We live in a world where social media and its influence is a beast to say the least. It has, particularly as it relates to men, allowed us to join the club of our women counterparts with being objectified whether voluntary or involuntarily. In a time where the amount of likes is as desirable as Apple’s latest version of the iPhone, for some of us, self-imposed objectification of ourselves via such media giants as Instagram and Facebook becomes our goal. We began to rethink our digital existence and how to improve upon it with becoming obsessed with our physical appearance.
There is nothing wrong with eating clean, working out, and practicing a level of self-care that is long over due. What happens when that isn’t enough? I recall a time when I was down three waist sizes, my biceps were getting bigger, and my stomach was shrinking but there was something weird happening. Then one day I’m noticing a subtle difference in the way I performed simple every day tasks. It’s not that I was breaking away from my routine, but rather something was getting in the way of them. It took a while but eventually, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was getting ready for work in the bathroom giving my face the once over in the mirror. I opened the medicine cabinet to grab my deodorant the same as the day before. As I placed it down on the counter I realized my chest is in the way of my arm on the way down.
It would be a while before that something would have a name, and that name was gynecomastia or man boobs.
I wished I could say that it was my super set chest workouts that produced a massively and beautifully sculpted chest that was the culprit. This was not the case. I realized what I have been unconsciously ignoring for years, I had man breasts! It was time to face the music that despite what felt like an infinite amount of cardio and even going vegan for a month, it was not reducing the excess fat in my chest and it was beginning to take on a feminine like appearance. This was a complete contradiction to whom I was and what I self-identified as. It has been quite a few years to get me to this point of realization, but it wasn’t a truth I was either conscious of, or willing to accept. It was time to talk about the big gyno in the room once and for all.
In 2012, I traveled to Punta Cana and I was determined to look my absolute best. It was months of no alcohol, no bread, and limited dairy products. I wanted to prove to myself that I could transform physically without the help of unnatural means. Although I knew many men who resorted to “alternative” methods to achieve great results, I was, and still am too much of a chicken to ever harm myself for the sake of a dope Instagram selfie. I accomplished my goal but in a photograph I took in my hotel room to revel in my accomplishment, a small curvature of my chest revealed itself. I opted not to post the picture due to what I felt was imperfection and proof I could have worked out harder. I was still damn proud of my results. It was then however, that I noticed that despite hard work, there was something “off” about my chest that I was not particularly comfortable with. It would be a while before that something would have a name, and that name was gynecomastia or enlarged male breast.
Over the next few years, my weight would fluctuate but I would often be able to pull it together for the summer in a manner that I was content with. The pounds would drop, the muscles in various parts of my body would tone, but my chest would take on a life of it’s own and began to spread and be more flesh like than muscle despite increasing chest workouts to twice a week. I just figured it was a result of wide grip bench press, but with all of my efforts, solidifying my chest all over proved to be impossible. Even though I was now familiar with the term gynecomastia, this was not something I associated to myself. I just needed to work harder end of story!
The spring and summer of 2017 rolled around and I had a complete and full international itinerary. This would be my fittest summer to date. I was committed to diving into a strict gym schedule and a nutritional plan that at times were vegan (ish). Once again after a few months of consistent follow through, my body began to change. The weather produced a few sweltering days before my first trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and I was excited that I was able to fit into my summer gear (which typically are a few sizes smaller than my winter month clothes). The day had arrived and I landed in Mexico excited and ready for drinks and fun in the sun. After checking in and settling into my room, I wanted to shower, change clothes, and then grab a bite to eat. I turned on my Beats Pill speaker, and began to play Janet Jackson’s “No Sleeep”. It always seems to be my go to getting ready song. A quick shedding of my clothes and I did a slow jog to the bathroom. Yes, I felt my chest bouncing a bit too much for my taste, but this was early summer. I still had time to tweak my workouts and meal plans to make a difference by the July 4th festivities. This was my defiant answer back to that negative voice in my head. As I turned the corner into the bathroom, I was garishly hit with a dose of reality. Right before me stood a huge mirror displaying my naked body in full view. This is not the hotel welcome basket I wanted. I also did not want to see the large breast like formation on my chest that seemed completely out of place in comparison to the rest of my evolving physique.
