Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Shape of My Discontent


A version of this post has been sitting in my pending drafts for weeks, but I could never quite get it right. It concerns a decision I've made, which arises from a longtime body image-related insecurity. It's something I've grappled with my entire adult life, more than a decade, so I'm ultimately quite sure. By all standards, including financial ones, it's a significant decision, one that can't be taken lightly (especially in light of my student debt and all my future financial obligations to my family). It's another one of those things that Refinery29 commenters, among so many others (including my parents, if I raised it with them, which I probably won't, because it's a personal choice that needs no one else's input) might be eager to criticize because it's undeniable that there are countless arguably better things the money could totally be spent on.

I've decided to have breast reduction surgery, and having researched my health insurance plan's guidelines for coverage (only if deemed a medical necessity through extremely stringent criteria that I likely don't meet), I believe I'll be paying out of pocket. Due to needing to save more money, accommodate vacation plans such that medical leave wouldn't result in too much time off from work on the heels of a longer vacation, and a few other things, I won't be consulting with plastic surgeons until sometime in 2019. Anecdotes suggest I should expect a price tag of at least $15,000, which means there's going to be another year soon where my biggest expense will, like last year, be medical, only this time, it's entirely elective, and instead of costing approximately two Burberry trench coats (I had another root canal so my bills were significantly more than reported, but the fancy endodontist couldn't definitively attribute it to the accident, so I didn't include it in the post), it'll cost approximately seven.

There's no real way around how strange this decision might seem. Were I to speak of it with anyone who knows me in person, I don't think they'd understand. All the photographs of myself that I've ever shared here most likely obscure my size a bit, and I am extremely careful about selecting clothes that downsize the feature at issue. I've even joked that a necessary criteria for clothing is that it has the effect of an optical illusion that hides, or at least balances out, my chest.

Make no mistake, my size is one where a brick and mortar specialty shop that used to accommodate me with a range of brands and cute designs barely five years, and two cup sizes, ago now only offers one brand and some dismally boring and expensive designs. With my most recent size increase, it crossed the exact threshold where a specific brand I used to wear switched from a narrower band with two hooks per row to a more "industrial strength"-looking band with three hooks per row and wider spacing in between. (Given my particular insecurity, when I received that order, I pretty much decided I wouldn't wear the brand anymore.) I probably sound like I have a complex, where I can't be objective, and well, that's probably kind of true. I think one's relationship with one's own body, and the related insecurities, is always going to be deeply personal and subjective. One is always going to be prone to seeing things that other people can't.

Whatever else, this inspiration album from r/femalefashionadvice might give an approximate sense of what I feel (except most of the people there are more sharply dressed than I tend to be in my own day to day life, and generally in pieces that have likely seen some tailoring and thus fit better). It's photos of people (both celebrities and some bloggers) who I'd generally identify, from these photos, as mostly being "busty hourglasses" like myself (with one or two exceptions), and it shows that someone who seems very busty sometimes can look much less so in other outfits. See what I mean about optical illusions? Nonetheless, though I think I'm pretty good at hiding it with clothes, at the end of the day I'd just rather be far less busty, and have the ability to wear more styles without being reliant on things having a "just right" optical illusion effect. And I'm willing to pay for it.

In trying to explain this, through several different drafts, I could never find the right tone. Because it is ultimately about body image and standards of beauty that feel a bit unattainable (at least without surgical intervention) and oppressive, and because it relates to weight and body size as well, it all sounds rather dramatic and emotionally heavy whenever I try to articulate it. It has its roots in those teenage struggle with feeling "too big" and thus an "abnormal" and "defective" Asian-American girl, after all. Except that, at this point in life, as someone with more self-assurance, confidence, and sense of self, all of which seemed to just settle in quite suddenly starting in my mid-20s, without much fanfare, I started to forget the excessive heights or intensity of those old emotions. I know, intellectually, that I used to get very upset, but I can't remember why, or even, really, how it felt. So it really isn't that dramatic or emotionally weighty anymore. It's a decision I've made, and one I'm fully certain about, full stop, and nothing more to it, provided that I get to a point where I'd feel comfortable paying all at once, which will take at least seven more months. I've had some sense that I might make this decision for nearly my entire adult life, though it had never been a serious financial possibility until now. Now that it is, I'm ready.

Financially speaking, I won't be comfortable scheduling a consultation until I have more cash saved. I'll want enough to cover the procedure (let's call it $15,000) and have six months' emergency fund on top of that (currently a bigger number than it used to be, mostly because I've refinanced my student loans, and no longer have income-based repayment to fall back on, and I'm also working with my typical monthly living expenses now, rather than a "bare bones" monthly budget), so more in the vein of an additional $27,000, for a total of $42,000, which will likely take seven more months. Beyond that, there's some logistical issues, including working around vacations and scheduling my medical leave so it won't follow too closely before or after a longer international trip. I'll still have a substantial student loan balance by then, and thus, a negative net worth.

Finally, due to the dramatic changes to my schedule and my extreme commute while clerking, I gained nearly 20 pounds in an extremely short time (part of how I sized myself out of some of my blazers last year), which I wasn't able to shake naturally just by returning to a more typical schedule. I couldn't really see it myself in, say, these photos, but it was there. So I'm also trying to shed that before my future consultation. (And I'm on schedule with that goal so far, after about a month's work, at a pound a week.) This was important to me because, if I didn't accomplish this, I'd worry that I could undermine my investment, as weight gain could reverse some of the effects of the surgery. If I'm going to be paying full price, I just need to know it won't be wasted. 

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