Why I had a breast reduction

Jo Hartley can identify with Modern Family actress Ariel Winter's decision to have breast reduction surgery.

Jo Hartley can identify with Modern Family actress Ariel Winter's decision to have breast reduction surgery. Photo: Getty

For once, Ariel Winter is happy for her breasts to be the talk of the town. And I can't say I blame her. 

Last week, the Modern Family actress opened up about her breast reduction, citing back pain, neck pain and self esteem issues as the driving forces behind her decision. 

It's something I can totally relate to. 

My breasts sprouted at the tender age of 12.  While other girls were wearing training bras and shoving handfuls of tissue paper into them, I was already a 34DD. 

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Rather than trying to enhance my breasts, I was desperately trying to disguise them. I didn't walk with my head high and my chest aloft. Instead, I slumped and slouched, adopting a pose of arms folded and back hunched.

During the height of summer, I insisted on wearing jumpers while sweating buckets and feeling excluded from fashion. Other girls paraded around in crop tops, tight t-shirts and low-cut numbers. I embraced anything oversized. 

Clothes shopping became a nightmare.

Stores and designers offer little in the way of fashionable clothes for the bigger breasted girl. Even now, there's still a long way to go in overcoming the perception that 'big breasts' equates to aged and frumpy.

As a result, my wardrobe was a monotony of large, shapeless numbers. The closest I got to anything figure-hugging was a dressing gown, and I never ventured past dark, disguising colours. 

And things didn't improve as I continued to develop - in both age and bra size.  

Shopping for bras became an increasingly depressing matter. Instead of sorting through the pretty and sexy lingerie, I would shop in the 'older' section of the department store.  

Here I would undergo the relentless task of finding a bra that not only fit, but also represented I was 16 and not 60.  

It was heartbreaking, and made even more humiliating by the 'bra fitting' assistants. Comments like "Hmm big for your age, aren't you?" and "I don't think we stock anything big enough" did little for my confidence.

But the problems were more than those alone.

"Here comes big tits", "Nice jugs" and "Coorr don't get many of those to the pound, do you?" became the backing track to my life. Sports activities were faced with fear and potential humiliation, and backache and shoulder dints were a constant thorn in my side.

The turning point came when I accompanied a boyfriend to his work Christmas party. I'd spent hours getting ready, applying make up and styling my hair, and had even managed to find a ball gown which I felt really confident wearing. 

It was beautiful. It was long, sparkly and black and did a wonderful job of hiding my breasts. Or so I thought.

The evening was a disaster. From the moment I arrived, men and women alike ogled my chest, and I couldn't relax. Rather than dancing and feeling festive, I remained glued to a chair, head down and arms crossed.

When one rather inebriated idiot at the dinner table made an obnoxious comment at my expense, my confidence shattered for one very last time.

The next week I sat nervously in the doctors' waiting room, tightly holding my mum's hand. Making the decision to undergo surgery was not one I took lightly. But, after years of mental and physical suffering, it felt like my only choice.

Any doubt was quickly cast aside when the doctor asked me to remove my top. 

The raw humiliation I felt as my breasts fell from my bra washed over me anew, and I was unable to make eye contact as the doctor questioned my choice. 

My case was referred to a specialist hospital in London and, after almost two years of waiting, I underwent breast reduction surgery at the age of 19.

My breasts were reduced from a 34F to a 34D, and my recovery took about 6 weeks. 

My breasts turned every colour of the rainbow, painkillers became my best friend, and I lay in recovery wondering if I'd made the right choice. But when the bandaging was removed and I saw my breasts, I knew I'd never look back.  

For the first time in years I was able to wear nice bras, swimsuits and tight tops. I was able to walk with my head held high, jog without pain and go shopping in shops for 'young' people. 

I was able to have a conversation where men held eye contact, and I was able to feel like people judged me for me and not just my breasts.

Like Ariel Winter has described, I felt like a new person after surgery. It was the best thing I ever did and marked a turning point in my life when I got a load off my chest - in more ways than one.