As the annual beach-body-ready season kicks off in earnest, Christa D’Souza celebrates her decision to have her breast implants removed and finds that for her anyway, natural is best
What do you keep in your bottom drawer? Me, I use it for presents to re-gift, odd bits of wrapping paper and mismatched socks. The other items my bottom drawer is home to are a set of breast implants which I had surgically removed in the summer of 2016. They are in little yellow plastic bags marked with “bio hazard”, have the consistency and appearance of giant jelly tots and each weigh 0.6kg. Occasionally I will take them out for a private viewing. I wanted them as a keepsake, a relic to mark a part of my personal history.
It was 19 years ago when I had the first set put in. The pain of waking up from that will never leave me. Like having a lorry driving across your chest and then reversing slowly back on it. The first operation is always the most painful (I know this, because I had two further sets put in later), but at the time I thought it would be worth it. Back in the late 20th century, as those of you who are old enough to remember will know, big Baywatch-style bosoms were quite a post-modern thing. The other reason was that I’d had a baby and though my breasts had just about passed the pencil test before getting pregnant, afterwards they were like, well, two bits of chewing gum. That first surgeon assured me if I got big enough implants I wouldn’t need a lift. I shouldn’t have listened.
You need to be a certain sort of woman to pull off unusually large breasts (32E in my case on a 5ft 4 1/2in frame). As I found out almost immediately, I was never that kind of woman. However much I dressed them down, they made me feel, as my Dad would have put it, “common”. I didn’t like the way everyone’s eyes went to them first. I didn’t like the jokes people made, the way men lingered with hugs (this was pre-#metoo, after all). My sense of spatial awareness changed too. Not that I’d actually bump into things, but it was as if I was walking around with a shelf fixed to my chest. Sitting in front of a computer was somehow different. As was crossing my arms. For a while I felt way too close to the steering wheel.
Four years on I got a smaller set put in. And then three years after that a set (my last) smaller than those. Each time I hoped they’d settle in, but alas, they never really fit my personality (quite shy, dodgy body image and so forth). To offset the effect I wore a lot of polo-neck sports bras, started dressing more like my mother (i.e., billowy tops, black jackets, big cardis) and walked with a slight hunch. With the onset of menopause at the age of 51, and the gaining of an extra duvet tog of weight, I became more of a 34EE than a 32E, and never having been particularly nimble-waisted in the first place, began to feel truly matronly.
In other news, that 1990s “lollipop” silhouette – i.e., big boobs, tiny everything else – was fast going out of style. Just like tooth veneers and political spin, breast implants didn’t feel right; they were at odds, somehow, with the growing trend for transparency, authenticity and “clean” living. There was the added complication that the last set, after I was treated with radiotherapy for stage 1 breast cancer in 2007, ended up encapsulating (when scar tissue wraps around the implant creating a surface as hard as a doorknob).
The point when I decided to get them out for good was this time two years ago, the summer of 2016. My surgeon, Adam Searle (who has just tragically retired) said I wasn’t to get too optimistic what with the excess skin and the close to zero amount of healthy breast tissue he had to work with, but I couldn’t help it. Anything had to be better than what I had. The operation ended up taking close to six hours and required a night in hospital, and yes it hurt, but in a strange way I feel almost nostalgic about that time sitting motionless in my pink velvet armchair waiting for the co-dydramol to kick in.
The unwrapping of the bandages came a week later, and, oh, the joy at looking down and seeing my two new 32A/B cherry pips. How Mr Searle did it, I don’t know, but there was very little scarring and they were a much, much better shape than they’d been pre-babies. New exciting possibilities cropped up left right and centre. Camisoles. Shirts that won’t gape, or worse, pop open. Going braless. In these peak Kardashian times they feel completely and utterly right, and the only tiny regret I have, looking down at them now in my ATM “Baby” Tee (modelled on the T-shirts Jackie O used to wear in the 1970s), is that I didn’t have them out sooner. Both literally and figuratively they are a weight off my chest and as a result I feel better about myself, at the age of 58, than I have felt for almost 20 years.
The Kiini bikini (the much-copied crocheted swimwear label by Ipek Irgit which can only really be worn by 32Bs and under) has probably had its day, but I don’t care, I’ve got one for summer. Meanwhile, all those beloved bikini tops from Eres which loyally saw me through my pre-explantation days… I keep them there in that bottom drawer alongside everything else.
One day I’ll throw them out but not yet. Meanwhile, those giant jelly tots. What to do with those? I’ve a mind to mount them in Perspex and put them either on our coffee table or the guest lavatory wall.