Some people swim with a shirt on. For TJ Perry, three shirts were necessary to give him power over a condition called gynecomastia that he struggled with his whole life.
According to the Mayo Clinic, gynecomastia is the swelling of breast tissue in men. Gynecomastia is not often seen as a serious medical issue, but can be a social hindrance for adolescent boys.
Perry was heavyset during his childhood and accumulated a large amount of body fat. He lost most of the weight by his teens, but maintained about 12 pounds of fat on his chest.
After consulting doctors, Perry was diagnosed with gynecomastia.
Perry said he was teased because of his conditions, and his self-esteem was extremely low.
“I was insecure about talking to girls. I had the same thing they have,” Perry said. “It was a big self-esteem downer. It hurt on the inside.”
Insurance companies do not often pay for surgery to treat gynecomastia because it is seen as a cosmetic, not medical, issue. Perry said his condition was really more of a psychological issue due to the teasing he received.
“It’s funny because the insurance companies like to play doctor,” Perry said. “When it comes to something like my case, they didn’t want to help out.”
After sending out several letters, Perry found a doctor that would perform the $12,000 procedure for free. Perry’s self confidence vastly improved, after a long healing process.
Perry said he does not want other people suffering from gynecomastia to suffer with depression the way he did because insurance companies wouldn’t cover the procedure. With help from his mother, he is starting the TJ Perry Foundation for Gynecomastia. The non-profit’s goal is to “pay it forward” by starting a fund for men who are suffering from the disease.
Perry is now pursuing a modeling career. He is enjoying walking down runways and doing photo shoots without hiding behind T-shirts.
Perry’s close friend Ariel Freeman, interdisciplinary studies senior, said she is inspired by his confidence.
“When I see him, his personality, his aura just exudes confidence,” Freeman said. “If he fails, he’ll dust himself off and keep on going.”
Perry said he is no longer afraid to socialize with girls.
“I see him as a ladies’ man,” Freeman said. “He was my date last year to the Strutter formal.”
Israel Najera of the Texas State counseling center said there are workshops and series provided on campus to help students deal with self-esteem issues.
Perry has received emails and letters from people who had never been informed of his condition. He said ignorant people may laugh at this issue, and people need to become informed.