Info You Need to Know About Breast Reduction Surgery

Alyssa Lemenager's large chest always seemed to get in the way of her dancing. She loathed spaghetti-strap leos and constantly altered her costumes to accommodate her 34E bust. "I couldn't take the constant back pain and discomfort that the weight of my breasts caused," says Lemenager, now captain of the Suffolk University Dance Company in Boston. "Being a dancer only heightened these issues. I felt sore and tired, and very insecure about myself and my dancing."

The breaking point came at age 16 when she had to duct tape her breasts into a competition costume to keep from bouncing onstage. That same year, she underwent breast reduction surgery. Since then, she's been able to dance and live much more comfortably.

For many dancers whose chest size has inhibited their health, training and performance, breast reduction can be beneficial. But it shouldn't be mistaken for a "quick fix”or a way to reach aesthetic standards; it's major surgery with both benefits and risks.

The Procedure

According to a report by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2005, 114,250 women in the U.S. had breast reductions. Though there are multiple ways of performing the operation, all involve removing breast tissue, moving the nipple upward and tightening the skin around the breasts, says Dr. Richard Ehrlichman, instructor in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. The surgery usually lasts two to four hours and is performed under general anesthesia on an outpatient basis or with a one-night hospital stay. Pain, swelling and bruising are expected, and patients routinely wear drainage tubes for a few days to remove fluid.

According to Chicago-area plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Terrasse, dance and other aerobic activities are off-limits for a few weeks. Though recovery periods differ greatly from patient to patient, most are up for daily activities, such as lifting arms overhead, after a few days. Heavy lifting, pushing and pulling should be avoided for three to six weeks. During recovery, patients wear special bras to minimize the tension on the skin. Though there is an immediate difference in size after surgery, final results are seen three to twelve months later, as the body needs time to adjust to the rearrangement of breast tissue, Terrasse says.

The Benefits

Large breasts can cause neck, back and shoulder pain, chronic infections under the breasts, indentations in the shoulders due to the constant pressure of bra straps and, in severe cases, curvature of the spine and difficulty breathing. For large-chested dancers, these problems are amplified in the studio, especially when it comes to running or jumping. Reduced breast size can alleviate all of these discomforts, as well as make it easier to find bras and clothing and likewise, leotards and costumes that fit.

The Risks

Permanent scars are unavoidable. Anytime you take out skin and close it, you're left with a scar, and the scars are permanent, says Ehrlichman. Scarring can range from thick red marks to nearly invisible thin white lines. Because incisions are usually limited to the nipple area and the lower half of the breast, scars typically won't show in low-cut costumes.

During surgery, each nipple is removed and reattached higher on the breast. The potentially worst (and also rare) complication is lost or compromised blood supply, which can result in loss of nipple sensation or of the entire nipple itself, Ehrlichman says. An inability to breastfeed may also result. As with any major surgery, there's a risk of excess bleeding and infection.

According to Dr. Richard Greco of the Georgia Institute for Plastic Surgery, a breast reduction isn't guaranteed to be permanent, either. Weight gain or hormonal changes, which can be elicited by such causes as pregnancy and taking birth control, can result in breast size changing even after surgery.

Covering the Cost

Breast reduction surgery can cost between $4,000 and $7,000. Insurance companies have different coverage criteria; many will only pay for the procedure for individuals who have macromastia--the condition in which abnormally large breasts cause continual health problems. Lemenager, for example, was able to prove to her provider that her chest size was detrimental to her health because the back pain persisted, in spite of her active lifestyle and a year of chiropractic treatment.

Proving the necessity of such surgery can be tricky. Strong dancers, for instance, may not suffer the same back strain from large breasts that an average person would. Whether due to pain tolerance, muscle strength or the drive to perform, people experience different degrees of pain. Even if back pain is relatively manageable, dancers with large enough breasts to merit surgery will most likely suffer from other symptoms, like chronic rashes or shoulder indentations.

Pain and other symptoms are becoming a non-issue, however, as an increasing number of insurance companies are setting weight and volume restrictions in an effort to cover only surgeries that are medically necessary, Ehrlichman says. Restrictions on weight require a patient to be at or near an "ideal" weight for her height, to prevent overweight women from having surgery when weight loss alone could significantly reduce the size of their breasts. Volume requirements dictate that a certain amount of tissue be removed from each breast (usually 300 to 600 grams, the equivalent of several cup sizes)

The reality is that not everyone who truly needs a breast reduction will fit into these coverage requirements: For example, a small-framed woman may have a large chest for her body, but still not meet the volume requirements because of her petite build. In these cases, women may partner with their doctors to appeal the insurance company's initial decision.

Talking To Your Doctor

If you're considering breast reduction, ask your physician about the benefits and potential dangers for you specifically, and interview board-certified plastic surgeons until you find one you feel comfortable with. Terrasse recommends asking a potential surgeon to connect you with a past patient of similar age or situation so that you can talk about her experience.

If you're under 18, specific guidelines apply. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons says that women younger than 18 years old shouldn't have elective (also called cosmetic) breast reduction surgery, because they may not be finished growing, says Ehrlichman. Exceptions are made for extreme cases.

Careful Consideration

Risks and benefits aside, breast reduction is serious business and shouldn't be taken lightly. "Just because you have large breasts doesn't mean you should have a breast reduction," Terrasse says. "But if they are getting in the way of [dancing with] ease, grace and athleticism, then it's something to consider." Ehrlichman warns that women considering a reduction just to achieve the small-chested look of a stereotypical "dancer's body" should proceed with caution. For a woman with debilitating symptoms, scars and other risks can be a small trade-off for the health benefits; however, when surgery is a purely cosmetic decision, the risks may not be worth it.

Several years later, Lemenager is still confident she made the right choice for her health and her career. "The first day that I walked into the studio in a leotard with no bra on, I knew that the surgery was the right thing to do," she says. "My dancing was no longer painful, and it felt as if a huge weight had been lifted--literally." As with any major medical decision, only you can decide if the risks are worth the

rewards.

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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