I Want to Break Free
By: Erin Smith
“Do you stuff your bra? People are saying that you do…”
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that to my face, I quite honestly wouldn’t have that much money. I’d probably only be able to afford the Wing Stop I ordered a few minutes ago with tax, delivery, and tip. However, the damage from that question was far more than I could’ve conceptualized the first time I was asked in the fifth grade. I didn’t know that for the next eight years, I’d have to face people making unnecessary comments, people touching me without my permission, or people staring every single day. I didn’t know I would live almost a decade of my life as a prisoner in my own body.
In the sixth grade, jackets stopped being just a cute part of an outfit or something to throw on when it gets a little chilly. Not to get all poetic, but for me, jackets were barbed wire fences for the body I felt trapped in. While closing myself off would later result in consequences, I felt like it protected me. This reached its peak in middle school with the teal (?) fleece my mom bought on a whim from Sam’s Club (affectionally known as Fleecy). I wore Fleecy whenever I could and would only take it off to go to sleep.
I wore that hideous jacket so much, that my friends from middle school still remember it to this day, even referring to it by the name it was given. With me being the youngest of three girls, my mom caught on to what I was doing pretty early on and I hypothesize that my dad followed suit soon after. Both of my parents would say things to me like “take your jacket off and stay awhile” or “you’re at home, Erin. You can take your jacket off now” or even “the heat is on in the house, are you not hot?” I commend my parents for trying to be sensitive to what they knew of the situation from the start because I know that couldn’t have been easy. I knew that they were trying to be subtle because they didn’t want me to push them away, but I always felt like there was more they wanted to say or do. My mom even went to the lengths of hiding Fleecy from me so that I wouldn’t try to wear it at school the next day. My mom has many strengths but hiding things has never been one of them (Mom if you’re reading this, you hid the Christmas gifts under your bed every year and we all knew). My hatred for green eventually drove me to abandon Fleecy, but I still found other ways to incorporate jackets and cardigans into my daily fashion in high school. Because I found things that were cute with warm colors appropriate for whatever season I wore it in, no one ever noticed me using the layers as a shield.
I stopped doing things out of fear of being visible for the wrong reasons—a fear that would result in paradoxical feelings of invisibility. I stopped going to the pool with my friends because too many comments were made, and I then became too insecure to wear a swimsuit which made me feel left out amongst my peers. The only exception of this was when I was in Spain and got to see the Mediterranean Sea because…well duh, it’s Spain. Even with that fun, once in a lifetime opportunity, I still hated every picture that I took that day. My swimsuit dilemma came back to haunt me this past summer when I worked as a day camp counselor and had to go to the pool every day. I was afraid and did whatever I could to cover up like keep a shirt on, stay in the water, or keep my towel on my chest like a cape. Another thing I refused to do was go bra shopping or get fitted for bras with my mom because I knew it would end in a breakdown. Even as recently as my senior year prom season, I broke down because my boobs affected how my prom dress fitted me when my mom and I went to Nordstrom’s. I looked beautiful in that dress and I knew it, but I still wanted to throw on a jacket.
Just three days shy of my 18th birthday, I went to a plastic surgeon where I would then be approved for a bilateral breast reduction. I was so excited because I thought it would solve everything. My logic was if my biggest insecurity was no longer the first thing people saw, then I would be happy and then love myself. On December 19th, 2018, my surgical nurse, Kim injected something via IV that was supposed to make me fall asleep as I was being wheeled into the OR. I told Kim that the medicine wasn’t working on me and bragged about being able to fight against it…that is the last thing I remember before I woke up in recovery 4 hours later. When I was discharged from the hospital the next day, I felt a burst of optimism. My neck pain was gone, my back pain was gone, and I had wiggle room in my coat. Because I’m younger than the average breast reduction patient, recovery wasn’t all too bad for me and I was back on my feet relatively quickly with some discomfort of course. However, despite this newfound optimism, I still felt as though something was missing and I was angry at myself. I Facetimed one of my friends in the middle of the night saying: “I’m in a much better place, but I still feel this void. I don’t know what it is and it’s bothering me.” At first, I thought what was missing was a boyfriend or another close friendship which was just too bad because I would shy up talking to a brick wall. In my first week back at school after winter break, I came to realize that what was missing was love for myself. I learned that physical recovery from surgical trauma was the easy part. But, emotional recovery from a childhood robbed by an intense hatred towards myself was going to take time.
While I still do have some moments where I don’t feel my best, I can proudly say that I have found love for myself that I never thought I could experience. Of course, the surgery helped boost my confidence significantly, but I should’ve learned to love myself the way I was first. If I could go back in time, I would still choose to get the reduction because my spine could only take so much, but that would’ve been my sole reason. I am grateful that I got a second chance at life and can reclaim what those mean kids/adults and I took away from me at the age of 10. I spent 8 years in a prison that felt like it could’ve killed me, but I am choosing to break free and live. My forehead protrudes, but so does Rihanna’s. I have a little bit of a tummy, but so does Beyoncé (or so she thinks) since she’s had the twins. I’m always the shortest of my friends at a mere 5’3 but Ariana Grande is only 5’2. My point is, if I can think these celebrities that have these traits too are beautiful and iconic, I can think the same about myself and so can anyone else reading this. I am beautiful, I am kind, I am brave, I am loyal, and I am me. I love myself, and I will never let anybody take that away from me again.