On "Good Morning America" recently, 18-year-old Caitlin Clemens shared why she had a breast augmentation to help ease her physical and emotional insecurities. Flashing beneath images of Clemens in a hospital gown was the question "How Young Is Too Young?"

The show also questioned the fact that Clemens' mom had gone to the same doctor, for the same surgery. Was that right? Of course, there is no right answer to either of these questions, but I can tell you that when I decided to have a breast reduction at age 18 -- for many of the same reasons -- it was my grandmother who first suggested it, and it saved my life.

I was a tall, lanky kid, until my chest sprouted into 34Es. At 5-foot-7, 120 pounds, I was carrying around cantaloupes, each melon the size of my head. They chafed together leaving red welts inside my cleavage, weighed on my petite back and nearly knocked me out during cross-country practice at my small New England boarding school, which had a three-season athletic requirement.

"Hey, Gerber," the basketball team captain yelled out to me. "You have a lot of extra baby food. Can I have some of that milk?" His hyena laughter rang in my ears. I bolted to the nearest women's bathroom, tears streaming down my cheeks. Despite the sexuality radiating mixed messages from my upper body, I had never taken off my shirt in front a boy, much less myself. I was too disgusted to glance down in the shower.

It wasn't just men who used my chest to deflate me. After practice, surrounded by stick-straight all-American blondes, a female teammate with B-cups turned to me and said, "I think you actually look at lot thinner than you are, because your breasts are so big."

I hid my breasts under sports bras and wrapped them tightly beneath layers of packing tape, preferring a uni-boob to the humiliation of looking down and seeing my cleavage creased together like two pieces of fatty chicken meat. I believed my enormous chest was my fault, and if I worked hard enough I could manage my bra size.

At 16, I mistakenly believed my ballooning bust would shrink if I were emaciated. But when I returned to school 20 pounds lighter, after a summer in Israel spent eating oranges and Diet Coke exclusively, I was still suffocating.

Although my breasts never changed, something else did: my resolve. The less I ate, I discovered, the more attention I attracted for something other than my boobs. Someone even reported me to the campus therapist. She sat next to me in a long linen dress the color of hay and said, "I'm concerned about your health." But I didn't have eating issues; anorexia was never my problem of choice.

Then one day, during a three-mile trail race, my legs gave into the pressure. With each pounding step, I had felt shocks of pain rushing up my shins. Now I could feel myself slowing down until I was no longer in motion, watching other runners pass me. I rested on the ground in the woods, unable to stand up, as the last ponytail waved goodbye.

The stress of my unhappiness had literally caused cracks in my frail frame, deep fractures in both my legs. As my surgeon father held the shattered black and white images up to the light, he said, "Maybe you weren't built to be a runner." To me, his words were a reminder that no matter what I did, I was stuck inside a body I couldn't stand.

At the time, I thought breast reductions were only for old women, like my grandmother, until she pulled me into the bathroom on the first night of Passover.

"Let me show you my breasts," she offered. Without waiting for my response, her lacey bra was draped around her waist, and two perfect C cups pointed at me. "Not one scar," she bragged. "Lot's of vitamin E and good skin."

"What did they look like before?" I asked.


It was the first time I'd considered surgery. I was desperate to rid myself of the massive inheritance that had weighed on my back and self-image. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, when I found the courage to ask my father for help. "Please, Dad. I need to get rid of my breasts," I told him. It was the only time I ever referred to them in front of him.

"I'll set up a consultation as soon as I can," he said calmly.

"I don't need to consult anyone."

"There are risks -- scars, loss of sensation, a 40 percent chance of not being able to breast-feed," he ticked them off, methodically.

"I don't care. I want surgery," I blurted.

Two months later, I waited behind a white curtain in the surgical wing of Massachusetts General Hospital, fidgeting with my long gown.

I shut my eyes and tried to remember a time before my chest consumed me, before I hated my body. I was convinced that all I had to do was this, and I'd be happy. I couldn't block out the loud hospital sounds -- clinking metal instruments and nurse's sneakers squeaking against the linoleum floors. I jumped when a pretty nurse pulled back the protective curtain.

"You'll be fine," my mother said as she kissed me on the forehead. My father patted my back silently.

I woke up in the recovery room staring at a fuzzy woman. I knew it was my mom because the room smelled like Chanel No. 5. I felt safe again.

After four days of pills and sleep, I stood topless in my parents' bathroom watching my mother remove white gauze, pulling off individual squares crusted with pus and hardened blood. I didn't recognize the small swollen breasts that fit perfectly inside the cup of my hands. They felt like a burden. There were lines of stitches circling my newly carved nipples and a mixture of brown and purple psychedelic bruises.

"Much better," Mom proclaimed, looking at me in the mirror as if I'd done something important. I knew I had too.

She placed her delicate hands on my bare shoulders. "I had no idea you were so thin."

Immediately, my mother saw a change in me. In fact, everyone noticed -- everyone but me. I'd put all my chips in the reduction basket, hoping surgery would instantly change the way I saw myself. When it was over, I was supposed to be happy and perfect, but I wasn't yet. In my mind, I was still top-heavy, no matter what.

Now it's been eight years since my surgery. At 26, I no longer wake up and dread getting dressed. I own bras in colors other than flesh, nude and taupe, and sometimes I don't even bother with one. The physical scars have faded to the point where I hardly notice them. For the first time, I am consistently running every other day, careful with my legs, which still ache in the center of my shin when I've gone too far.

A few months ago, I walked into the lobby of my building, sweating after four miles in the sun. While I waited for the elevator, I overheard a petite woman talking with her friend about her new exercise program. "I definitely feel a lot better. Not as good as that girl," she said, pointing in my direction. When I turned around to a get a look at the great body, I realized no one else was there. "You really didn't know I was talking about you?" she asked me as we shuffled into the elevator.

"I wish I could see whatever it is you just saw," I confided.

"Look again," she smiled, as the doors opened onto my floor.

I haven't seen the petite woman since that day, but somehow her kind and unexpected compliment has stayed with me, counteracting the tape that had been playing on repeat in my head since puberty. She'd never seen the other me, while I hadn't allowed myself to see anything else.

So, I decided to follow her advice. I pulled out the size-10 Betsey Johnson dress I wore to my high school graduation -- the only one I could find that covered me completely -- and put it on over my gym clothes in front of the full-length mirror. As the fabric draped off my slender frame, bunching around my small chest, I hardly remembered the insecure person it had once belonged to -- the teenage version of myself I'd found the strength to save.