We live in a world where social media and its influence is a force to be reckoned with. It has, particularly as it relates to men, allowed us to join our women counterparts with being objectified whether voluntarily, or involuntarily. At a time when the amount of likes one receives are as desirable as Apple’s latest version of the iPhone, for some, self-imposed objectification of ourselves via such media giants as Instagram, and Facebook becomes the 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 may be long over due but 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 the side of my chest was getting in the way of my arm on the way down.
It would be a few more years before I learned that something actually had a name – gynecomastia.
I wished I could say that it was my super – set chest workouts which produced a massive, and beautifully sculpted chest that was the culprit. This however, wasn’t the case. I realized what I have been unconsciously ignoring for years – I had man boobs! It was time to face the music that despite what felt like an infinite amount of cardio, and even going vegan for a month, the excess fat in my chest wasn’t getting smaller. To make matters worse, it was beginning to take on a feminine like appearance. This was a complete contradiction to how I identified, and I was no longer comfortable in my own body. It has been quite a few years to to this point of realization, but it wasn’t a truth I wasn’t 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 harmful supplements. Although I knew many men who resorted to “alternative” methods to achieve great results, I was, and continue to be, too much of a chicken to ever endanger myself for the sake of a dope Instagram selfie. I managed to accomplish my goal but in a photograph I took in my hotel room to revel in the fruits of my labor, I noticed a small, abnormal like curvature of my chest I wasn’t exactly happy with. I opted not to post the picture due to what I felt was imperfection and proof that I could have worked out harder. I was still damn proud of my results, but I noticed that despite my efforts, there was something “off” about my chest. It would be a a few more years before I learned that something actually had a name – gynecomastia or enlarged male breasts.
Over the next few years my weight would fluctuate, but I would often be able to pull things 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. Eventually, it began to spread and become increasingly fleshy, more than muscular despite upping my chest workouts to twice a week. I just figured it was a result of wide grip bench presses, but with all of my efforts, solidifying my entire chest proved to be impossible. Even though I was now familiar with the term gynecomastia, this was not something I associated with myself. I just needed to work harder I thought, 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, would be 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’s 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 talk 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? I could no longer hide from what I felt was the ugly truth staring back at me. I knew I spent the last seven months taking showers in the dark and 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!
I stood there for a moment staring in disgust at my body, I tried to shift to positive thoughts and focus on the results that I did have. I was after all, able to wear the clothes in Mexico that I would not have been able to do so just a few months prior. I thought to myself, my clothes are on point, my beard was shaped up, I looked damn good! That wasn’t enough and sadly, the negative thoughts about my body and feminine like chest now 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 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 while on vacation 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 would eventually follow me to both the Dominican Republic, and ultimately Jamaica. I had to do something. 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. The evolution of my man boobs took its sweet time becoming an object of shame and 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. When traveling, I was now faced with the daunting 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 I 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.
I became hip to realizing the ultimate fashion don’ts when picking colors when you have male breasts which is white, yellow, or any color light enough to bring unwanted 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 were approaching a group of teenaged girls. I was wearing a pair of gray shorts, and a white t-shirt (yes I know), ten pounds lighter and 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 walked passed the boisterous group of young ladies, 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 reverberated over a microphone at any given New York City protest for *insert* relevant cause. In that moment, I wondered if my friend heard the snarky remark but if he did, he said nothing. I then obsessed over the fact whether or not he ever noticed that despite him knowing I was an avid gym goer, that 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 I made a break for the door. I told my friend I wasn’t happy with what I was wearing and wanted to buy another shirt. I didn’t explain any further. 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 and after putting it on, my swagger was intact, and my secret, once again hidden. I tossed the old traitor of a shirt 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 acclimated to living my life openly, but now I felt as if I was forced into a proverbial closet, not by my own choosing.
I decided 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 successful couple of color, negotiating with confidence the asking price of their home. 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 I searched Google and came across Lexington Plastic Surgeons in New York City. There was a part of me that was still convinced better eating, and hiring a personal trainer would 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, provided my cell number, and hit the submit button. I was contacted the following morning. My fear almost allowed me to talk myself out of committing to a free consultation but I sucked it up and made an appointment. 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 something entirely different. I reluctantly gave in and there they were out in full view, Chip and Dale (my name for them). My secret was finally revealed and there was no going back. After I was told I would be a good candidate for gynecomastia surgery, 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 me how common the surgery was and that it was increasing in recent years. In that moment, I no longer felt alone, nor ashamed. 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 eventually scheduled 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 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.