«When I was little, I waited for my boobs to get bigger. But it never happened,» Thea Raudberget, now 24 years old, recalled.
Many of us connect plastic surgery with the Kardashian family or Sophie Elise, but cosmetic surgery does not only pertain to extreme cases anymore. Thea is one of the many average Norwegians who have laid themselves on the operating table. Ever since puberty, she wanted bigger breasts. When she turned 19, she made the decision to get silicone implants in her breasts.
«I felt like it was negative to have small boobs. Even adult role models would talk about small boobs as something negative,» she told Universitas.
«Natural» boobs at the beach
At home in Torshov, where she shares a flat with one other person, Thea cooked a quick vegetarian dinner; fried rice with egg. She had a little of the student-friendly meal, before she started describing what she thought of silicone implants a few years back.
«Only dumb girls got their boobs done,» Thea said. She thinks women who did it were largely viewed in a negative light.
Before 2013, the possibility of plastic surgery never occurred to Thea. Then, on a summer day at Huk beach in Oslo, she met a girl with very natural-looking silicone boobs. She started looking at the possibility of plastic surgery for the boobs she had been waiting for.
But how does one go from having thought of the possibility to entering the operating room? Tilmann von Soest, a professor at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Oslo, has done extensive research on psycho-social factors regarding cosmetic surgery. In one of his studies, he found out that more than half of Norwegian women know of at least one person who has undergone a cosmetic operation. Social acceptance for cosmetic surgery among women significantly affects the motivation to go through such operation.
Neither Thea’s then-boyfriend nor friends encouraged her to get implants. It was Thea’s stubborn personality that won over her friends’ opinions, and she felt her decision was fully and completely for herself.
«I don’t bend to other people’s opinions. It almost triggers me more when others stand in the way,» she said.
Thea decided she would get her breasts done. But first, she had to break the news to her family.
«I thought it was unbelievably embarrassing. So, I hesitated a lot to break the news. I felt already then that I was being very contradictory to who I was and where I came from,» she explained.
Grown up in Tønsberg, in a family concerned with teaching her that it was what’s inside that matters, she expected judgement from her parents. To her relief, they understood there was little they could do when their daughter had already made up her mind. They were supportive, and her mother helped her with taking the stitches out after the operation.
«I imagine that most prejudices come from the time when people connected silicone implants with Pamela Anderson. These are the people who troll in the comment section and shame Sophie Elise,» Thea said. She believes young people now are far more accepting than previous generations.
Five years later
Today Thea regrets the choice she made as a 19 year old. Although she was very satisfied in the period following the surgery, she is considering having the implants removed.
«If I become a mother one day, I don’t want my daughter to think that I had to get something done because I wasn’t good enough the way I was naturally. Of course, that’s not to say that you can’t be a good role model and a good mother with silicone breasts. However, since I would not make the same choice today, I will not encourage others to do it either,» she said.
In one of von Soest’s studies, he followed people before and after surgeries with a specific focus on their psychological health.
«Most of them seemed to be satisfied with the result, which can increase their confidence. However, the operation had little effect on general psychological phenomena, such as self-esteem, in the long run,» von Soest explained.
«What would have happened if you never met that girl at the beach?»
«Perhaps I would have never gotten them done. If I hadn’t done it during that specific period of my life, I would have most likely never done it.»
A new person
Five years ago, Thea was concerned with having a polished look. She used a lot of makeup, and straightened her hair every day. Today the Tønsberg girl focuses on promoting the natural beauty. Her makeup pouch is left on the shelf and her fashion style has more of an androgynous feeling.
«When you are 19, you have a quite clear idea of who you are, but I am a completely different person now compared to then, although I and my younger self know each other very well,» Thea laughed. She still relates a lot to what she wrote in her diary as a teenager.
There aren’t many who know of her surgery. Thea was one of the few who didn’t mind having their name and photo published for this article, but it still wasn’t an easy choice. The topic can be quite uncomfortable to talk about publicly.
«It is so far from what I would have done now, that I don’t want to be associated with it. On the other side, I realize that it doesn’t matter if someone thinks differently of me, after they read this article,» she said.
In the operating room
Not so long ago, one morning in November last year, Ingrid Ask went to the Aleris clinic at Frogner, feeling nervous. It was 06:46 AM, and Ingrid had barely slept the night before. She was there for a breast reduction surgery. As a nursing student she was fully aware of the risk with anesthetics and possible complications that can come after.
«The surgeon drew a map on me over where he would cut, but I was so stressed and sweaty that the marker just ran down,» she said.
«It wasn’t like ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, where you get rolled into the operating room. I had to lie down half naked on the operating table by myself. They cleaned me with all kinds of stuff for 15 minutes before the doctor injected some anesthetics first to see if I respond fine,» she described. «It felt like as if I got 10 liters of beer right into my system. I thought I would get anesthetized through breathing, but it was obviously just on TV that they do like that.»
