with my new husband in the shower — occupied with thoughts of cumming on someone else’s tits — an impulse overcame me.
In an experiment that was part defiance and part curiosity, I reached behind my neck and tugged on the string of my pale blue triangle bikini top. I felt it loosen. I pulled harder and released the bow I had tied… and hesitated for just a moment before letting my top fall to the floor.
I stood there, feeling the sunshine touch the skin on my chest for the first time in my adult life, and I closed my eyes to both revel in the moment and hide behind my eyelids. I half-believed that I would open them to a crowd of people gathered around to gawk at the horribleness of my breasts.
They might even yell at me to put my shirt back on.
When I opened my eyes, the world was somehow still turning. And I just stood there.
People looked up from below, ran their eyes over my figure, smiled if they happened to catch my eye, and continued on their way. They didn’t recoil in disgust. They didn’t laugh at (what I perceived as) my misshapen breasts. They didn’t think much at all. I was just another woman occupying the body God gave me, without shame or fear, amongst other people doing the same, unremarkable thing.
I felt liberated. Free. Beautifully, imperfectly, reverently human. And safe.
The slam of the shower door closing behind my husband snapped me back to reality, and I scrambled to get my top back on, shuffle inside, flop on my bed, and pretend to be asleep just as I heard the click of the lock and the bathroom door creak open.
It was a run-in with self-acceptance and a moment of respite from chronic anxiety and self-loathing. That was the happiest moment of my honeymoon — just me, topless on my balcony. And its conclusion foreshadowed the next 16 years of my life.
Eight months later, my breasts were pressed into service by the birth of my daughter. They were now utilitarian laborers. They were no longer the object of unfettered attention from male passersby. My body changed, by design, to meet the needs of my daughter. I was still objectively attractive, but bodies change with pregnancy and childbirth in ways that cannot be undone.
It was a rough transition for a woman who had lived the first half of her life, getting her emotional needs met by representing an ideal of youth and beauty.
Changing myself into something loveable
The kind of about-face I experienced in adolescence doesn’t happen without consequences. “Rags-to-riches” lottery winners eventually end up back in their rags.
This much I know: I entered puberty feeling like an unloveable, worthless piece of shit. When I hit the genetic lottery, I held on to that winning ticket like grim death.
As my life changed for the better, I intuitively realized how much I had to lose and how fragile my grip on it was. There’s almost nothing I wouldn’t have done to preserve the attention I read as love.
I had spent my early years in the rags of social isolation, and I didn’t want to wear them ever again.
I was 15 the first day I opened the refrigerator after school and thought, “Maybe I’ll see what happens if I don’t eat for the rest of the night.” And it felt so good that the next morning, I thought, “I wonder if I can make it through the school day with just gum.”
Restricting what I ate gave me a sense of control over my fear of disappearing. As long as I didn’t gain weight, I’d have some clout. If I looked like a model, there’d always be people who wanted to be around me and plenty of boys to make me feel wanted — at least until they got to know the “real me.”
My brain created a filter for me to view myself. It was a not-so-fun house mirror that added 10, 15, 20 pounds to my reflection. The distortion ensured that I wouldn’t lose self-control — that I wouldn’t slip and indulge myself and cost me the attention I knew I didn’t deserve anyway.
Everything and everyone in my life was both a gift and a threat to me. I had an overwhelming fear of loss. Without the attention my body garnered, I imagined I’d return to being rejected and lonely. With it, I was overwhelmed by the reality that peoples’ interest in me had nothing to do with the person inside… and I was still lonely.
Eleven years later, and out of fear of losing everything I had gained since my metamorphosis, I would get breast implants to try to claw some of that external validation back.
My brain still had it all wrong.
I had the first symptom of my breast implant illness — anorexia — at 15.
. . .
When I went in for surgery, I was a mother to two beautiful girls and a birth mother to a third. I was a 26-year-old housewife crazy in love with my kids, but not my husband. Plus, I was sick and exhausted all the time and had no sex drive.
I thought the causative factor for my lack of desire was my growing list of physical complaints: headaches, lethargy, heart palpitations, shortness of breath.
I believed there was something wrong with my body that was killing my once exuberant sexuality and that my husband was an asshole for giving me so much shit about something I had no control over.