This was it. This was my body after almost three months of six days on, one day off. These were my pecs after a multitude of grueling chest days at the gym. After ignoring the feeling of extra flesh around my chest, which made its presence known at the most, inopportune of times, I could no longer hide from this ugly truth. I knew I spent the last seven months taking showers in the dark avoiding my bathroom mirror, but I wanted to hold on the hope that all of my hard work had paid off even if it was just a little difference in appearance. Unlike other things in my life that I worked extremely hard for, this was a personal, and deeply emotional epic fail!
As I stood there staring in disgust at my body, I began to shift to positive thoughts and focus on the results that I did have. I was able to wear the clothes on the way to Mexico that I would not have been able to do so just a few months prior. I thought to myself, your clothes are on point, and on a good day with the right beard shape up, I looked damn good! Sadly, just like being disappointed that it is never warm in NYC until about Memorial Day, I was severely depressed. The negative thoughts about my body and feminine like chest dominated my mind and took permanent residence in my head. I was in Mexico; I had to meet friends who were arriving soon. I sucked it up, faked a bit of happiness and hopped in the shower. I simply decided I would put on the dopest outfit I had. It would be one that would be strategically designed not reveal my shameful secret. Wow, I thought again to myself as the water began to cascade over my head. I’m hiding again. I thought I was done with that.
They were attached to me, but they did not belong to me.
I managed to enjoy pockets of fun here and there but there was a part of me that could not wait to land back at JFK and go nuclear on this body at the gym. The reality that I was forced to acknowledge in Mexico eventually followed me to the Dominican Republic, and ultimately Jamaica. I had to do something. I had created an entire identity complete with it’s own look predicated upon a complete betrayal by my body. I knew somehow, some way something had to be done. I was so tired of living this way but I knew it was a long and trepid road that led me to this point of despair. My male breasts took its sweet time becoming an object of feminine shame I could no longer ignore them.
I noticed about three years ago my workouts weren’t garnering the same results as before. I just chalked it up to getting older, stressful days at the office and inconsistent clean eating habits. Now that my gym life was being affected, my wardrobe soon followed suit. Luckily, I was still able to mask my enlarged chest at work. Dress shirts, sweaters, and untucked shirts on casual Fridays all became my new favorite things to wear. They kept me trendy and feeling like myself while hiding the very thing that had me feeling like a foreigner in my own body. I was not claiming these breasts. They were attached to me, but they did not belong to me. The biggest adjustment to the clothes I wore came during the summer months and of course while I was on vacation. I am the tank top king, or at least I was. I was now however, faced with the grim task of completely revamping what was placed in my suitcase with over sized, thick, cotton t-shirts. It didn’t stop there. It was imperative that I only work within a strict color palette. Black, Navy blue, and charcoal gray were perfect. If you wore shirts large enough with these colors, they would not only hide the breasts but the dark hue would make them less obvious when you began to perspire and the clothes began to cling to the body.
The ultimate fashion don’t when picking colors when you have male breasts is white, yellow, some shades of red or any color light enough to bring attention to the chest. One of the most humiliating experiences of my life occurred this past summer. I had a friend visiting from out of town. We were in New York City walking down the street and we were approaching a group of what appeared to be teenaged girls. I was wearing a pair of gray shorts, and a white t-shirt (yes I know). I was feeling confident as I was down ten pounds and now sporting a thirty-one inch waist down from a size 34. I was feeling myself a little and thought I would be adventurous and break my cardinal color rule. As we got closer to the girls and passed them, one of them at a failed attempt at whispering said, WOW, GOT MILK? The ripple like effect of their giggles became deafening as it felt as if the comment was said over a microphone at any given protest for any relevant cause. In that moment, I wondered if my friend heard it, but if he did, he said nothing. I then obsessed over the fact if he ever noticed at all that despite him knowing me as an avid gym goer, my chest had become increasingly larger over the years. Just like an alert from CNN from number 45’s recent twitter rants, I saw a Footlocker store pop up out of nowhere. There was a way out of this moment of shame and defeat and I made a break for the door. I told my friend I wasn’t happy with my outfit and didn’t explain any further than that. I went to the back of the store and found a dark navy blue t-shirt with a gold metallic Adidas emblem on the front. It was an extra large and it was my savior! I proceeded to the dressing room to try it on. After such an embarrassing moment, I needed to be sure I would be comfortable for the remainder of the day and not have it be ruined by my insecurity and the remarks of an adolescent not yet equipped with the knack for tact and compassion.