In total, Ingrid had around 850 grams taken from her breasts. She reduced also the diameter of areola, the area around the nipple. First, they cut the entire areola open, reduced, and sewed it back together again. She described the procedure to me as she showed the before and after photos on her mobile. She didn’t seem bothered by the fact that we were sitting at a popular hipster café in the middle of the lunch rush.
Marianne Hatle, psychiatrist
Ingrid had the operation on a Friday and was back to school by Tuesday. Due to a lot of heavy lifting in her job at a nursing home, she ended up getting a total of eight weeks of sick leave, due to continuous pain.
«When your breast tissues heal, it feels like swollen breasts during menstruation, times five.»
«Even my mum looked better»
At an H&M store in Drammen, 16-year-old Ingrid realized she couldn’t fit into any clothes at normal stores anymore. She could not purchase bras at inexpensive stores like Cubus or Lindex. It quickly became an expensive problem, since she could only find her size from Change or Victoria’s Secret. At times she would pay up to 700 NOK for a bra.
«Not exactly student-friendly prices!» she said.
«I could never wear a shirt, for example. I would look like a giant monster,» she joked and showed with her hands who big she felt then. Even though Ingrid joked a lot about it, it was clear that it still bothered her.
«It should be possible to have big boobs without being overweight.»
Ingrid has been unhappy with how her breasts looked in her entire adult life.
«Even my mother’s breasts which have breastfed two children, looked better than mine,» she added, and described her own as heavy and hanging.
Physical or aesthetic issue?
Last summer, when Ingrid also began having problems with stiff shoulders and headaches from hard physical labor, she went to see her doctor to explore the possibility of breast reduction. In the conversation with her doctor, Ingrid was honest about the fact it wasn’t just for the physical pain alone that she wanted a change.
Understanding and acknowledgement from the surgeon, who showed her photos of how the result could look like, encouraged Ingrid to finally decide to go through with the operation. The original appointment for surgery in October had to be moved to November, as it collided with exams.
But Ingrid was not alone in her discontent. In von Soest’s study, which indicates that about 8 percent of Norwegian women in 22-25 age range have undergone a cosmetic operation, including breast reductions, although the reasons were also often health-related. The women in the sample defined breast reduction as a cosmetic surgery, which meant they did the operation primarily for aesthetic reasons.
The government pays
In the beginning, Ingrid had looked into the possibility for a breast lift, not reduction, but a breast lift alone was not eligible for government support. By reducing somewhat and simultaneously conducting a lift, the surgeon was able to do the surgery at the government’s expense. The deductibles are no more than 1000 NOK, including the expenses for medicines and a compression bra. With just the breast lift, the price would be close to 60,000 NOK.
In the same way as Ingrid, Thea had to find a way to finance her operation. For her, the government played an important role as well, namely through the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund, Lånekasse. Thanks to the big pay-out, Thea could afford the operation which ended up falling just under 40,000 NOK. The fact that financing wasn’t particularly challenging was one of the main reasons why she did the surgery. Almost every day before school, Thea worked at a clothing store and managed to save up all she needed in three months.
«I have never saved so much money in such short period ever before. I was unbelievably motivated!»
For Ingrid, the idea of surgery was put aside for a while, after a storm of strong opinions in the public, promoting the message that being natural was good enough. In 2016, there was a debate in the media with blogger Kristin Gjelsvik at the forefront. Gjelsvik raged against public figures who, according to her, contributed to the normalization of cosmetic surgery. She had a video blog called ‘No fucking way it is normal!’ which has been viewed over 148,000 times on YouTube.
«I actually agree with that! I’m not for the ‘Restylane in the lips and shape-up-your-butt culture’. I first and foremost appreciate that I have a healthy body that functions,» Ingrid said. Nonetheless she argues one should be able to change one’s appearance to some extent, without having to hide it as a taboo.
«Do you think perhaps someone can think of you as being superficial?»
«No, for some reason, I feel like there is less prejudice connected to breast reduction than breast augmentation.»
Marianne Halte, a Norwegian psychiatrist, has strong opinions about the blog statements. She argues that the danger with some bloggers openly talking about cosmetic surgery is that it can lead to normalizing those surgeries.
«The best thing would be to give these bloggers the least possible attention in media,» Hatle argued.
Ingrid took her cell phone out and checked the Ruter travel app. She was off to her internship at Diakonhjemmet Hospital. Ingrid was not as skeptical as others to participate in the interview. Before she had to leave, she answered why.
«Breast reduction doesn’t get so much attention in the media. But I have done it for myself and I stand for what I have done. If that can teach others something, or someone can relate to my experiences or thoughts, I think that’s nice.»