New life after the knife

On the 15th of March I joined the ranks of the cosmetically enhanced, stepping up onto the operating table for surgery as a masked assembly snapped rubber gloves about their knuckles. The procedure was a standard breast enlargement – and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not many would agree. Being artificial, the casual nip-tucks, plethoric pouts and the added swells of skin do have a tendency to be thrust into our categorical no-go-zone, but perhaps some of the societal stigma surrounding cosmetic surgery can be dispersed with a bare-boned article disclosing the facts, dangers and benefits from the angle that truly matters – the voluntary patient’s.


Cosmetic surgery.


Set in empty space, stripped of context and bias, the term still somehow manages to leave a bitter taste in the mouth. Why does it continue to aggravate our personal ethics? We like to believe it’s an instinctive disapproval of what we call ‘tampering’ with Mother Nature, but in many cases it may have less to do with that and a little more to do with images the media continue to force-feed our unconscious minds.

On principle I never read tabloids. A flip through any magazine is enough to make me throw up the fish and chips I just ate, which, they adamantly preach with keywords such as ‘detox’ and ‘diet,’ I will go to hell for. In bad taste, they fill pages with poor representatives of the surgically altered community, vain celebrities who certainly took the procedures too far. It’s no wonder then that what we conjure up as the cosmetic patient’s body mirrors what is plastered across Cosmopolitan, usually the antithesis of our perceived femininity – a Frankenstein’s monster of flesh, sporting swollen trout lips and bowling ball breasts. They convince us there’s only one ‘right’ way to feel comfortable in your skin, because of course cosmetic surgery would always appear artificial, and so ‘natural’ became the glorified word of the century, as if the sun shone out of its backside.

The media, however, are only reflecting the collected sentiments of our society. You need look no further than a supermarket magazine aisle for the statements tapping into our paradoxical Western vanity. Stars hounded by accusatory tabloid wolves, and just below, smiling china dolls, pretty in pink, innocent and smothered in Photoshop airbrushes. ‘Turn to page ten for the Holy Grail, a flawless finish and age-defying skin care – the natural way!’ Society commands perfection and allows for nothing.

We needn’t talk about ‘natural’ as if it’s the be-all and end-all. This vague concept is proving to be as slippery as the milk in my cat mug, and its undue status only soothes an irrational, blind confidence in anything that isn’t artificial. Natural is, somehow, seen as a kind of attainable perfection.

A few problems arise with this kind of belief. So let us first set a few things straight: naturalness will never be perfection in the desired sense, and anyway, perfection itself is unnatural and freakish.

Happiness and confidence, those, on the other hand, are realistic goals, and to many, like me, who decide to undergo cosmetic surgery, confidence is all we want.

It’s for this reason I wish ‘plastic surgery’ could be struck from official terminology. My father, always one to get in the last word, made a point of correcting my use of the term ‘cosmetic’ as I explained to him my decision to go under the knife. My response was a pig snort. Yes, alright, it is artificial – but please, we’re not a bunch of wannabe Barbie dolls and pageant queens. Understand this, if nothing else, father: we just want to feel normal.

I didn’t always want surgery, but I also didn’t intend to reach full maturity with a flat board chest. So it goes, and eventually I began to rethink my options.

Starting high school, I had as much expectation as any other girl that my girlhood would soon be coming to a close. Life promised changes and prepared me for the great butterfly transformation from a boyish figure with puppy fat into the chiselled, hourglass woman. I’m sure I did wish at times for big breasts, but I was never under any illusions, I just wanted something. For hours I stood naked at the mirror, searching for progress. I hounded my mother, ‘When will my chest grow?’ and she would frown and say, ‘Soon, love,’ and gradually lose hope. Of those who came to lend support at the hospital, she grinned widest as they wheeled me out, because she understands better than anyone how much the procedure had gifted me beyond physical lumps.

P.E. turned into a growth contest; teenage beauties paraded about the changing rooms with bulging B- and C-cup bras, while I enviously and ashamedly hid away in the corner, covering the labels of AA-cup bras which barely fit. I felt thoroughly unfeminine.

