In sixth grade, I was a women’s size 16. My jeans were always too short, I couldn’t find fun, bright, and sparkly clothes that were popular in the 90s. My wiry hair framed my freckly acne-prone face. I spent half of my life straightening out every little kink. In middle school, I made it into show choir and the afro became useful. Then I noticed something else about myself.
My bras never fit right. One size always seemed full of air while the other side spilled out. Year after year I was told it was totally normal to be a little uneven. But I realized there was a real, noticeable difference of almost two cup sizes. I started wearing shoulder pads in one side to even it out but through show choir costume changes and early high school pool parties, my friends soon caught me stuffing and started to ask questions and talk amongst themselves. And the bigger side just kept growing alone.
Finding bras was so difficult. One trip to Victoria’s Secret to find a “real bra sizing professional” ended with tears after an employee told me that I was too big and lopsided to wear their bras and to try a department store. After months and months of trying to figure out bras and inserts, I ended up at Von Maur, purchasing the same kind of prosthetic women with mastectomies get. The prosthetic was heavy and kind of realistic. But it was also itchy and... buoyant. And it floated right out of my swimsuit at a pool party. I was absolutely mortified.
By the time I was 16, one side was a “nearly A”, which is basically a child’s training bra, and the other was a happy, healthy C. I was incomplete. Only half of a female. Deflated. Deformed. No man was ever going to want to touch me or see me. Real women have curves. Real women have breasts.
My doctor finally diagnosed me with Poland Syndrome, which is a rare birth defect where a side of the chest muscles and often chest tissue in general are completely absent. I was so glad to put a name to it. I didn’t have to hear “it’s totally normal, mine are different sizes too” anymore. I was able to schedule a single boob job for when I turned 18.
When the surgery neared, I’d had the same boyfriend for a while. He was nervous that having this done would change me. He thought it was superficial and thought my personality would become superficial too. But he stuck through it with me. (Spoiler: 8 years later and we’re engaged!)
Surgery happened in two parts. I had the initial surgery to insert an empty bag, a pain medicine pump, and a drain. Every few weeks I’d go into the doctor’s office and they’d inject fluid into the bag. These appointments were horrible and my severe fear of needles kicked in every time. The syringes were about a foot long and probably held an entire cup of fluid. I shook and cried and held my mom’s hand. After the bag was filled to the correct cup size, I had a second surgery to insert the permanent implant. They stitched me up and sent me on my sore, groggy, merry way.
I thought things would change. And they did. I found bras, cute ones! I could wear strapless dresses. My prom dress my senior year was a gorgeous strapless lace-up ball gown. I still have it and I’ll never get rid of it. Oh, and nothing will ever float out of my bra again (okay I have put money in there before, so no promises).
But the biggest thing that changed was how I saw my incompletion. Incompletion in terms of being human doesn’t exist. Real women having breasts or curves isn’t a thing. Being a woman is being strong yet sensitive It’s being empathetic, kind and understanding yet knowing when to call someone on their bullshit. It’s being a giving, loving, nurturing soul. I am all of those things, with or without symmetrical parts. Getting an implant didn’t complete me as a person. What makes me whole is loving and being loved, and being me, shamelessly.