The implications of breast surgery concerned Kristen Vermilyea. Picture: Supplied
The implications of breast surgery concerned Kristen Vermilyea. Picture: Supplied

Why I decided to have breast surgery

"I'LL bet you 20 bucks I can make your boobs jiggle without touching them," he said.

We were at a bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the US. It was 1994. It was the cool bar in town. The one with the deck overlooking the tug boats. The one where all the cool kids went.

And on this evening, when this man came up to me saying this, I didn't really know him, but he was with some guys from our crowd - with the cool kids. And as I looked around and saw the other guys - my friends - egging him on and laughing, I laughed too. After all, I was a cool chick, not high maintenance, not at all squeamish about these kinds of things. A dare? I'll take it. An off-colour joke? I'll laugh. Checking out chicks? I'll add my two cents. Because that's what cool chicks do.

So, this guy bet me 20 bucks. And I considered the challenge. I think of myself as a smart woman. Not one of those air-headed blondes who giggles at every joke and acts dumb to make men feel better about themselves and to get more attention. I was not going to agree to this lightly.

Kristen Vermilyea asking a man what he thinks about her breasts in a scene from her documentary Beyond Boobs. Picture: Supplied
Kristen Vermilyea asking a man what he thinks about her breasts in a scene from her documentary Beyond Boobs. Picture: Supplied

I considered the options and finally consented. I mean, how could he possibly make my boobs jiggle without touching them? So, I said yes. And with that, he promptly reached out and grabbed me and jiggled my breasts for me. Then he handed me 20 bucks.

I didn't miss a beat. I laughed.

"You got me! I fell for it! Well done!" Everyone laughed and I laughed too. What else could I do? If I'd slapped him, I wouldn't have been the cool girl anymore. I would have been uptight - maybe even a feminist. It was a pivotal moment. I knew that. This would be a storied event and it would be retold over and over and my reaction would be noted. And it's not like I was faking it. This was who I was - the easy, chill, fun, funny girl. The friendly flirty one who was not too flirty. The one who didn't sleep around and who could drink all night with the boys.

Dr Britta von Stumberg with Kristen Vermilyea as they discuss the potential results of a breast reduction, which weighed 1.5 kilos each. Picture: Supplied
Dr Britta von Stumberg with Kristen Vermilyea as they discuss the potential results of a breast reduction, which weighed 1.5 kilos each. Picture: Supplied

And you know where he put the 20 bucks, right? Not in my hand, no. Of course not. In my bra. For 20 bucks, he got a non-consensual feel and then another when I collected my reward.

And I don't remember it bothering me. My breasts were a commodity. They were their own objects - not always part of me. A source of humour and admiration and affection and even legend, I'm now told. But as the years went by, they became more and more a source of pain and discomfort, physically and emotionally.

And when, almost 25 years later, I got a breast reduction, I expected this to stop, along with my constant headaches and back pain. But I didn't know what to expect in another way - How would people look at me (or not) when my breasts no longer made me feel like a freak of nature?

In my new SBS documentary Beyond Boobs, I share my journey towards deciding to undergo a breast reduction, questioning whether I will be invisible when I'm no longer the woman with the biggest breasts in the room.

Kristen Vermilyea tries to see what life with smaller breasts will be like. Picture: Supplied
Kristen Vermilyea tries to see what life with smaller breasts will be like. Picture: Supplied

So far, my worries of becoming invisible have mostly been unfounded.

I wonder if that's because my breasts are still quite large (DD) and I have long blonde hair now (which we all know is what society wants women to have in order to be feminine and sexy and worthy of the male gaze), but I think the reality is that we're all more obsessed with our features and forms and what we consider imperfections and faults than everyone else.

After all, the world tells us we need to fit into one beauty standard or we're not worthy and yet, for most of us, we have at least one person out there who thinks were amazing and lovely and worthy and the farthest thing from being invisible. And that should count for a whole lot more than it does.

Kristen is now pleased with the results of her surgery. Picture: Supplied
Kristen is now pleased with the results of her surgery. Picture: Supplied

I also don't feel invisible because I've been able to take control of the narrative surrounding my breasts post-reduction. It's a little controversial and provocative but that's also why I like it.

I no longer have to wear a bra. And for someone who was tied to that torturous contraption for so long, it is the most freeing and empowering thing ever.

I'm sure I've seen women not wearing bras in the past and have been judgmental. An adult woman in my youth likely told me it was something only loose or slutty women did. And here I am doing it - embracing it - and I feel powerful. In control of how I'm being seen. I decide whether or not I'll strap the girls down and be more invisible (breast-wise) or if I'll let them bounce and jiggle away as I walk down the street.

And I'm loving it. The hardest part is seeing that those who are looking at me disapprovingly are almost exclusively women. Why is that? Why can't we celebrate and support one another and our choices of how to present ourselves to the world? It's disheartening but I'm not about to stop.

I like to think that if a man came up to me at a bar and proposed the same thing now, I'd not slap him, though it would arguably be warranted, but that I'd smile and say, "I can make my own tits jiggle, thank you very much, and I don't need your 20 bucks."

Kristen Vermilyea is an actor, writer, director and producer currently living in Zurich, and Beyond Boobs is currently streaming on SBS On Demand.
@ktenvermilyea



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