Ever had a guy compliment you on your breasts? I am completely unsure what to say when that happens. “Um, thanks, I grew them myself?”
Tell me my hair is nice. I wash and condition it. I color it. I get it cut. If you’re lucky, I might have even brushed it that day. So, thank you for noticing. Or compliment my feet because given my level of ticklishness, I deserve some appreciation for making it through the torture of a pedicure without losing my damn mind. Heck, even saying I have a great butt is something I will gladly accept. Not only do I participate in hard workouts to try to offset the unassailable power of gravity, I pay extra for those flattering jeans which are supposed to help show off all my hard work outs.
But I did literally nothing when it came to my boobs. And short of cosmetic surgery, there’s nothing I can do for them. They’re… just there. I breastfed, so unlike my butt, I can’t exercise them into being more perky. Unlike my feet, I can’t paint them pretty colors or file the dead skin off them to make them softer.
I have always been a bit embarrassed about my breasts to be honest. I was a late bloomer in the boober sense. Most of high school, the only difference between me and the wall was my nose. It was a constant sore spot, when according to movies of my generation like “Weird Science,” the bigger the boobs, the hotter the girl. As a teenager, I dreamed of wearing a strapless dress that didn’t require me affixing Velcro to my chest to keep it up or sporting one of those Daisy Duke shirts I could tie in a knot beneath my abundant cleavage. I longed for the day where, after a shower, I didn’t have to wrap a standard bath towel around my chest TWO FULL TIMES in order to keep it from falling off.
Changes, or Not?
In the 90s, my boobs finally made an appearance… just in time for the heroin chic look to come into fashion and suddenly anorexic, flat-chested, waifs were all the rage. I couldn’t decide whether I was angrier at Kate Moss or my own hormones, which seemed to believe Alanis Morrissett’s song “Ironic” was an instructional manual. My boobs still are not particularly big, but I’ve come to peace with that. And I sort of thought society had come to peace with boobs, too. At least it seemed that way from the variety of sizes, shapes, and colors that are attached to women who are considered sexy these days.
Alas, no. The other day I noticed my fifteen-year-old’s breasts were larger than mine. This was shocking—not because they were bigger. Literally having much of anything immediately qualifies them as bigger. But shocking because she’s spent the last three years of her teenage existence wearing nothing but oversized hoodies that hide her breasts. I had assumed she was embarrassed about them for the same reasons I had been. So, when I saw her in a sports bra, my jaw dropped. It turns out the tiny-boobie-gene (that is totally the legit scientific term for those of you who are not credentialed biologists) skipped her! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them – they are perfect for her body type. But she’s still trying to hide them. She didn’t inherit my tiny boobs, yet she’s managed to get a full serving of my I’m-embarrassed-by-my-breasts-regardless-of-what-they-look-like DNA.
As a society we have a weird relationship with breasts. At a previous job, I was responsible for organizing wellness programs. In October, we had a lactation specialist coming to address new moms about breastfeeding and its many challenges. I had put up flyers advertising this speaker. Our head of HR caught me one day and asked me to take them down because he was concerned the use of the word “breast” on these posters would make our more conservative or religious employees uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, we were participating in a company-wide event for Breast Cancer Awareness month, complete with full-size posters and a giant banner in the parking lot. Um? What you’re telling me is that we can’t use the term “breast” when it comes to using our boobs to feed babies because people might be uncomfortable… but it’s okay to scream the word “breast” in ten-inch, hot-pink lettering when our boobs are trying to kill us? I say this with no pun intended: that really sucks.
In the U.S., public breastfeeding can be a sore topic (and I don’t just mean due to mastitis). A lot of Americans who consider themselves liberal, progressive, and forward thinking might claim the customs in parts of the Middle East where women are required to cover up their bodies, their hair, or their faces, are evil and repressive. Yet these are often the same Americans who would lose their minds if a woman took her shirt off in a park because their child is hungry. Or simply because it’s 100 degrees outside and we deserve to be as comfortable as men.
As a teenager, I participated in a protest on the National Mall. Hundreds of girls and women came out to play croquet topless as a demonstration for equality – if men were allowed to go topless, we should be too! It was amazing to see boobs of all sizes flying free. Some women painted their chests, they bedazzled them (hey, bedazzling was a thing then), they affixed stickers and glitter, or they just went au natural.
The most important part of the experience is that (short of a pre-teen boy scout troop from Iowa), NO ONE CARED. We were just women. Playing outside on a hot day. Without shirts. We had boobs. It wasn’t a big deal. There was no snickering, no pointing, no slack jawed yokels staring and drooling. This was the days before camera-phones, so it was obvious that no pervy weirdos were standing around filming us. It was simply a celebration of skin, part of our bodies – no different than a group of women who were letting our heads, shoulders, knees, and toes out to see the sunshine. But for as natural as it felt, as normal as we forced it to be, it changed nothing.
Even thirty years later, breasts are still such a big (or small) deal. I sincerely hope my kid becomes more comfortable with her chest sooner than I did. It’s up to her generation to keep evolving the way we view breasts, ensuring women of all shapes and sizes have positive body images, to normalize the way society sees boobs – and to normalize actually seeing boobs in a non-sexual, human-being-part-of-the-body way.
Sure, we can choose to sexualize our breasts – the same way we do our feet. There’s nothing wrong with wearing lacy push-up bras to make our boobs fit the prescribed notion of sexy. Just like slipping into stilettos with hot-red toenail polish sends an undeniably sexier message than stomping around in crocs. But on the flip-flop side, feet are just feet, and there are no “oh-my-heavens!” pearl clutching moments when a woman shows her callouses.
I’ll help forward this movement however I can. And of course, I’ll keep you abreast of the situation.