In reality, I was exhausted and sick because I had three kids, not two. The man I had expected to be my rock and take care of me turned out to have an even greater desire than mine to be taken care of. He wanted a mommy who would meet all of his needs, all of the time, at the expense of her own.
And to keep him from leaving, I met all of those needs. Except one.
I had zero sexual desire for him because, developmentally, he was a child, and I’m not sexually attracted to children. But I didn’t understand his pathology at the time because I was an emotional adolescent myself.
When he suggested that maybe I wouldn’t be so “frigid” if I felt better about my body and that perhaps I should talk to his doctor friend about getting implants, that was pure genius on his part. He knew precisely on which insecurity to prey to get his walking blow-up doll.
I came around pretty quickly. I liked the idea of feeling sexy and beautiful again, and the logic seemed solid.
Back when I was that little unwanted kid, the development of my breasts won me attention. Maybe if I changed myself to look more like the porn he was addicted to, maybe my husband would want me. Perhaps if he scrapped the porn, that would make me desire him, and he’d become the emotional rock and best friend I had always wanted in a partner — and maybe I wouldn’t be quite so lonely anymore.
I just needed to be more attractive to him. That would fix it, I told myself. I thought changing my body would change my life for the second time.
So I got implants at 26, and, instead of rekindling passion, I grew even more repulsed by his touch. I resented his new attention because it confirmed the fears that had been the undercurrent of my life since puberty: My body was the sole source of my value — even to my husband. And I was eventually going to lose everything I had gained as I got older and be alone again. It was inevitable.
Constellation of illnesses
From 15 to 37, my eating disorder was my constant companion. I hated grocery shopping. I hated cooking. I would make my kids processed dinners out of the box, and my meals consisted of taking little bites of their leftovers on their way to the garbage: pizza crusts and half-eaten chicken nuggets.
I didn’t think it mattered what I ate, as long as I ate very little.
And that was just one piece of what became the constellation of illnesses that plagued me by the time I was 30.
I had brutal migraines — the kind with visual aura, numbness, and apraxia, which is when you have trouble speaking. They descended on me for days, and I drew all of the curtains in the house and sat with an icy cold washcloth on my head as my babies played at my feet. I was lethargic and developed hypothyroidism.
I was also severely anemic. I was diagnosed with a bleeding disorder and hemorrhaged during the birth of my three youngest children and monthly between them. My two-plus week periods were an excellent reason to have less sex with my husband and have it not be my fault.
I had blood transfusions and IV iron infusions and injections given to chemotherapy patients to stimulate their bone marrow to make more hemoglobin. They pumped clotting factor directly into my bloodstream and, still, the bleeding eventually became so severe that I had a hysterectomy at 38.
I had inflammation and autoimmune markers. At various points, my doctor tested me for lupus, scleroderma, and multiple sclerosis. My ANA test, the one that looks for evidence that your body is attacking itself, was positive. My health was a tragic mess.
By the time I was pregnant with my youngest child, my standard of living got stuck on “survive” — and I didn’t even do that very well. The breast implant illness in my head had metastasized from my brain into my body.
In 2016, I discovered my husband’s double life of lies, missing money, and infidelity. Crushing betrayal laced with relief is an unsettling emotional cocktail.
My youngest was seven when I threw his half of our walk-in closet on the lawn and unplugged the garage door opener so he couldn’t get into the house when he returned from his clandestine Tinder date.
He gathered his possessions in the dark that night and moved in with his mom. He didn’t even knock on the door to ask why. He knew.
The decision to kick him out was terrifying. As a stay-at-home mom, he held my financial stability in his hands. But life as a single mom was easier than as a married one. I had one less child to care for, and roughly two weeks after he left, I developed certainty about my choice. Just as he was confessing to me what a mistake he had made, how he was getting help and was ready to turn his life around, I realized that kicking him about was about 15 years overdue.
He discovered that he “couldn’t live without me” at pretty much the exact time I discovered that I couldn’t live with him even one day more.
I finally dared to say out loud that I didn’t want him — and took responsibility for it. I cemented my decision by opening myself up to dating.
