When I was in the sixth grade at about 11 years old, I was still at the age where girls and boys seemed relatively the same. Up until then, I played with friends of both genders without thinking twice about whether the person I was hanging out with was a girl or a boy. But then one day my good friend Nicole grew boobies. She came to school one morning with a bra on! Nicole had transformed from my best friend into my breast friend. She was so excited to tell me about it, and, although I had yet to develop, I now wanted a bra, too.
So I went home that day and told my mother I wanted a bra. I remember her being excited about it. So she took me to the local bra shop where an old lady wearing opaque stockings whipped out her measuring tape while commenting that I didn't really "need" a bra yet. But she measured me anyway, and then walked into the stock room. She came back holding a small box with a picture of a happy young woman on the front. Inside folded up was a training bra: blandly styled and shapeless, kind of like me.
I tried it on. The bra didn't really have anything to cling to, but it looked like a bra! I was wearing a bra! I was so excited. I felt older already. My mother looked at me and must have been kvelling. Her only daughter was wearing her first bra.
That summer, I began developing some semblance of a chest. Two little bumps underneath my t-shirt indicated for me that I was becoming lovely. Except for the fact that I was extremely self-conscious. But I was still a kid, and did kid things. Except for the fact that my tiny boobies seemed to deter boys from wanting to play with me any longer.
One day that summer I rode my bike to the middle school where I would be attending the next fall. On the way there, I passed two boys, not much older than I, one of whom shouted at me, "Sexy!"
What? Was he referring to me? Eleven-year-old me? There were no other girls around, and I don't think he was yelling that to his buddy. I felt really embarrassed. I blamed this entirely on my boobies.
This moment was cathartic for me. In one instant I had the deepest understanding of a woman's worth. Of my worth. Or at least society's take on what that meant. Having boobies meant that I was now an objet de sexe. I had become what all girls eventually become – a slightly-less-then-human creature with breasts for the pleasure of others. Or worse yet, an object of criticism for many years to come.
If my breasts looked too small underneath my shirt, I was a universal member of the “Itty Bitty Titty Committee,” having been inducted by a number of different strangers at various intervals in my life while walking down the street minding my own business. If my cleavage was revealed in any way, I was a “slut,” or just plain easy.
Boys don't have to go through this. No one can see their middle school erections behind their bookbinders. Pubescent boys aren't sized up in public the way that girls are. In the seventh grade, boys don't have the bad luck of being judged by their penises. But girls go through the horror of their silhouettes being on plain view, unwillingly entered in the pageant of female life.
Breasts on Parade
The subject of breast obsession has impacted our society in such a way that there are whole careers dedicated to the manipulation of breast size (plastic surgery) and entire companies dedicated to cleavage enhancement (Victoria’s Secret, among others). One religious holiday eve has even devolved into drunken wet t-shirt contests and breast-flashing with cheap rewards (Mardi Gras). What is it about breasts that makes them so appealing? Or in other instances, appalling?
What on earth happened to my innocence? In an instant, I was robbed of my mental childhood after I was declared sexy by one middle school boy (In defense of the boy, his mind had been hijacked by our society’s obsession with breasts). It would be one whole year till I get my period, the rightful time for me to become a woman. But instead, a year was shaved off my youth as I pondered what exactly might be expected of me now that I must live up to the standard of sex object. I would still play with my Barbies for another year, up until the age of 12. But instead of Barbie being just happy taking a dip in the Barbie pool or making tea with Skipper, she was now the Lover of Ken. She dressed up for him, they went on dates, and they even shared a cardboard box bed (I had to make that – I don’t remember Barbie marital beds being sold). Come to think of it, the Barbie doll’s unusual body proportions made her breasts quite huge for her thin frame. Ken must have been a boob man.
After years of breast scrutiny, having had my boobs under the public microscope, I eventually made peace with my mammarial self. But it wasn’t until I became a mother that I had the deepest revelation as to what my breasts are for. My breasts are for nurturing my child. And for no other reason. For all those years I dressed my boobs in fancy clothes, pushed them up in $70 bras, decorated my cleavage with gilded powder, lifted them, separated them, stuffed them and generally abused them for the pleasure of an ogling society – I realized that my breasts were not decorative at all. They were utilitarian. My breasts were… useful.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I breastfed my first child. I was amazed at this nurturing gift that I could give him: milk. He grew and grew, and I felt this utter sense of accomplishment – more so than anything else I had ever done in my life. My heart swells with love when I breastfeed. I am giving my children nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antibodies. I am giving them a piece of me. I am giving them love.
My breasts are no one else’s except for my own. Except for when they are my children’s.