Summary: Not all of us are born with the body we want. In fact, it’s a rare occurrence for that to actually happen. In fact, there’s only so much diet and exercise can accomplish in terms of changing your body. This is especially true when it comes to genetic abnormalities. For example, there’s little diet and exercise can do about asymmetrical breast development. While it’s common for breasts to develop at differing rates, it’s less common for the breasts to remain asymmetrical, and this condition can lead to emotional problems down the road. Of course, that doesn’t mean surgery is always the answer.

cosmetic surgery

Body Image

Growing up can be tough, and it doesn’t help that the “ideal” body is nearly impossible to achieve (especially without a Hollywood-sized budget). However, those high school years can be even more difficult when your body simply isn’t interested in cooperating with your expectations of what a “normal” body should look like. For many young women, asymmetrical breast development can make developmental years much more difficult, especially when they’re in the company of peers who—for the most part—haven’t quite figured out how to appreciate differences.

In most cases, breast asymmetry works itself out over the years. That probably doesn’t bring much comfort to those who currently are bothered by one breast being larger than the other. But the simple fact is that the human body is full of imperfections and asymmetries. That’s just who we are (and it’s the wise human being who learns to love those imperfections). But for some women, especially if breast asymmetry deepens rather than dissipates, this is a condition that can emotionally damaging and socially debilitating.

Mental Health

In fact, according to new research published in the December issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, there can be serious and long-term mental health effects from asymmetrical breast. In the study, conducted by Dr. Brian I. Labow and his colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital, a little less than sixty girls were surveyed and followed for a period of time. The girls had a mean age of 17 (though the range was between 12 and 21) and all exhibited an asymmetry of at least one cup size.

The results of the research were quite staggering. Because the asymmetry was associated with lower well being and self-esteem, it stands to reason that there are real mental health issues at stake with this condition. Indeed, low self-esteem and problems with mental health were expressed at higher rates than in the control group. These problems also seemed to be rather persistent, persisting well past, for example, high school. These mental health issues are roughly consistent with other breast issues, such as gynecomastia (male breast tissue) in adolescent boys.

Surgery Isn’t Always the Answer

It’s worth noting—and emphasizing—that despite the fact that this research appears in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery the researchers are not necessarily advocating plastic surgery as a viable option for young women with asymmetrical breasts. The truth is quite the opposite. In fact, according to the website of some of the best breast asymmetry surgeons in New Jersey, operating before the breasts have had a chance to fully develop is a huge mistake, not to mention an ethical violation. Most reputable plastic surgeons will recommend, instead, that the procedure be performed once all parties are confident the breast tissue is finished developing. This also helps protect the results of the procedure, helping to ensure that a second, corrective, surgery will be far less likely.

Rather, the researchers recommend guidance and counseling for younger patients. There are various cosmetic mechanisms that these patients can use to make their breasts appear more symmetrical. However, even once the breast tissue has finished maturing, surgery may be problematic—not because of an ethical concerns but because insurance companies generally will not help finance those procedures. While those same insurance companies recognize the emotional trauma that comes with asymmetrical breasts after, say, mastectomy, they do not extend the same stance to breast asymmetries that are natural—but which still negatively effect self-esteem and mental wellbeing. Without health insurance coverage, it can be especially problematic for young women to finance these procedures, despite any improvement in their mental health status.

But There Are Surgical Options

However, for women who do find a way to finance breast asymmetry correction surgery (many plastic surgeons are willing to work with patients financially on procedures such as this), there are several options to consider. In some cases, a breast implant—usually silicone, though in younger patients saline implants are required—will be used to augment the smaller breast. In other cases, implants will be used in both breasts to achieve a desired final size. In still others, the larger breast is reduced (though, this can be a slightly more complex proposition). Every woman is different and, therefore, each procedure should be approached on an individual basis.

In the end, getting the human body to do what we want it to do can be a problematic enterprise. Sometimes, the body just does what it wants and there’s nothing inside the bounds of diet and exercise we can do about it. And to ignore that the shape and size of our bodies has a direct impact on our self-esteem and mental health (for largely sociological reasons, but the correlation is pretty clear in this case). For many, plastic surgery may be the best way to resolve the problem, and it might have the best results in terms of body image and self-esteem.

But only you and your plastic surgeon can make that determination.