I was seventeen by the time I gave up dreaming for a hormonal boom, when a friend casually mentioned that her sister had taken scalpel to skin – the sister I knew, the one who looked gorgeous and so utterly well-proportioned that I never would have guessed she was not a natural C. Suddenly I realised cosmetic surgery was within the grasp of the common folk, within my grasp, and I need only have enough to be in proportion and it would be virtually unnoticeable.

Exams and university applications passed in a whirlwind. I moved to Warwick before I seriously began to contemplate breast enlargement again. I thought long and hard about the procedure, carefully researched it and explored other potential options before coming to a decision. During this period, the NHS website became my greatest asset. It provides a comprehensive explanation of cosmetic procedures and a list of questions to ask yourself before committing to any operation, found here.

I contemplated all the potential risks of which an operation such as this was hardly without. As breast enlargement entails inserting an implant into the breast to augment its shape, so certain problems can arise either from the implant, which has a minimal rate of rupture and can wrinkle, or from bleeding and infection. Additionally, a complication called a seroma could occur, where fluid builds up around the implant, and additional surgery may be required to remove it. Ultimately though, I knew they were only possible risks, and I felt too unhappy in my shape to let low-chance complications frighten me away.

I also felt safer after dispelling some cosmetic myths – rumours that implants increased the chances of developing breast cancer and that flying would cause implants to rupture had both been disproved by medical experts. Moreover, a standard operation, where the incision wouldn’t interfere with the nipple, wouldn’t disrupt my ability to breastfeed.

After weighing up options, surgery still seemed like the best option for me, so I committed to it.

During reading week I arranged for consultations at clinics in Cardiff to discuss the terms of the procedure. All initial consultations are free and I visited a handful of clinics to find the right one. The last thing I wanted to do was blindly choose the cheapest clinic – I visited MYA and Transform, which offered a set price of £3,900 and £4,150 respectively (not far from the average UK price of £4,500), but decided on Transform because their staff and surgeons were more qualified, more professional, and they owned their own hospital in London where I’d be tended by a team of specialist nurses. Moreover, even though the explanations of the procedure during those initial consultations were very similar from clinic to clinic, depending on the governing body, some clinics do differ in their approach to the operation and aftercare. Only Transform requested that I stay overnight in their hospital and to eat, drink and pass water the morning of discharge as a precaution. Trust me, after surgery, the last thing your body wants is to sit in a car for hours, travelling back home. It needs rest, sleep, and a good deal of Hugh Jackman – I watched Kate & Leopold on loop until I conked right out.

Proceeding from my consultation, I made an appointment with the surgeon whose methods and attitude best suited me. She was a German breast enlargement specialist who often refused operations where the client wanted a porn star cleavage. I was clear from the beginning that I wanted a small increase in size, enough only to look proportionate, so in our consultation, she recommended a few similarly sized implants that would be suitable. Now I was perfectly happy to accept her suggestions. After all, surgeons operate a few times a week – they how the body reacts to implants, and its limitations.

It largely depends on the strength of your skin, because when an implant is inserted, the breast skin must stretch. My skin, being tough and thick (the optimum skin type for breast enlargement), stretches better and is less likely to develop stretch marks, whereas thinner skin will be more susceptible to them. Of course, it’s also all relative to the amount of skin around the breast. Possessing smaller natural breasts and thus less breast skin overall, I would be more prone to stretch marks if I exceeded my recommended limit and went larger than, say, a C-cup, because the skin, no matter how tough or thin, can only stretch so much, whereas a woman with larger natural breasts would have less problems going twice or thrice her natural size. A surgeon can glance quickly at your skin and determine what size will be the least likely to leave marks, so it’s important to take their suggestions into consideration. If I had decided to go larger, however, the surgeon would have altered the position of the implants in the breasts, ensuring more tissue is brought above them to provide support. My implant was placed on top of the pectoral muscle, but anything larger would simply have been moved behind the muscle.

I sat with my surgeon for a while, discussing implants whilst trying on sizes in a really hideous granny bra, one of those boxed ones you only find in M&S. Unflattering as hell, but a good representation of what my finished breasts might look like. At this point it was important to remind myself to be realistic. No surgeon could guarantee that my breasts would look like the pictures I raided from surgical databases on the internet, although window-shopping was good groundwork for the consultation. I had to prepare for them to look slightly wrong – at least at first – because during the first six months they would need time to heal, drop and fall into natural place.

