One Woman’s History of her Breasts

Wily Boob strikes again!

The history of Boobs is the history of humiliation. Tell me it’s not so. Tell me you welcomed their arrival, paraded them around, didn’t slouch, hoped the boys would stare, were not surprised that the self you always thought you were was suddenly someone else. Tell me when you first became a sex object you were ready, or even understood what had happened.

It’s a timeless chronicle that begins with a sneak-attack during a child’s innocent rolling down a grassy hill. It’s a story whose villain should not be confused with womanhood or motherhood or babes suckling at the breast, or with the rounding of flesh with weight or age. It’s the protrusions I loathe, the arrogant glands, the awkward, floppy flaps. Boobs, as far as I can tell, are the enemy.

Maybe they bounce when they should stay still, or maybe, as in our early teens, they simply start to grow Their tactic is simple-minded and predictable, but difficult to defeat. They assert themselves at your most vulnerable moments—a new job, a first date, awkward adolescence. And then bang. The Boobs have taken another field.

Here’s what they did to me.

Boob offensive #1: I’m in eighth grade when Debbie tells me she and another friend think I need a bra. She tells me with a sentence that starts “Don’t you think …??” I don’t think, and I don’t think anyone else should think. But I don’t blame the messenger. I blame the Boobs.

Boob offensive #2: Caldor’s, now bankrupt. Row after row of bras. Bras in boxes, unknowable; bras on hangers, too easily known; bras with lace, God help me. I sulk around in a sea of bras, guilty over this new expense, furious over this new humiliation. I won’t let the lady help us. I won’t play show-and-tell. Mom has already said aloud, “I don’t know where you got them. Must be Grandma Rose.” That’s my father’s side, the Eastern European, heavy-in-the-kugel side. She’s not blaming anyone. On’ the other hand, we’re not having a blossom party, either. I flee to the car while she pays.

Boob offensive #3: I’m going to visit a Reconstructionist synagogue with my mother. I’m trying some shoes with a little heel, and I’ve combed my hair. My vertical growth is basically done. We’re walking down a Manhattan street and I realize that it’s me the man is whistling at, not Mom. I pretty much want to kill him. Then I realize: I’m still the string bean I always was. Except for the Boobs.

Counteroffensive #1; Tired of these humiliations, I decide to take decisive action. My sister and I try the sports bra, which gives us a pretty good shot at unhanding the Boobs, or at least controlling them. But the Boobs are sly and return in an equally menacing guise. We call this counter-force the Uniboob.

Final counteroffensive; I enlist my mother. I tell her, in a moment of candor unusual for me, that I’m going to have them taken off. Chopped off, I probably say. trying to be funny. She’s “funny” back. “Why don’t you wait,” she replies in a moment of candor unusual for her, “Let your husband enjoy them for a little while.” Wily Boob appears to have an ally.

I know that by the time I reach my third decade. I’m supposed to embrace the Boobs. Love thy body as thyself. But public opinion notwithstanding. I’m not ready to end this war that was started by encroaching strangers. The best we’ve come to is an awkward peace: The Boobs have scaled back their sabotage tactics, and the most I am allowed in restraint is the modern miracle of the minimizer bra—a weapon of intimidation, if not of complete submission.

Lots of people war against their bodies, but those struggles grab more headlines. The transgendered man fights against his hips, his chest, his very genes. The anorexic turns against her “fat” though it means her own destruction. Psychologists call these wars body dysmorphia, and I guess I have a mild case: a .sense that despite my resignation, I’d be more who I am if only 1 could get rid of the Boobs.

It’s a real liberation fantasy. Nothing to be done but dream of the greatness I might achieve. Among my feats:

I would be a runner, a basketball-tosser, a frisbee player at neighborhood picnics;

I would be a woman of good posture;

I would wear slinky dresses with spaghetti thin straps;

I would also wear tee-shirts fearlessly;

I would join this century’s culture of womanhood, which praises solidity and self-containment—a sort of masculine stability— not Rubensesque fertility;

I would sit quietly in a chair, centered, contained;

I would roll down a grassy hill again.