When she was 18, Romanian tennis player Simona Halep decided to get breast reduction surgery. Now, four years later, Halep is ranked No. 4 worldwide and nothing seems to be slowing her down. In 2013, she was voted WTA’s Most Improved Player, and headlines continue to speculate that this success is due to her surgery. This progress is no shock to Halep, who says: “For me to be here is no surprise, because I’m more confident now in myself.”
But Halep was breaking ground even before she decided to go from a 34DD to a 34C. According to Eurosport, in 2008 she was ranked the number 1 “world junior” and she won the Roland Garros girls title. In other words, her success isn’t entirely because of the surgery. But according to Halep, the surgery has definitely made a difference in her game. She says: “My ability to react quickly was worse and my breasts made me uncomfortable.” Her decision, however, was based on more than just her profession.
“I didn’t like them in my everyday life, either. I would have gone for surgery even if I hadn’t been a sportswoman,” Halep explains. Her choice, however, was always a controversial topic. According to Daily Mail, Alena Schurkova, a South African beach volleyball player, publicly opposed Halep’s surgery. As a size 32E herself, Schurkova argued: “If [Halep] does this, it sends out the message that girls with big boobs can’t play sports, and that is just wrong.” While bustier women should not be dissuaded from pursuing sports, it is undeniable that a larger chest can take a big toll on athletes, both on and off the court. Clearly, we need to find a wider range of solutions.
As someone who also had breast reduction surgery, I can honestly say that the back pain is enough to warrant surgery. Whether or not the surgery had an effect on Halep’s skills, she was doing what was necessary to take care of her body and her health. To Schurkova’s credit, however, there is an aesthetic pressure at play here. Right off the bat, it is obvious that athletes who are not a more “traditional” size are not given the supportive clothing they need (clearly we need to work on better sports bras). Pre-surgery, Halep was ogled simply because of her breast size and not because of her skill as a tennis player. On the opposite side of the spectrum, women who work in a more visual media are pressured to enhance their looks in order to bolster their profession, and then shamed for making this kind of decison. Halep chose surgery in order to keep her body in the necessary healthy state playing tennis. The continued speculation about Halep’s success only diminishes her right to choose which options work best for her health and her career.