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Nice Tits

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"This article originally appeared at the Good Men Project"

Gynecomastia makes adolescence even more confidence-crushing than usual for boys.

After the end of junior high, my family moved to New York City, and in high school I stopped doing any after school activities. I turned into an empty shell of myself. My self-confidence was gone. I slouched, wore many layers of clothing, and hid my body from the world, trying to avoid the ridicule that being a boy with breasts creates. I couldn’t talk to girls; I gave up everything I loved; I fluctuated from overweight to underweight, binging and starving myself in an attempt to make it less noticeable. It didn’t always work, and any off-hand comment was soul crushing.

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In the past several decades, men have been force-fed an impossible-to-obtain image of the male body. From Hollywood stars working with on-call nutritionists and personal trainers, to heavily air-brushed, dehydrated, professionally-lit, and oiled photos for magazine covers, men are told that in order to be attractive, you MUST have this impossible body. We are told that we must be masculine, and that strong, ripped bodies are masculine. If there is one thing that is not masculine, it is having breasts.

Gynecomastia—specifically pubertal gynecomastia—is the presence of breast tissue in men, and it develops in a large minority to a majority of adolescent boys as hormones fluctuate in the body. For most boys, these nodules of breast tissue go away as their hormones return back into balance. Unfortunately, for millions of boys, this is not the case and they are left with breast tissue. The severity of gynecomastia ranges greatly from barely any tissue beneath the nipple making them appear slightly puffy, to full-blown pendulous breasts.

“Nice tits.”

This is a phrase that the vast majority of women would probably consider harassment. For millions of adolescent boys and men, it can cause such severe emotional distress that many consider taking their own lives. Our culture and politics have created a perfect storm where a treatable and relative common medical condition ruins the lives of millions of men. Gynecomastia is a problem that the vast majority of people don’t even know exists.

Few have the courage to public discuss the issue, and fewer still are trying to take the steps to address the issue. For years, I have longed to see someone speak out for the millions who suffer in silence, to tell my story.
I discovered that for most guys, it went away after a few months. I was relieved. But it didn’t go away after a few months.

I have gynecomastia. It first developed at around the age of 12, and being incredibly lean and active year round in sports—I ran cross country in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring, and swam during the summer —I knew that something was amiss. I felt afraid and ashamed, and after a good deal of research on the internet, I discovered that for most guys, it went away after a few months. I was relieved. But it didn’t go away after a few months, and for another year it continued to get worse, and I became ever more ashamed. I thought that maybe it wasn’t noticeable to others since I had yet to be teased about it. Then one day in gym class, I was.

Depression, social isolation, acute underperformance, body dysmorphic disorder, and suicide are all too common results of developing gynecomastia. It is a condition that causes such unbelievably immense shame that there is very little public awareness.

Currently, the only way to fix gynecomastia is through surgery. In the United States, insurance companies consider surgery to fix gynecomastia a cosmetic procedure and do not cover it. Even with the severe psychological trauma that it causes, insurance companies will very rarely cover the cost of the procedure.

I got a few steps into the medical process before learning that surgery to correct gynecomastia was not covered by insurance. Worse, because I also have a genetic condition that complicates surgery, it would cost me $100,000 to buy my relief, instead of the usual $6,000 to $10,000. For individuals like me with complications, fixing the problem remains nothing but a pipe dream.

At 23, I still struggle immensely with the problem, and I feel such an overwhelming disgust at my appearance. One of my greatest passions in life is swimming, and from the age of 5 to the age of 13, I spent all summer, every summer in our pool. In the past 9 years, I have gone swimming 5 times. I live for the water, and I feel more at home under the surface than I ever do on land, yet my gynecomastia keeps me from it.

Having secondary sexual characteristics of a woman as a man is not a purely cosmetic problem. Millions of men are underperforming in every aspect of life because they have gynecomastia.
It causes debilitating psychological problems for millions of men, and it has a negative impact on our economy. Because there is so much shame associated with having breasts as a man, the problem remains tucked away on message boards dedicated to men who suffer from the condition. There is no movement to get insurance companies to cover gynecomastia treatment; there is no funding for research into a non-surgical solution, and very few studies are being done on the enduring psychological effects of gynecomastia on young men.

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In high school, my mother knew about the issue I was facing. I delicately brought it up to her, once. Her reply was, “Do some push-ups, chubby.”

Gynecomastia is not a joke. It isn’t “not a big deal” and it isn’t something that can be fixed by working out or losing weight. Men and boys with gynecomastia need greater awareness of the severity of our problem so that regular people like my mother, the other kids and teachers at school, and other boys developing this condition will know about it. We need insurance to cover the procedure, and research into gynecomastia effects and treatment. We need compassion and understanding for those who are suffering; and we need to start today. I would like to encourage everyone to sign my petition or contact the White House to encourage the administration to take action on gynecomastia awareness and treatment.

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