I had been unwaveringly faithful for 16 years, and my loyalty was part of my identity. My willingness to invite new men into my life meant that I was leaving my marriage behind.
About two months later, I had sex with a new man for the first time in 16 years. I broke my vows — they no longer had any significance to me, and I felt no remorse or shame. I was liberated. And I discovered that my sex drive was not dead. It had merely been dormant.
And while the new men also wanted access to my disproportionate breasts and tall, skinny body, I didn’t begrudge them that. At least they could go to bed with me without looking at porn first.
It was very much alive.
It felt so good to be desired again. It was a rewrite of my first transformation. The attention was intoxicating, and my sex drive flipped on like a switch. Physical illnesses be damned—I wanted, more than anything, validation.
So I started dating — a lot.
And I shed 25 pounds in 45 days as the men on the dating apps reminded me why I was valuable. And it was soothing, like a salve to the inevitable ego-bruising that came with discovering my husband had been unfaithful countless times, lying to me about it for years, and shaming me when I voiced my suspicions.
And while the new men also wanted access to my disproportionate breasts and tall, skinny body, I didn’t begrudge them that. At least they could go to bed with me without looking at porn first.
Navigating dating with an eating disorder is no easy feat. Dates traditionally center around food, so I had to do some dancing around meal invites to make it work. I got creative.
I’d be available only at non-meal times or for drinks after dinner. I’d suggest activities instead of dinners, or I’d say I already ate and fill up on red wine, which my dates didn’t mind either.
The attention fed my eating disorder while my eating disorder fed the attention. My soul was a starving addict looking for its next fix.
The wittiest woman on this app
Sometimes people come into your life who can act as lenses through which you can see a perspective you wouldn’t otherwise couldn’t access. And it can change your life.
I accepted a date with a guy who seemed, per his profile, a little eccentric. He was only six-foot even — an inch shorter than me — but he was handsome and articulate. His bio was long-form, like mine. He was a writer and an academic. He was also older than me by about 13–14 years, and I had always found older men attractive. And he read my profile the whole way through.
His first message to me was, “You are the wittiest woman on this app.” He never mentioned my body. Not my height. Not my weight. Not my pretty face. What he was attracted to, he said, was the writing in my profile. I was curious to find out if he was an outlier… or just a regular ol’ liar.
It was raining the night of our first date, and I was running late because I lost track of time chatting with my girlfriend. When I told him that I didn’t know if I’d make it, he said, “Take your time. I’ll be here.” That made all the difference because, before he said that, I was ready to cancel. I knew I wasn’t going to make it by 7 p.m. He was an outlier already. I wasn’t used to men with that kind of patience.
I showed up late to our date to find my ticket at will call and him saving me a seat in the second row of the little dive theatre. He cracked a joke during the improv show when he was called on to participate and disclosed to the room that we had just met. The crowd of 20 erupted in cheers and well wishes.
And he seemed very happy with “real life” me, as well.
After the show, we bounced to a little wood-fired pizza place with malbec and gelato. He ordered food without asking me what I wanted, and followed it up with, “You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to.”
He told me how he “wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t great,” which I remembered from his profile. He told me how he’d lost 60 pounds and about his son’s Type 1 diabetes as I nibbled on the uneaten crust of his pizza.
After a parked-car make-out session, he invited me up to his lakeside condo. I accepted. He told me later that he wasn’t much of a one-night stand guy, and he wouldn’t normally move things that fast, but that his invite was for the long game.
He sensed that if he didn’t ask me up, he would never see me again. And he was right.
More than anything at that moment, I needed validation. I was on that date in large part, to ease my chronic pain.
Upstairs, the passion quickly escalated to the classic movie scene of frenetic undressing, clothes landing on lampshades, and being so desperate to touch each other that we never made it to the bed.
I remember he tried to remove my bra, and I resisted, telling him, “I’m self-conscious about my breasts.” He replied, “I don’t care. I want all of you,” and proceeded to take it off of me. And I let him.
That was the first time I allowed that to happen during a post-divorce, initial sexual encounter. I usually found a way to keep my breasts hidden. I hated my cartoon boobs.
On our second date, I let him take me to dinner, and he ordered for both of us again. And I only ate what I wanted. No pressure. No obligation. “If you don’t like it, we will order something else.” I didn’t eat his crusts this time. I had a whole, delicious meal.
