For the first time since they were teenagers, 42-year-old twins Tanesha and Tiwan Sweet can finally go out in public without enduring taunts, stares and whispers.
Up until a few weeks ago, the women suffered years of humiliating harassment for having size 40G breasts.
“I used to work in a nursing home and a lot of the older men groped at me and touched me,” Tanesha, who hails from Long Branch , N.J., told ABC News.
“I always went to work wearing two bras and a sweat top, and I would never take it off, even if it was 90 degrees out.”
But the torment continued outside of work as well. Going to the beach, even while covered up in pants and tee shirts, led to more teasing.
“We were just walking along and people were staring, and we’ve even had cars stop, look and whisper while they’re pointing at us,” she said.
On top of the emotional pain, the sisters also endured years of back pain and discomfort. Tanesha said she suffered from unrelenting back spasms.
Relatives and friends who had breast reduction surgery spent years trying to persuade the women to do the same.
They were initially reluctant because of concerns over cost.
Their surgeon, Dr. Russell Ashinoff of The Plastic Surgery Center, said the procedure can cost between $5,000 and $8,000 if not covered by insurance.
But both sisters found out their health insurance would pay for most of the surgery.
While considered a cosmetic procedure, Ashinoff explained it’s also a reconstructive procedure that improves self-esteem and eases physical symptoms; the latter is why insurance companies agree to pay for the surgery under certain conditions.
“We removed probably about 1,200 grams from each breast, which is about 2.5 to 3 pounds from each side,” he said.
Tanesha said the surgery took her from a 40G to a 38DD, taking quite a bit of stress off her back and neck.
“I haven’t had a back spasm since the surgery. I have had no pain at all,” she said.
And her bra size isn’t the only part of her wardrobe that has changed.
“I can finally buy a size extra-large shirt now, and I can also wear button-up shirts, which I could never wear before,” she joked.
“Women often come in with social complaints,” Ashinoff said. “People make fun of them, stare and there’s outright sexual harassment, and it’s hard to believe it’s still happening in 2012.”
Dr. Julius Few, a plastic surgeon at the Few Institute for Plastic Surgery in Chicago, said he regularly consults with women who want to have their breasts reduced for the same reasons — physical and emotional pain.
In addition to back, neck and shoulder pain, women with very large breasts often suffer from other problems.
“They can actually have pain in the breasts themselves, because often what women will do is try to manage the heavy hanging breasts with special bras that are almost like tourniquets,” Few said.
Sometimes, the breasts can dig into the chest area and can chafe the skin.
A condition called intertrigo can also develop.
“It’s a rash that can occur between the breasts and the upper belly or in the crease under the breasts,” Few explained. “It can get infected and form little ulcerations and things like that.”
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, breast reduction surgery was the 8th most common cosmetic procedure in 2011. More than 120,000 women had this type of surgery.
Sweet said she experienced very little discomfort after the surgery and now feels she can walk around with confidence for the first time since her teens.
“I’m very comfortable with the size,” she said. “It’s been a life-changing experience.
She encourages other women experiencing the same kind of pain to get their breasts reduced if they can.
“If you’re having back pain and there’s emotional pain, I would say to do it. I wish I would have done it sooner.”