"After dealing with the physical scars, I had to tackle the emotional ones."
Walker Davis, 30, struggled with enlarged breast tissue—known as gynecomastia—for years before he decided to pursue corrective surgery. He couldn't be happier, and he hopes that by speaking out, he'll help other men take the plunge.
It started to show up for me when I was around eight years old, and it wasn't until I was older that I put two and two together about my emotional state at the time. I had started gaining weight at about that age. It was the year after my parents separated and I turned to food for comfort. I was a normal-sized kid until then, and then that sort of exacerbated the problem. My chest got puffier and puffier, and after a while, it was pretty clear that it wasn't just "this kid has a few too many pounds."
All of my early interactions with it were so rooted in shame. I didn't want to talk about it with anyone, like even my mom or other friends of mine who were heavier. There was no way I could see it as being something positive. I was ridiculed and made fun of, told I was weird, and felt freakish. I thought: "I'm going to hide this to the best of my ability and not talk about it." I adjusted my posture and my clothes to keep it from coming up. I just kind of kept it quiet. It messed with my body image for a long time.
There's actually two kinds of gynecomastia—there's glandular and the kind that comes from being obese, where it's mostly fat. I had very hard glands on my chest when I started lifting weights. I got my first bench press when I was probably 11 or 12 and just tried to correct the problem that way, which actually made it worse. I was building muscle under my chest. It pushed my chest out more and exacerbated the problem. It wasn't until health class in high school that I was able to register what I had as gynecomastia.
Many years later, in college, my father passed away. He and my mom were separated, so my sister and I became the beneficiaries of his estate. He wasn't wealthy, but we suddenly had the retirement fund of a middle class guy in our bank accounts. I'd heard about surgery, I'd just lost my father, and I had this influx of cash.
I was out in LA studying in film school and I found out my uncle had the surgery for a much more mild case caused by one of his HIV medications. He had much smaller, slightly puffy nipples and got corrective surgery. I asked him about it and started doing some research. I just kind of jumped in. I realized as I was transitioning into adulthood that if I had money, I could call a doctor and just take care of this. I looked into it, called a doctor, and scheduled the surgery.
The surgery itself was pretty straightforward. It wasn't painful at all, though I had a bit of soreness in my chest afterwards. There was an excision of glandular tissue as well as liposuction to correct the shape, so there was soreness there. I had these drainage tubes in the side of my chest, and a bag of blood on my body for the first few days. After the initial part where they took the tubes out, I wore a compression vest, which helps your skin and connective tissue heal and readjust to normal.
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I was just excited to have taken a step towards progress. It was something I hated about myself for a long time. I still wasn't totally thrilled with the initial shape. At the time, I was still pretty overweight. I felt like I was puffier and rounder in the chest than I wanted to be. A few years later, after I'd lost a couple more pounds trying to slim down, I went into a liposuction clinic to get my chest contoured, to take care of some residual fat.
For the first time, I could see that working out had benefited me, and I did have a muscular chest underneath. I kept working out, lost even more weight, and had the shape I wanted. Am I happy about the outcome? Very much so. I can't recommend it enough. After dealing with all the physical scars, though, I had to tackle the emotional ones. That was the next step. Living that way for so long left me with some really intense body dysmorphia. It was an adjustment for my brain to catch up to my body.
I definitely talk about it with people in my life. As a teenage boy, it gave me a crash course in vulnerability. I was very sensitive about it. In the long run, I'm a much more empathetic person. It's made me a better feminist. I felt safer with women as a teenager because I felt like I could relate, you know, as much as a man can, to the idea of being afraid of being treated like my body was public property, free to be ridiculed or judged. The fear of making a new friend or liking somebody and then hearing them casually dropping a joke about 'Walker's bitch tits' was very real.
Moving past that physically made it so much easier to talk about. I no longer feel like I'm dealing with it, so I have greater appreciation for the long-term positive impacts it had. It affected my relationships with girlfriends and dating and skewed my confidence, and strongly affected my opinion of my sexual value and attractiveness. I felt like I was dating on hard mode. Now, I feel like I finally have enough distance to talk about it.
It pushed me to ground my masculinity in something much more stable. Which I'm very grateful for. I know how much more strength it takes to deal with that kind of attitude towards your body, and still have confidence.
In terms of empathy, it's made me more understanding of people who choose to get plastic surgery. This had nothing to do with my health, it was an elective cosmetic procedure, I just didn't like the way I looked. I made the choice to change it, and I'm really glad I did. My willingness to judge people who want to have work done has changed. Who am I to say that you can't or shouldn't, because you may feel better and more yourself if you do.
As told to S.E. Smith
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