Afterward, we had sex in the parking lot of the restaurant.
We continued to see each other semi-regularly, and this time it was me who was leading the double-life. When I was with him, I presented as a healthy, normal woman — albeit on the skinny side. He knew about my headaches, how easily I got cold, and how stressed out I was about my divorce, but the rest of my illness I kept hidden. We were both busy, so our in-person contacts amounted to one or two every couple of weeks, which was plenty of distance to keep my secrets safe.
He never suspected I was anorexic because I always ate well with him, and he bought my story about being naturally skinny and working out a lot
I was ashamed and believed he wouldn’t want me if he knew what I was really like.
Then came the point, nine months later, when I finally confessed my anorexia to him. And by “confessed,” I mean, “had a mental breakdown when he tried to compliment me by saying I looked like I had gained about five pounds.”
I was emaciated at that point. 125 pounds. My BMI was 16. When he commented on my weight gain, I lost my ever-loving shit.
He never suspected I was anorexic because I always ate well with him, and he bought my story about being naturally skinny and working out a lot (which were both true — I had a way of skirting the truth). He was taken aback by the revelation and unsure if he could continue seeing me. He had loved ones who had suffered addiction and knew the kind of investment recovery required.
And now he didn’t trust me. So, that being the catalyst, we broke up.
I was devastated. My first instinct was to double-down and lose even more weight as a “Fuck you!” And it didn’t take me long to realize that that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted the guy who told me I was, “the wittiest woman on this app.”
. . .
His behavior went against everything I’d learned about my value in the world. He saw something I couldn’t see, and I desperately needed to believe it was there.
I didn’t want to be sick anymore, if only because I didn’t want to lose someone who was important to me. That borrowed motivation finally sparked a drive that was stronger than my desire to stay skinny. His validation became more important to me than anyone else in the world. We gradually reconnected as I committed to getting better.
Over the next few months, I gained 20 pounds with manageable anxiety. I watched my body change and talked with him about my fears and insecurities. He said he liked my new shape — even preferred it — which I struggled to wrap my brain around.
He saw progress in me that signaled I was doing the work to recover.
We decided that wherever I landed with my weight, as long as I was making healthy choices, it would be beautiful. Rather, he decided that. I smiled and nodded and worked hard on taking him at his word.
We spent more and more time together eating and cooking whole foods. I started unlearning aversions, and he taught me about the positive impact that high-quality nutrition could have on my body that he had learned from his weight loss and his son’s diabetes diagnosis.
I ate grass-fed beef and cheese from pasture-raised cows. We drank kombucha and cooked with local, in-season produce. He rarely fed me carbs and, instead, filled me up with high-quality fats from healthy animals. It was very different than my standard daily fare of crusts from leftover grilled cheese and the preservative-packed baked potato soup from a tin can.
I wasn’t just healing from anorexia. My other health ailments were abating, as well. My body felt better. As I shifted the criteria I used to evaluate myself — choosing feeling well over looking good, prioritizing health over appearance — I started to change my perspective about what was truly valuable.
The transition wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. I had some seriously touch-and-go moments. During those breakdowns, when I let the anxiety and fear of a lonely, tortured existence reignite my impulse to starve myself, he spoke my love language — words of affirmation — and told me all the things about me that he adored that had nothing to do with my body.
He made lists with me about my wonderful qualities and asked me to write them down and reference them. And he wrapped his arms around me and reminded me that he thought I was beautiful, inside and out.
As my form changed, I started thinking more seriously about removing my breast implants. I didn’t want them anymore. They seemed like some vestigial remnants of another lifetime, and I resented their presence in my increasingly healthy body. Yet, I still feared the loss of attractiveness and the illusion of control that would come with the explant.
The idea of facing the damage underneath my implants caused a visceral reaction in me that made me think I was going to die. Explanting was my Waterloo.
My love was beyond supportive. “Do it,” flew out of his mouth before my inquiry into his opinion even left my lips. He said he would prefer any possible outcome to having another man’s fake breasts grafted onto my body.
I tried so hard — but I didn’t believe him.