Implants come in a range of set sizes but for a price you can have custom ones made. Measured in ccs (cubic centimetres), a 100cc implant is roughly one cup size, as a guide, so mine, as 190ccs, were taking me from an A to a very voluptuous B or a small C. Two types of implant exist, the silicone gel and the saline, although Transform only stocked silicone gel. Each have advantages and disadvantages, but most surgeries use silicone gel as they’re less likely to wrinkle and their soft touch gives the finished breast a more natural feel. Most implants come with a ten-year warranty in case of rupture, but the warranty only covers the implant, not the body into which it has been placed.

A little over a month later, I was signing in at the Riverside Hospital in Brentford, along with my mother, her partner and mine. The clinic had provided a sheet of strict instructions to follow over the few weeks leading up to the operation: certain things are not allowed before going under general anaesthetic, such as taking herbal supplements two weeks prior, smoking heavily, drinking and (strangely) eating garlic 48 hours beforehand – apparently it thins the blood. As a strict rule, you are also forbidden to eat 6 hours before the operation or drink 2 hours before. They also asked that I provide a bra that was neither underwired nor padded which I would wear after surgery, and would have to continue wearing for 6 weeks, until the post-op check-up. I was escorted to my own private room where my blood pressure was checked and I was asked to change into a hospital gown – which was quite, shall we say, breezy – some very sexy puffy pants rivalling those modelled by Studio Ghibli heroines, a hairnet, some slippers and stockings. My surgeon came to mark the incision points under my breasts, and soon afterwards a nurse led me upstairs to the operation table.

As a team of surgeons strapped me to heart rate monitors, nurses on either side held my hands and made small talk about my degree and my cat to preoccupy me. The anaesthetist inserted a needle into my hand and pumped general anaesthetic into the vein. Now I’m not afraid of needles, and I’ve been under anaesthetic before, but I was crushing the nurses’ hands into dust at this point. A sharp pain, resulting from increased pressure in my vain succeeded the jab, which is absolutely normal, and with the help of an oxygen mask I was cleanly and swiftly knocked out and left to dream of strapless swimsuits while the surgeon worked her magic. The operation lasted around 45 minutes, a clinical average for this standard procedure. Small incisions were made in the creases below my breasts, the implants inserted above the pectoral muscle, and the cuts stitched and dressed. Two tubes were then attached to the outer sides of my breasts as blood drains, which looked pretty laughable, as if I’d grown scarlet octopus tentacles.

My family were waiting patiently as I came around, but there was scarcely time to speak before another nurse arrived to make sure I was recovering adequately. General anaesthesia comes with its own possible side-effects, such as dizziness, sore throat, memory loss, nausea and vomiting (which happens to 33% of people and usually occurs immediately). Luckily, both times I’ve had anaesthetic, I’ve only ever had a sore throat and dizziness. I almost passed out on the way to the toilet the first time after surgery, but that was pretty much the extent of excitement for the day. A nurse was on hand to lead me anywhere I wanted to go, to provide food and water (I was absolutely famished after starving myself silly for the operation) and to check my progress every hour as a precaution.

It took a minute to recall why I was in hospital in the first place during those first few minutes after I awoke. The penny well and truly dropped in the toilet, when I saw my reflection for the first time. I honestly cried. Like a baby, much to my embarrassment! For 5 years I had waited (rather impatiently) for this moment. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. They looked fantastic, and most importantly, they were proportionate.

Suffice to say, not all cosmetic surgery will inflict the ungodly appearance of Pamela Anderson or Katie Price upon you, however, immediately following surgery, and over the next few weeks, I should point out that I was and will remain very swollen, stiff, and numb. This is completely normal as when something foreign has been inserted into your body, its natural reaction is to go haywire as it attempts to figure out whether this intruder is dangerous. Right now my breasts look akin to Lara Croft’s cone boobs in the early Tomb Raider games; I could probably poke someone’s eye out, but this is only the first stage of recovery. Given time, my body will realise the implants are unthreatening and will settle down, and the unnatural look will eventually vanish.

