I spend a lot of time thinking about my boobs–more time than I spend thinking about my eyebrows and less time than spend thinking about my thighs. I don’t think I’d be the woman I am today if I had a different pair of breasts.
I think it’s because I was a late developer and I got teased for being flat up through ninth grade.
[Interrupting myself to say that it is ridiculous for a 14-year-old girl to be teased by a bunch of feral 14-year-old boys, as though at 14 I was already socially obligated to start manifesting my sexual availability.
But as ridiculous as being teased for having tiny titties sounds to me twenty years later, being teased was traumatic. When I went from mosquito bites to a C-cup with a year, I felt invincible. Now other people noticed me. Boobs were my superpower, my anti-invisibility cloak.
Then I got teased for having big boobs (they went up to a DD in college). But at 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, being teased for having large breasts felt a lot more like good-natured ribbing than harassment.
“At least they like me!”
When I was in high school, I read about women who wore minimizing bras or wanted breast reduction surgery. I really couldn’t understand it. My boobs were getting all enmeshed with my identity. They were all that compensated for my bad skin and frizzy hair. With a flat chest, I’d be ordinary.
I don’t think that there’s anything worse than being ordinary.*
My breasts were my armor for many years. Fat or thin, I had big boobs that got at least some attention most of the time. I couldn’t be overlooked.
It wasn’t always a great fit, though. Big boobs on a bookworm is like hanging out an XXX GIRLS sign on a library. I sometimes tried to be the girl my tits said I could be. I sometimes had to fight for people to take me seriously despite having big tits.
(But with or without big tits, who hasn’t had to fight to get other people to take them seriously?)
Fast forward to my mid-30s and I’m noticing the looks I’m getting. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable in my own body. Like some days I’d like to slip into another skin, another bag of meat with smaller breasts so that I could teach or buy groceries or walk into town without these headlights flashing signals that aren’t coming from me. I’m too old for this.
More and more, I’d like to be ignored when I’m out in public. Particularly if I’m just trying to get a little exercise or I’m teaching a class.
In the Taiwan heat and humidity, the space between my boobs gets sweaty and itchy. If I don’t wear a sports bra, then they seem to shake, even flap, independent of each other. It’s like I’m walking down the street and two tiny hippos are twerking under my t-shirt.
I don’t like to wear low-cut shirts around my friends anymore. If my male friends look at my breasts, I feel self-conscious. If they don’t look, I’m still afraid my female friends think I am showing off.
A man I’ve known for more than a decade drunkenly molested me a couple of months ago. Grabbed my right breast. I shoved him away. He laughed. Later, he apologized to my husband via a Facebook message. My husband wasn’t even there when it happened. The molester told me I shouldn’t be angry. It was just a drunken mistake.
Tits are public property.
I tried wearing tank tops last summer when I was running with a running club up in Taipei, but I got singled out for some good old-fashioned slut-shaming. A drunk woman in her late 40s wanted to put me in my place. “You think you’re so hot with your big tits hanging out? Nobody cares about your tits here,” she said, her eyes wild, her hand gripping my wrist.
I had thought that I’d be safe among foreigners who made a show of being comfortable with other people’s bodies, but apparently only women with a C-cup or less can be buddies. Her man looked at my boobs, so I was a troublemaker.
An attention whore.
Boobs are divisive.
At work, at school, I try to hide my breasts under loose shirts. I catch my sixth-graders making weird gestures, hands splayed six inches in front of their chests. They snicker, then burst into embarrassed laughter, faces red, eyes down. I feel self-conscious. I’m the teacher, the adult in the room, and yet I feel ashamed, like I brought porn into the room.
What can I do? Where can I put them? Now I wear a minimizing bra. In class, I avoid stretching, dancing, jumping, making big gestures, and erasing the board too vigorously. I wear oversized men’s t-shirts when I run, and sunglasses so I can stare back at uncivilized men who gawk like I’m a zoo monkey with a dick for a nose. I can’t hide my breasts anywhere else. I can’t stop them from indiscriminately beaming invitations in public, like some kind of charismatic lighthouse.
I should count my blessings. (One. Two.) So far, my boobs are healthy. What if they make me sick one day? My gramma had a mastectomy late in life. “I told him to cut the whole damn thing off. What do I need it for?” she grumbles. She’s lucky: she could sacrifice a breast to save her life.
Tits are time-bombs. No telling if or when they’ll go off, if they’ll take me with them. If I lose them, will I miss them? Will I be able to embrace being ignored by the people I now distract?
How much longer can I expect to be a distraction, anyway? I’m already 35. I should count my blessings. (One. Two.) Is having my breast squeezed by a drunk man a blessing? Is being called out as a threat to other women a blessing? My boobs are always bigger than my stomach. I wear a bikini every summer, even if hide my body below my bust in the water for as long as possible.
I hope when I’m old or when my breasts are removed to stop cancer from spreading that I will be able to appreciate what I couldn’t understand at 13, before I started to fill out. I hope I will be able to appreciate having a body that is ignored by others and therefore mine alone. To do with as I please. To not have to worry that I’ve done something wrong when anyone else–men and boys, women and girls–feels like they’ve been invited to comment on my tits, like they are any more my “fault” than my long toes or my thick eyebrows.
As though I choose them each morning before I leave the house like I choose a t-shirt or shoes.
I hope I will enjoy it when I’m on the other side of getting attention.
I’ll stop here, not because I am finished, but because I can’t finish. Every interaction of my body with the world contributes to an infinite feedback loop that changes how I feel about both my body and the world.
I like myself. I like my body. It’s the way other people react and interact with my body that’s giving me something to think about. Something to worry about. What would it be like if breasts were only as erotic as a stomach? Then mine would be unhealthy, oversized. I’d find them inconvenient, as I do know, and I wouldn’t feel that they were sexy, as I do now.
This is the question: what would it be like in a different body? Who would I be?