I didn’t think he understood that while the breast implants weren’t good, removing them was going to leave me far more aesthetically worse off.
And what if he changed his mind when he saw the actual outcome and left me?
I had 23 years and countless men as evidence vs. one man and one year to the contrary — that all the world valued me for was my body.
I feared explanting, even more than gaining weight, would take me right back to being that obnoxious little kid who was miserable and lonely.
And then I had some routine blood work done.
My doctor called me the next day, in disbelief, to give me the results himself. He declared me clear of all of the physical dysfunction that had plagued me for a decade. Negative ANA, normal TSH, normal iron, normal hemoglobin, normal glucose, normal A1C. And it occurred to me at that moment that I hadn’t had a migraine in over a year.
Even before my explant surgery, I’d begun healing, both from the illness that had caused me to get breast implants and the damage the implants had done after I got them.
I knew, attractiveness be damned, that the implants had to come out.
Regret is an ugly emotion. It’s not about being unable to admit failure. It’s grief, plain and simple. People regret choices because those choices led to loss.
My beliefs about the world, my value in it, and the skewed way I viewed myself, were related to my choice to have those water balloons inserted into my chest.
I am grieving my natural body, years lost, and the chance to take a different road when I had the opportunity.
I could put on my “power of positive thinking” hat and color the implants as an experiment I ran that I learned from But that’s not honest or true, either.
That’s like saying an alcoholic falling off the wagon is an “experiment.”
I was sick. And it was not my fault. But it was not not my fault either. I wasn’t to blame but healing was still my responsibility.
Everything that was wrong with my perspectives: My beliefs about the world, my value in it, and the skewed way I viewed myself, were related to my choice to have those water balloons inserted into my chest.
I had anorexia, hypothyroidism, hair loss, anxiety, autoimmune markers, inflammation, migraines, depression, and fatigue. And I had breast implants.
I was so sick, but it wasn’t from the foreign materials inside of my body. The implants themselves didn’t make me sick. Getting implants was a sign that I was sick. And removal didn’t heal me. Removing them was a sign that I was healing.
There’s an inner critic in my head that says, “Smooth move, dumbass. You did all of this for some guy, and when he leaves, it won’t hold. You will crash and burn.” But I can’t listen to that little asshole because, regardless of how I got here, I am finally healing.
In my opinion, there was no wrong way to get to the other side.
With the way my brain had been wired, I didn’t have a lot of options. Without a credible outside perspective to contrast my long-held beliefs helping me tunnel through to the other side, I don’t think I would’ve made it to safety. He acted as my eyes to see value in myself that I didn’t know was there, until I was able to see it for myself.
Everything broken in my head was responsible for breaking my body:
I was sick from unresolved childhood trauma.
I was sick from low-self esteem.
I was sick from sexual abuse.
I was sick from my shitty marriage.
I was sick from dysmorphia.
I was sick from my lack of coping skills.
I was sick from eating toxic crap.
I was sick from lack of self-love and from decades of making myself small — and my body revolted. That’s a shit-ton of dysfunction to carry around. Of course, I was sick.
I got breast implants because I believed that changing my body was proven to change my stars. “Fixing” my breasts was so much easier than fixing my mind.
At the time, I couldn’t even begin to imagine loving someone as unworthy of love as I believed myself to be.
Healing from my illness is not about forgiving myself or asking for sympathy. It’s not about blaming my ex-husband or the porn industry or the plastic surgeons or the implant makers or the kids who teased me mercilessly or the people who loved my beautiful wrapping paper and never bothered to lift the lid to see what was inside. Because for a long time, I didn’t bother to lift the lid, either.
It’s about accepting the choices I made and why I made them.
It’s about understanding the past so that I can find a path forward.
It’s about learning that there are beautiful things in me that have nothing to do with my appearance.
And the real mindfuck is that I’m sitting here at 40 years old as a single mom with my real stubby nails, and my real hair, and my real breasts, at a healthy body weight, in receipt of the least amount of attention the world has lavished on me since I turned 15… and it’s okay.
My new, old breasts are back to beautiful, and I love them more now than I did when they first arrived.
And I’m — finally — not sick anymore.
This post was previously published on Human Parts and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: A.J. Kay