Weeks before I turned 19, I checked into Massachusetts General Hospital terrified that nothing could fix the way I saw myself. Two days after undergoing surgery, I stood topless in my parents' bathroom watching as my mother slowly pulled squares of medical tape spotted with puss and dried blood from my chest. I waited in Percocet-induced suspense for my flat-chested doppelganger to miraculously appear in the full-length mirror. When they were finally uncovered I hardly recognized the small puffy breasts that fit perfectly inside the palms of my hands. There were lines of stitches in rows around my nipples and a mixture of yellow and purple tie-dyed bruises.
"Much better," my mother smiled at me.
"Really?" I asked.
"Yes," she responded confidently placing her delicate hands on my bare shoulders. "I forgot how tiny you are." Immediately after surgery, my mother saw me differently; everyone did, except for me. I had assumed that once I got rid of my breasts I'd instantly feel small and confident. But enduring surgery, permanent scarring and a 40 percent chance I'll not be able to breast feed, it turns out, were easy compared to the process of shaking off my old insecurities.
As a kid, my ballet teacher nicknamed me Olive Oil because I was tall and skinny with long dark hair like the cartoon. By 14, puberty had left me squeezing into 32DD bras. My instant curves disgusted me. "You are not fat; you’re Zaftik," my mother would say in Yiddish, as she inspected my 5'7" and 120-lb. frame. She meant I carried my weight well. Large busts were so common among Jewish women they'd created a word in the Old Country for exactly what I'd inherited.
I was perceived as a sensual Marilyn Monroe-type, but I felt completely unsexy. I was physically uncomfortable, weighed down by my top-heavy frame, and unable to find shirts that didn't draw attention to my unavoidable cleavage.