Claire O’Keefe hated her size 34F bust until she decided to have a pioneering operation – while she was wide awake!
Standing in the shop changing room, Claire O’Keefe stared at her reflection. She couldn’t believe the woman in the strapless dress was really her.
Just a few months before, Claire, 30, would never have dreamt of wearing anything like it because of her 34F bust. Her bra size ruled her fashion choices, caused her endless discomfort and made her desperately unhappy.
It’s only now that Claire’s learning to love her body, after having the latest type of breast reduction. She dropped to a 34DD – without surgery.
‘I’ve finally got the body I dreamt of,’ she says. ‘My boobs used to be completely out of proportion to my size 12 figure. I felt like a cartoon character.’
Claire had been self-conscious about her breasts since she was a teenager. ’I was flat-chested until I was 14 and then it felt like my breasts became enormous overnight,’ she remembers.
‘Suddenly, all the things I loved, such as swimming and dancing, were a problem because my boobs got in the way. I gave up running – it was just too painful. Buying supportive sports bras was a struggle as my breasts were too heavy for them to be effective. In fact, buying any kind of bra was a nightmare. I’d walk through underwear sections in the shops and there would be no point even looking at the pretty lace bras. I’d always have to buy the ugliest ones.’
As she got older, Claire’s dislike of her breasts began to take a toll on her confidence.
‘Whenever I went swimming or to the gym, I’d change in a toilet cubicle to avoid being seen. I’d never even let my mum see me getting changed.’
She dreaded nights out with friends. ’I couldn’t walk into a bar without feeling really self-conscious, and was paranoid everybody would think my boobs were fake. It’s a cliche but, instead of talking to me, I was convinced men would talk to my chest.
Strangers would feel they could make comments or just stare. It made me feel so uncomfortable.’
Claire, from East London, started thinking about having her breasts reduced in her early twenties. But she was put off by the thought of major surgery.
A traditional breast reduction involves sections of skin from the breasts being cut out, meaning extensive scarring. Often, the nipple is removed and repositioned, which carries risks of loss of sensation and being unable to breastfeed.
‘I’d heard stories about things going wrong, and that really put me off,’ says Claire. ’I was worried about scarring, too. My confidence was low because I hated my breasts – would I feel any better if they were covered in scars? But, every day, my breasts were getting me down. I was having constant back pain, too, and I knew that it would probably only get worse as time went on.’
Then Claire read about a revolutionary new procedure called Microlipo. Similar to liposuction, a thin metal tube is inserted into the skin and used to break up fat cells around the breast tissue before sucking them out. No scalpels, no scars.
Claire was told the new procedure could reduce the bust by more than 50 per cent in size. Although it was less invasive than a traditional op, it wasn’t entirely without drawbacks. First, there was the 5,000 price tag. ’It was a lot of money, but I had some savings and I knew it would transform my life,’ says Claire, who is a banking administrator.
The second was scarier – the entire procedure would happen with Claire wide awake.
‘I was nervous about being the first person to have it done in this country – I felt a bit like a guinea pig. And I’m quite squeamish so I wasn’t thrilled about being conscious for the whole op, but Dr Gupta reassured me that I wouldn’t feel a thing.’
Claire had the 90-minute procedure in late 2010. ‘When it actually came down to it, I could feel that I was being poked and prodded but didn’t feel any pain. I watched it happening and could see the fat from my breasts being sucked down the tube, which was very weird.’
A couple of hours later, Claire was allowed to go home. Her chest was swollen at first and she had to wear a compression bandage for two days, and a special bodysuit under her clothes for a week while the swelling subsided.
‘I was a bit sore for a few days, but the tiny scars from where the tube had been inserted vanished after a couple of weeks and, after a month or so, the swelling had gone.’
Claire only realised just how different she looked four months after the procedure, when she went shopping for her 30th birthday party. ‘For the first time, I tried on a strapless black dress, the sort of thing I’d always been envious of other women wearing. I couldn’t believe how good I looked – and I got so many compliments from my friends when they saw me.’
The procedure is not suitable for everyone – and it’s definitely not recommended for women who have a history of breast cancer in their family, in case it triggers changes that increase the risk of developing the disease.
But for Claire, it has been life-changing. ‘Everything seems so much easier – I can sleep on my front at last and I don’t have to use safety pins any more to keep my shirts from gaping.’
‘The biggest difference of all is to my confidence,’ she adds. ’I no longer feel self-conscious. I used to hate my boobs, but now I love them!’