Own It

In fifth grade, my best friend got a bra; I let my mom know that I definitely needed one more than my friend did, so we went shopping.  I got a Little Teen Miss white training bra with a pink bow, and I wore it and giggled when the boys tried to snap it.  In sixth grade, the novelty had worn off and I wore a bra only sometimes until another girl told me that I needed to wear one because I “jiggled.”  Around the same time we got checked for scoliosis during PE.  The nurse told us we could keep our bras on, to avoid embarrassment.  But as I was not wearing a bra, my breasts just hung down like pubescent pendulums and I was mortified enough that I started wearing a bra again.  This time, it was a bra with tiny underwire and letters and it became a staple in my wardrobe.  My breasts kept growing, like they do, and by the seventh grade people often thought I was in my 20’s and I was used to having people talk to my chest and not to my face.

I made light of the situation, as I often do.  I bought a pin that said “silicone free” and I bragged about the things I got for free simply because I had breasts.  I named them Thelma and Louise.  “They’re big enough to have their own personalities,” I would say.

In eighth grade, my best friend told me that she had heard a boy in our class say “look at the fucking hooters on her” as I walked past.  I was mortified that someone would say that about me, I started sobbing and felt sick.  My friend told me that he was just an asshole and not to worry about it.  But I was so tired of comments like that, and I got them all the time.  I didn’t think it was fair, I didn’t want big breasts, I didn’t ask for them, and I was tired of people asking me if I’d had implants.

By the end of eighth grade I was wearing a D-DD cup.  I wore old lady bras with hooks down the middle of my back, bras so big that my younger sister could fit one cup on her head (which she did. a lot.) I desperately wanted to have the plaid or pretty blue bras that my friends head.  Instead I was stuck with “minimizer bras” that pressed into my rib cage.   The women who measured me for bras  called me “voluptuous” or “full-figured.”  All euphemisms.  I had big tits.  And they kept getting bigger.  I wore a size 4 jeans and size XL tops.  Fortunately, oversized t-shirts and flannel shirts were the trend at the time, and I used them to hide in.

My freshman year of high school my 18-year-old cousin (also the proud owner of a silicone-free pin and a pair of comparatively miniature DDD breasts) got a breast reduction.  My sister and I made fun of her behind her back and snickered at the ugly support bra she was wearing to preserve her new bosom.  But at this point I couldn’t see my feet and I had spent the summer fending off boys who felt that my breasts were an invitation to harassment.  I finally broke down in the fitting room of a department store while I was back to school shopping with my mom.  I had officially grown out of all the large shirts in the junior’s section.  I started crying about all of the cute tops at Gap that I could never wear and the horrible minimizer bras and I said I was ugly and hated it.  My mom made an appointment with a plastic surgeon.  I was 15

The plastic surgeon was understanding and gentle.  No one outside of my family had seen my breasts, but here I had to bear all.  The little office was cozy with wood paneling.  They gave my a floral print muumuu to wear that unbottoned in the front, instead of the paper gown that is a doctor’s office staple.  The doctor took pictures of my breasts and lifted them up and pushed them around.  He looked at them while I sat, stood, laid on my back, laid on my stomach.  He asked about the bras I wore and if they were uncomfortable.  He explained the breast reduction surgery to me and what the procedure entailed.  He told me the risks of having a surgery like that so young because my breasts could grow back.  He explained that there would be extensive scarring and that I may lose sensation and I may never be able to breast feed.  I didn’t care; I was ready to go for it.  My surgery was scheduled for December 15th.

One the morning on my surgery, they marked the cut lines on my breasts with a magic marker.  They gave me an IV of Valium, which I enjoyed, and carted me off to surgery.  Four hours later I woke up shivering and nauseous in the recovery room.  I had wanted to be at that moment fully cognizant of my new chest, but I was in too much pain and they were too swollen for me to tell the difference.  The doctor told me that had taken about two pounds out of each size E breast.  My best friends came to visit me with a plant and a sympathy card, “We’re sorry for the death of Thelma and Louise.”  I spent the night in the hospital.  The next morning I was still throwing up, but I lied and swallowed it so they would let me go home.  It felt and looked like a Mac truck had run over my chest.  I had a drainage tube coming out of each breast and ending in a bulb that collected excess fluid.  Nasty.  I had blue stitches in what they called an anchor pattern.  It started at my nipple and ran down to a grimacing smile at the base of the breast.

At the end of winter break I went back to school. wearing Victoria’s Secret bras which now fit, and a whole new wardrobe.  My mom had told me that people would just think I lost weight.  Moms like to say that kind of thing to make their children less anxious.  In reality, everyone knew I’d had a breast reduction and felt that it was appropriate to ask questions about how big they had been, how big they were currently and whether or not it hurt.  Besides the innate insecurities about having scarred breasts, I got messages from men and women and the media that a woman must be crazy to actually reduce the size of her breasts, in an era where breast implants are so common.  These comments were made without regard to the personal burden of carrying around massive breasts, or the pain of not being able to wear the clothes that other girls wore, or the distress of being a young teenager and being regarded purely as a sexualized object.  So even though I was happier with my body, I still felt that I was wrong for not buying into American beauty standards.  I didn’t show people my breasts.

But then I dated someone who thought my breasts were beautiful and told me so.

When I was 19 I decided that I needed to own it (inspiration I got from Oprah).  I had never in my life owned my breasts.  My concept of what was beautiful and what was acceptable owned my breasts.

So, I got my nipples pierced.  The piercer held up my breasts and pushed them.  He looked at them while I sat, stood and laid down.  He marked on them with a magic marker.  And he pierced them.   They could handle the pain; they’ve been through worse.

My breasts are beautiful.  And they accessorize.

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One reply on “Own It”

Thank you for sharing this; I think it really illustrates the competing and contradictory cultural expectations for women’s bodies and the profound effect that can have on a girl – but that it’s also possible to fight back and overcome all the bullshit to be happy with your body/breasts in the end.

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