A Sense of Anxiety a Shirt Won't Cover
The New York Times, June 14, 2007
Teenage boys' self-esteem is greatly affected by gynecomastia, but surgery can help.
by Alex Kuczynski
On a recent afternoon, Dr. Michelle Copeland, a plastic surgeon whose offices face the Metropolitan Museum of Art, clicked her computer's mouse as images of young men's torsos flickered across the screen. Unlike the ancient Greek statues of Herakles or the bronze discus throwers in the newly renovated galleries across the street, the young men in Dr. Copeland's digital images were a bit different: Rather than bearing the broad, flat chests of Greek athletes, their pectoral areas assumed a fuller, more feminine shape.
The patients were found to have enlarged male breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia. While it is not a new disorder, more men are seeking treatment for it, and new statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons show that the majority are adolescent boys.
In 2006, according to the group, nearly 14,000 boys age 13 to 19 underwent surgery to reduce the size of their breasts. That represents 70 percent of all the male patients who had such surgery last year, and an increase of 21 percent over the previous year for that age group.
In a culture that increasingly encourages young boys to be body conscious, demand for chiseled torsos and sculpted pecs is rising, so much so that the number of boys ages 13 to 19 who had breast reduction surgery last year is equal to the total number of all men who had the procedure just two years earlier, in 2004.
The foremost reason is the rise in obesity, according to several plastic surgeons who were interviewed. At the same time, there is a new willingness among pediatricians and plastic surgeons to surgically treat enlarged male breasts.
Often, enlarged breasts are simply part of adolescence, most commonly caused by the hormonal fluctuation of puberty, according to the National Institutes of Health. But in a society that values chiseled abs and Rafael Nadal biceps, adolescent boys are willing to resort to surgery to fix problems their bodies might resolve later on their own.
This article also appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.