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Why Ariel Winter’s decision to get a breast reduction made me cry

I started wearing a bra in third grade. It was a small one, just a training bra, but I got the message loud and clear: my body was different from everyone else’s. As I grew up, and my chest continued to grow, I became more and more self-conscious.

At 12, I started shopping for clothes in the adult section of department stores just to find clothes that fit. But even that didn’t quite work because I then had to improvise with countless pins and tank tops just to cover the plunging necklines. I didn’t want to be stared at, and I definitely didn’t want to be judged, just because of my size and what I was able to wear. But the worst stomach-clenching thing was that I hated my body. After all, it never felt like mine.

When my mother first brought up the idea of a breast reduction, I refused. As miserable as I was with my large chest, I was convinced that surgery wasn’t the answer — I wasn’t about to change myself to fit society’s standards. Sure, I had to go to specialty bra stores, but that was the fashion industry’s mistake. Besides, I was convinced that we put way too much emphasis on outer beauty and I was dedicated to accepting my body the way it was. So what if clothing was catered to an ideal body type that was the exact opposite of mine. I hated shopping anyway. Mostly because I felt sick every time I tried on a shirt that barely passed my chest, but still.

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My self-consciousness, however, only got worse. The only clothes I could fit in made me feel dowdy and heavy. People stared and whispered, and I felt so completely alone. I was convinced that people only saw me for my 34J chest, the breast size only overbearing ugly women had — at least according to movies. The back pain alone made me want to get out. Finally, at age 17, I was the one approaching my mom. It was time.

Then today, unexpectedly, I was reliving that chapter of my life over and over again. But this time with absolute pride: Modern Family‘s Ariel Winter just shared with Glamour‘s Jessica Radloff that she had a breast reduction only a few months ago. I raced through the interview, unabashedly tearing up at my desk and grinning nonstop. She knew — Ariel Winter knew what I had gone through. This young actress that I have admired for years struggled with some of the same things I once agonized over.

I nodded incessantly when Winter told Radloff: “There was so little that I could wear that was age-appropriate. I’d have to wear the dress that was super tight and form fitted everywhere because if I didn’t, it didn’t look good.” There was no middle ground — in anything too big, I felt matronly, and in anything too small, I felt like I had a neon sign pointing down my shirt.

More: Ariel Winter clarifies her breast reduction wasn’t just about looking pretty

But then, Winter hit on the most important thing of all: the reason she didn’t want to go smaller than a 32D. “… I have always been a curvier girl. Always. And I enjoy being a curvier girl.” Besides fearing that I was falling into the beauty expectation trap, I didn’t want to lose my busty girl status. I went through hell for that honor, and I didn’t want to sacrifice it completely. Would I no longer deserve that since I had “succumbed” to societal pressures? Had I failed the challenge to accept myself no matter what?

Breast reduction surgery is not an easy fix for an aesthetic whim. It’s not about looking perfect in a dress. It’s not even about relieving your shoulders. It’s about taking care of your body and yourself. My self-consciousness practically crippled me with fear — I couldn’t live the life I so desperately wanted. When I woke up from that surgery, I finally felt like myself. I could finally wear the clothes that I wanted, I could finally move the way I needed. Winter knew how best to express this feeling: “This is how I was supposed to be.”

My breast reduction gave me my body back. My chest was weighing me down, and I am so thankful that I finally let go.

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