Guys be forewarned, we’re talking breasts here. Boobs. Knockers. Tits. Ta-tas. Headlamps. Udders. Hooters. Jugs. Pick your stupid male-originated euphemism.
When I was little, I didn’t give much thought to breasts. The women I knew had them and I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I assumed I would someday have them as well, but I didn’t actually dwell on the subject.
Then puberty hit. Seemingly overnight, my body turned traitor. Zit-producing, blackhead-adhering oil oozed from my face. Sweat dampened my armpits with a new, wholly unexpected and unrecognizable odor. (This is ME?) And blood appeared…well, you KNOW where blood appeared. Even men know that.
My chest, paper-flat and happy to stay that way, suddenly…well, I can’t say blossomed (not even the most generous person on the planet could ever describe what happened to me in those terms), but sprouted might work. A slight swelling and a hefty share of discomfort. I didn’t like it — who does? — but it seemed to be something I was going to have to withstand. That in itself wouldn’t have been so bad except that the beginning growth of ones breasts also brings with it the dreaded…
Whoever came up with that stupid name ought to be drawn and quartered. It’s a freaking undergarment fer Pete’s sake! It doesn’t train your breasts to do anything! Even if it did, what on earth would it train them to do? Open the refrigerator?
(In fairness, I don’t suppose men have it much better. Pick your euphemism: Athletic Supporter (which sounds like someone in a beanie and a striped shirt waving a pennant) or Jock Strap (for strapping your…jock? Do you suppose it was once called a cock strap but someone got their bloomers in a wedge and they changed it?)
God, I hated that training bra, but what I hated most was the manner in which my mother introduced me to it. There was no genteel “Melissa, meet Training Bra. Training Bra, this is Melissa.” There was no discussion, no getting me used to the idea, no finesse. Oh, no. Here I am in all my pre-pubescent glory (ugh) following my mother into the department store, dragging my feet because I know where we’re headed and I don’t want to go, when Mom (the soul of tact) whips a training bra out of some anonymous bin and forces it on me in the middle of the store! There was no going into a dressing room where I could try it on in private agony. Nope, she yanked it on right over my clothing. (Yeah, that’ll make sure it’s a good fit.) Worse (yes, it gets worse) she did it right in front of some of my friends.
Mortified? There are no words to describe the depth. Any wonder I began to look toward adulthood with dread? I mean, what other horrors did she have planned for me?
So the hated bra became part of my life. Those of you who have grown up in an age of sports bras and soft, lovely material don’t understand what I’m talking about. The bras of yesteryear were freaking armor, stiff and itchy. When you don’t have more than a couple of ‘buds’ to keep it in place, well, the damned thing had a tendency to ride up under your armpits. Try fixing that in the middle of math class!
Then, of course, there was the attention that these ‘growths’ precipitated in the boys at school. You have to feel sorry for men, really. They’re such darling and adorable things when they’re small, then puberty strikes and they turn into pigs, a state from which most of them never recover. If they weren’t making remarks and trying to brush up against you, they were snapping your bra strap as you went by. (Even now I wish I’d had the nerve to turn around just once and deliver a round-house wallop to someone’s tender jock just to see how they liked it.)
I don’t know how things progressed for the girls who developed large breasts, although they probably endured their own brand of abuse. When it became clear that I was not going to have the proportions of an Angelina Jolie, the true nastiness began. Bad enough to be called names (Flatty, Flat-as-a-board, Flat-as-a-pancake), to be told I had a concave chest, or asked if I’d been catching bowling balls (both remarks from a friend’s boyfriend; no wonder I hated him), but far worse was the sense of disregard, the feeling that I was worthless because I didn’t have fleshy sacks of a particular size hanging off the front of my body. (Too bad men aren’t required to wear clothing that brings their “fleshy sacks” into harsh relief. I wonder how they’d fare then in the court of women?)
I’m afraid things did not improve as I entered my adult years. Relatives made rude comments. (My own mother once told me, “You’d have a perfect shape if it wasn’t for the size of your breasts.” Thanks, Ma.) A guy I dated for a while tried to get me to get breast implants to make him happy. (Him? What’s he have to do with anything?) Increasingly, I came up against the attitude that there was something lacking in me as a person because of the size of my breasts, as if breast size had anything to do with brains or kindness or sensitivity or, well, anything.
It took me a long time to get over the stigma of being small-breasted. In fact, for a long while (too long) I envied the well-endowed women of my acquaintance until one friend said to me, “God, I envy your small breasts.”
What?? “Why?” I said, totally bamboozled.
She pointed at her own curvy figure with distaste. “You don’t have to carry around all this extra weight. You don’t get back aches. You can go without a bra without drawing the attention of every asshole around.” She laughed. “And you could jog without a bra and not give yourself a black eye.”
I laughed too. She was a good friend. (Still is.)
Somewhere along the line, I finally figured out that the size of my breasts doesn’t matter. They are what they are. I’m not going to maim them for fashion or society. I have a husband who likes them just fine, but even if I didn’t, they’d be okay with me. Middle age is something of a gift in that regard. If you’re lucky enough to make it this far, you learn what matters and what doesn’t, what to worry about and what to set aside. I can’t let my self-image be wrapped up in breast proportions — not when so many women (including some of my friends and relatives) have endured the ravages of cancer and full or partial mastectomy and lived to tell the tale. Are there those out there who will judge those women on their lack of breasts? I’m certain there are.
And I’ll bet you know what I have to say about that.