By Bea Mahmood
Breasts. To most men, the bigger the better, right?
On most men? Not the case.
An increasing number of men in the UK are opting to have surgery to reduce the size of their breasts. Gynaecomastia is more commonly referred to as 'man-boobs' or even rather creatively, 'moobs'. Breast reduction surgery is in the top three most popular surgical procedures amongst men. According to a survey conducted by British Association of Aesthetic Plastic surgeons (BAAPs) in 2011, gynaecomastia was the second most common surgery undertaken by men, rising by a surprising 7% over a three year period (from 741 surgeries in 2008 to 790 in 2011).
So while women are hitting surgeons' tables to have their breasts enlarged, men are following suit, only to do the exact opposite. Gynaecomastia is a condition which causes men to develop abnormally large breasts. The problem lies not in excess fat, but in fact, an excess of breast tissue. Medical experts put the condition down to an imbalance of testosterone and oestrogen in the male body. Those who suffer gynaecomastia have a low level of testosterone and a higher level of oestrogen.
It is no doubt uncomfortable for sufferers to admit they have more female hormones in their body as the cause for gynaecomastia feels un-masculine and as a result, is embarrassing. It is quite easy to satirise the situation. Admittedly, when I first heard about the condition I did have a shameful little giggle at the thought of a man in a lacy bra. But once the psychological damage that gynaecomastia has on men is considered, it stops being funny altogether.
Just as some women complain that their small breasts make them feel less womanly, enlarged breasts on men can make them feel less manly. In fact, it is often the focal point of ridicule. Ayo Adesina, best known for appearing on Channel 4's The Family, underwent the reduction surgery. In an interview with the BBC, Ayo discusses the problems he faced whilst suffering the condition: 'It was very, very, very annoying. Everyone in the changing rooms would say "Ayo, look at your little boobs" and stuff like that which was kind of hurtful. When I would look in the mirror, it does bother you so I decided it was time to do something about it.'
Gynaecomastia often develops during puberty and is seen in around 60% of boys during this time. This was the case for Ayo who continues: 'I think the first time I realised I was kind of different, I was probably eight or nine in primary school - we went swimming and realised I thought that my chest looks slightly different to the other boys.'
While in most cases it does disappear on its own, this is not the case for all. In fact, at least 30% of adult men have the condition. Surprisingly, many male celebrities suffer the 'moob' curse. Simon Cowell is often the subject of ridicule for his 'moobs', with pictures surfacing earlier this year of the business mogul on a cruise hiding his chest behind a magazine. Other celebs take a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the situation, like Ricky Gervais who, in a recent photoshoot, happily drew on his breasts. Others, like Craig Revel Horwood - who dropped an impressive two cup sizes - opt for breast reduction surgery instead.
Although gynaecomastia is quite common, there is very little sympathy for those who suffer it. In fact, it is often misdiagnosed as 'excess fat' and men are told to simply exercise and eat healthily to reduce the chest area. It is often not considered a true problem but an exaggeration and an excuse to avoid exercise and a healthy diet. Personal Trainer Rukmal Liyanage tells us: 'Gynaecomastia can be controlled with exercise and a good diet. Exercise helps increase your testosterone levels. If you're an adult, the best thing to do is weight lifting, but if you're under 16 you should start with cardio and maintain a healthy diet. There are definitely chest exercises you can do to get rid of it. I think surgery is the last resort, especially as it can be controlled with diet and exercise.'
But men who believe that gynaecomastia-sufferers should do something pro-active about it, perpetuate the existing stigma that men do not need to undergo cosmetic surgery. It is undeniable that plastic surgery is still considered very much a woman's domain. It appears that men are encouraged to explore every other avenue before considering plastic surgery if they feel uncomfortable with their appearance. Men are ridiculed for having gynaecomastia, but are also ridiculed for opting for plastic surgery - seems a bit unfair, really.
Last year, the British cosmetic surgery market alone was worth a staggering £2.3 billion. This shockingly large number is a combination of surgeries across both sexes with the difference being that for men, plastic surgery is still a taboo.
Assigning the vanity trait to just women alone is not only unfair on women, but incredibly unjust for men. It's a man's prerogative to change what he wants on his body, just as much as it is a woman's. It's time that we embrace cosmetic surgery for men because it seems often - like for gynaecomastia sufferers - this is the only option.