The trouble with boobs
Growing up, it was impossible to escape the knowledge that Men Like Boobs, and it was understood that it was highly desirable to have big ones. I was actually worried, aged 9, that I might be a late developer, such was the pro-boob propaganda around me, even in suburban New Zealand, pre-internet. As tweens and early teens, my peers pressed their pecs to a sing-song chant, inspired to the vain hope that it might endow them by Judy Blume. They held pencils under their breasts to see if they could hold them up. I could hold whole pencil cases.
My boobs arrived suddenly, or that’s how it seems to me. I was living in South Wales at the time, so my body was buried layers most of the time – maybe that’s why I didn’t notice. Anyway, out of the blue, my Auntie announced she was taking me shopping for a bra. I was mortified: I was still at primary school. She bought me a C cup. I wore jumpers to school the whole summer term so no one would find out I wore a bra. That Christmas my Nana told relatives on the other side of the world about my boobs during the obligatory phone call home. My boobs had settled into their preferred size of 14DD by the time I was 14.
At school in Papua New Guinea, the uniform was a t-shirt and a wrap skirt. Mum bought me fitted Fruit of the Loom tees. One day I invited a school friend over and she reported back that she wasn’t allowed because her mother thought I was a slut. It would be a decade before I wore fitted tees again.
At the next school, an all-girls boarding school, I thought everyone was super-friendly on my first day. Later I learned the word had gone out, “Check out the boobs on the new girl.” I was nick-named Dolly Parton. I was pretty happy with that, another girl was called Community Chest.
It was bad enough that suddenly clothes didn’t fit the way they used to and that I had to spend my waking hours strapped into a wired contraption that crushed my ribs and pinched my shoulders. All of a sudden, for reasons entirely beyond my control, I was getting all this negative attention. Men felt entitled to rub up against me, to gawk at me, to mock me. I knew, without being told, that I had to police my breasts. That any unwanted attention I got because of them, was my fault. It robbed me of the pleasure I should have in my own body.
Big boobs do restrict your motion: when I do a shoulder stand at yoga they try to suffocate me, but I gave up sport because of the scrutiny, and the constant jibes about giving myself a black eye. I learned to round my shoulders so it didn’t seem like I was thrusting my fun-bags in everyone’s faces. Now I’m spending a fortune dealing with the consequences of 35 years of bad posture.
Of course, the most damning evidence of how messed up our views on boobs are is the utterly bonkers attitude to breastfeeding. Boobs can be plastered over anything and everything – unless they are are being used for their purpose – feeding infant humans. #freethenipple and other efforts to have the global mega-corporations that control our communications systems to stop treating women’s bodies as weird and wrong / sex objects seem doomed to failure when we can’t even get our heads around the idea of breastfeeding.
If I could go back and advise my 13 year old self, I’d suggest giving a lots less fucks about what people think. In truth, I’d be a hypocrite. To this day I’m restraining and policing my breasts. But I’m getting bolder. Look out, one day soon I might set them free.