My night at the Riverside passed without incident and the next morning a nurse removed my drains (which was pleasantly painless). I was discharged and allowed to travel home, making sure a pillow was placed between my breasts and the seat belt. The first week of recovery was by far the worst, although it was hardly what I would deem painful. In fact, I had a whale of a time, vegetating in bed for days on end, on the surgeon’s orders, ploughing through re-runs of Hotel Inspector and CSI. I was banned from lifting any heavy objects during those first 7 days, for fear that it would put heavy strain on my breasts, and although I’m still not allowed to do significantly heavy lifting, at first I couldn’t even carry a 1 litre bottle of water! I must also sleep on my back and upright for six weeks, which aids in draining out the swelling. It can be a nuisance, but after a while you grow accustomed to it.

A little over a week after surgery, I returned to Transform’s Cardiff clinic for my stitch removal, and can now finally shower. It’s a good think too, I was beginning to convulse people.

I’ve still a ways to go before I can wear anything other than a bra that belongs in my grandmother’s drawers, but I’m willing to sacrifice a few weeks of underwear style for the enormous boost in confidence I’ve gained. Two weeks on, looking down at the shape I now possess, it’s beginning to hit home just how much has changed, and will change for the better. Before surgery, I could never have worn certain clothes – I’d walk into Primark and count the number of garments I couldn’t try on because they hadn’t the shape to conceal my flat chest or because their designs relied on bust to prop them up. The very definition of a boob tube meant they were off-limits. Such limitations as this can make a woman feel so insecure that I’m sure many women, like me, have been struck while rifling through their wardrobe, seeing how much their style can be influenced by a lack of confidence.

Now I’m a student. Hardly at the top of the economic pyramid here… I spent £4,150 on a cosmetic procedure and I can understand if, to many other students, that sounds ridiculous. My grandfather wasn’t too pleased when he found out over beers in Harvester. ‘You could buy a car with that!’ he raged, then went on some verbal rampage about how ‘In my day,’ the world was green, unicorns roamed the earth and freedom was a concept pretending to be a practice.

Sometimes I do have pangs of guilt about the price of contentment, especially when my student status crops up. It’s why I let the cat out of the bag very timidly to old friends visiting from Oxford, to gauge their reaction, and why I’ve yet to tell the majority of my Rootes flatmates, whose eyes will no doubt pop from their sockets once they know. But those Oxford friends didn’t laugh or sneer jealously (it took a half hour to convince them I wasn’t trolling, I grant you), only understood. Sitting back with sighs, they simply said, ‘If it makes you happy, then so be it.’

It’s the sort of refreshing attitude towards life and people we could all do with adopting wholeheartedly. Honestly, I’m not a die-hard party-goer, and I eat less than the average rabbit, so maybe that money will be regained somewhere along the path of my university career. I won’t be able to buy a nice dress for a while to make up for the hefty cheque that just left my account, but so what? I have something that’s going to last a lifetime. If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay for looking in the mirror and being happy with what you see.

Cosmetic surgery is certainly not for everyone, and neither is it the cheap option. Many girls might have survived quite easily with a high-quality padded bra for the rest of their lives, but for some of us, men and women alike, a simple solution just isn’t enough. Unfortunately, we’re not happy simply masking the parts of our bodies of which we’re ashamed.

I have my body for the long haul – I want to live life to the full, the way I want, and ensure that I’m enjoying every moment of it, and in every respect, I finally can.


According to Baaps (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons – there’s that God-awful word again) the number of rhinoplasty, breast enlargement and face lift operations rocketed by 10% between 2012 and 2013, and breast enlargement is now the leading form of cosmetic surgery undertaken in the UK. Last year, over 11,000 breast enlargement surgeries were carried out in hospitals and clinics, up 13% on the previous year. For those worried about the French PIP implants which caused a scandal in 2011, rest assured, since the events of the investigation, all implants are strictly regulated, and rigorous rules now apply to manufacturers, ensuring that all implants are now filled with the appropriate gel. The French-made implants that caused a panic in 2011 had been made from industrial silicone, instead of the medical-grade type and thus it was possible they would be more prone to rupturing, but they are now fully out of circulation


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