The shirt was perfect, my swagger was intact, and my secret, once again hidden. I took off the sweaty from the summer’s heat shirt and threw it in the trash with a force as if I were scolding it for bad behavior. I was actually. Just like my body and countless workouts, this shirt let me down. I went on to have an amazing day filled with laughter, drinks, and good conversation. This was however; my new normal and I knew it. It was abundantly clear that I could no longer just quickly put an outfit together without careful consideration of where I would be going, and what I would be doing. This was truly the beginning of the end on my struggle. I was tired, and knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with this charade forever. I built a platform on authenticity and worked tirelessly to become a better version of myself. I would not continue to live this way forever. My life in various forms was being hindered by my breasts and that was unacceptable!
When you are struggling with any personal issue, it can feel as if you are the only person on the planet experiencing pain. I felt the loneliness and became isolated in an internal jail, often envious of the men, some of them friends, who could take off their shirts with ease and be the life of the party. I wanted that! I wanted to be me without the shame. I had become a master at living openly, yet now I was forced into a proverbial closet not by my own choosing.
It was late Friday evening in September. I was going to do something to change my circumstances. It was months earlier that I watched an episode of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York, in which an African American couple were selling a beautiful space in Harlem. I was immediately drawn to the episode because I have a love for the city, and real estate. I was also happy to see a couple of color negotiating with confidence as to what they wanted. It was revealed in the episode the gentleman was Dr. Michael E. Jones, a prominent plastic surgeon and his equally accomplished and stunning wife, Cathleen. I didn’t know the name of his practice but searched Google and came across Lexington Plastic Surgeons in New York City. I clicked on the website, looked it over and submitted a request for a free consultation. I knew at that point I was still convinced better eating and hiring a personal trainer could correct my issue. There was however this nagging feeling that I was probably beyond the point of no return and something that I’ve never done, was the answer to my struggle. I filled out some basic information and gave a contact number and hit the submit button. I was contacted Monday morning. My fear kicked in and I almost talked myself out of committing to a consultation, but I sucked it up and had an appointment for Wednesday afternoon. It was time to take some risks and listen to the whispers of the universe I often tend to ignore.
I decided for me, what I was willing to live with and what I was not.
The day of my consultation, I met with a consultant who was breath of fresh air. She talked about the practice and asked how I came to hear about them. She then asked why I was there. I had never shared my shameful secret to anyone and I was visibly nervous. She comforted me with a soothing smile and kind words and I told her I had feminine like breasts and it was ruining my life! Once again, she treated me with such reverence and respect and assured me, I was not alone. It was then she asked to see it. Come again? Saying I have man boobs is one thing, showing them to a complete stranger was another. I did it though, reluctantly. There they were, Chip and Dale (my name for them) were fully exposed and there was no going back. I was told I was a good candidate for gynecomastia surgery and she explained in full detail how they could transform not only my body, but also my life. Okay, she didn’t mention the life part, but I knew if I could be rid of this excess breast tissue, my life would be mine again. I was taken by surprise at the level of compassion and professionalism I was shown. She made me feel like a man. I had an issue that can be treated and it also impacts so many other men. She told how common the surgery was and that it was increasing in recent years. I didn’t feel so alone or ashamed anymore. I was part of a group of men who reveled in their manhood, yet had a condition that was the complete antithesis of that. I was ready! I wasn’t fearful and I declared this surgery would be yet another step in the process of me designing my life.
The pre-op appointment was with a Dr. Gerald Ginsberg (more on him later). I was on my way to a better me. I still had one more vacation planned before the surgery but I was happy that it would be the last time Chip and Dale would accompany me. I am a resilient, ambitious, and positive man the majority of the time. I am also human and have insecurities just like everyone else. I decided for me, what I was willing to live with and what I was not. Did I come to this decision due to vanity? Partly Yes, I always want to look my best and I make no apologies for improving my nutrition and body to be happy. Could I live without the surgery? Yes, but I would not be true to myself if I had the opportunity to change what I can, to feel more like the man I felt inside and didn’t. I also wanted to share my story and stay true to my platform of living boldly and unapologetically. My journey to rid myself of male breasts had begun and I was empowered to live my life as I see it in in my head. A life that free of limitation, open to taking risks, and the balls look fear in the face and make decisions that are right for me. Stay tuned.