Sunday, April 02, 2006

My breasts, for better or for worse

My mother has big breasts. Her mother has, basically, no breasts. My dad's mother -- her breasts were huge, but she had only one leg so her breasts were never much of an issue to me (she was a diabetic amputee and not very nice and I was terrified of her). My dad's sisters both have enormous breasts. I didn't inherit my maternal grandmother's genes.

I remember asking my mother when I was young, after a bath, "Mommy, when will my nee-nees look like yours?" I pulled on them, as if to stretch them out. She told me when I grew up, they would look like hers.

I needed a bra in 5th grade. I was a skinny little thing with big boobs. Then puberty hit hard and I was a short, stubby little thing, with even bigger boobs. I'm only 5 feet tall.

I was wearing minimizers, size 36C, in 7th grade. Other girls could wear cute, strappy things, sleeveless tops, v-neck shirts, but not me! I hid in billowy t-shirts and chunky sweaters. I was so embarrassed.

I was never the last girl picked in gym class, rather, I was quite athletic...until the jokes about whether I'd get a black eye started -- "Hey Diana, don't run too fast, or you might knock yourself out with one of those things!"

The jokes came from my father. Perhaps he was uncomfortable with the sexual development of his little girl. More likely, he needed someone to pick on because his work environment was so toxic. Regardless of his motives, he hurt me. I began secretly hating my breasts, and the rest of my body. I couldn't find clothes to fit or flatter. I looked hideous, with no sense of style. My hair was curly, not "feathered" like everyone else's...I didn't wear make-up, I was disgusted with my appearance.

Yet, I found myself in the spotlight often. I was a superstar on the clarinet, "first chair" everywhere I went...and nothing could shake my confidence in that venue.

But, back to my breasts.

In college, I developed an eating disorder (well, it developed before that but college was the first place I had control over my food intake) and lost some weight. I never got "anorexic looking," but I did get pretty sick. My boobs were a 34D, and very popular with the boys. They always said it was my smile, though, that drew them to me. And the gay ones, not out of the closet yet, swore it was my personality that made me their "last ditch" at being straight. Imagine my self-esteem when guys asked me out and came out of the closet the following month!

So this eating disorder came to a head my senior year, and I got some therapy. It was a very structured program. My breasts weren't involved, really.

I began to feel more comfortable with myself. I learned how to buy clothes. I enlisted in the Army (to be a musician, by the way, I had won an audition already) and went to basic training, where my female drill sergeant told me daily to "harness those doggone provocations." Apparently, I hadn't discovered good sports bras...and there certainly weren't any available to me on an Army post. She yelled at me like I was some kind of slut -- "don't go wigglin' those jugs around thinkin' they're gonna git you anything special..." she used to tell me.

I reported to my band after basic training. My first week there, I heard men in their locker room -- "Have you seen the new clarinet player? Have you seen her boobs?" I was too naive to worry about a sexually hostile work environment. I just wanted a boyfriend.

A boyfriend I got, one who told me he'd help me get fit, lose weight, and have a good body. I married him. He had no interest in my breasts, but was very interested in cutting all fat out of my diet because he didn't want a fat wife. He was also interested in internet porn, things no Christian woman could ever imagine. He wanted me to look at pictures with him that were horrific. I'm not talking your standard porn here. I'm talking cracked-up counter-culture weird ass shit.

I divorced him.

A few weeks after I left him, I let a pianist play with my breasts one evening. We were great friends and he was really quite impressed with them. This experience still uplifts me today! (He called them my "orbs of happiness.")

The summer after I turned 26, I was single and having a good time with my life. I was dating some, and I was pretty taken with Bryan, a trumpet player at work. We were best friends, but nothing more.

I was running marathons at this point. I had severe chafing across my rib cage and shoulders. I had rashes under my breasts. When I went for my annual well-woman exam, the nurse practitioner examining me blurted out, "Honey! Why haven't you had these things reduced? They're obviously a problem!" A problem? I hadn't thought of them that way. Yes, hated them, I hated the backaches, the bra shopping (and spending! I can't get a bra that works for less than $40), the feeling that I had something to hide. I let her put me in for a referral to see a cosmetic surgeon.

Remember, I'm in the Army. All of my healthcare is free. I was to go to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. to get evaluated for a breast reduction.

Again, I remind you, I'm in the Army. In order to authorize the trip, many people where I work knew where I was going -- and why.

The doctor who saw me agreed I was a candidate for reduction surgery. I fantasized about strappy sundresses, lacy bras, bikini swimsuits. I wasn't overweight -- I wore a size 8 pants -- but needed at least a 12 for my top.

He told me he wouldn't reduce me. Not until after I was done having children...which incensed me! Why was everything based on my status as a single, childless woman? Why couldn't my life begin anew NOW?

The week after I saw that doctor, I traveled to the country of my ancestry, Malta. My father was born there. My luggage got lost, and I had no clothes. I had to go shopping, which, in Malta, isn't like it is here in the U.S. Malta is a very small country. Department stores, as we know them, do not exist there. I ventured in to a women's clothing store, and told the male associate, "I'm hard to fit. My body isn't like other peoples'." He asked me to look around -- which body did not look like mine?

My feelings toward my breasts changed in that very instant. In Malta, everyone was short, with dark curly hair and really big boobs! The "minimizers" started at size F cups...not C like here in the states. ALL THE A AND B CUP BRAS WERE IN A SEPARATE DRAWER! This was no Victoria's Secret, where only two bras in stock would even go around my body without splitting at the seams. This was a place for MY body!

I stocked up on cheap bras that fit. I spent my vacation (which, by the way, was a solo trip) happier than a pig in mud. I met lots of people and radiated a confidence I never felt before.

I returned home. Bryan and I started to progress with our relationship and were engaged less than a year later. We took our honeymoon in the Caribbean, where some women went topless. I wasn't ready to show my breasts to the public at large yet, though.

Bryan is not a "breast man." My now 34DD's were not terribly interesting to him. He loves my smile and my legs but doesn't have much to say about my breasts.

That doesn't matter.

Anna Maria, my perfect little baby girl, adores my breasts. They provide her with nourishment, comfort, warmth, and contentment. I wonder what life was like before my breasts had such an important function. I can't imagine a time when they will be mere decorations under my sweaters again.

When I was pregnant with Anna, I was fascinated with the drops of colostrum I could squeeze out of my nipples. I never imagined the flow of milk that would come from them. I was both delighted and disgusted when it came...there was so much, and I was always leaking.

I am now thankful for my breasts, the very same ones that brought me shame and hatred before. My breasts are healthy. My mother had a portion of her right breast removed last year...she is now a breast cancer survivor. She never breastfed us. She was always "the most highly developed girl in the whole class" (according to my father), but I often wonder how she feels about her breasts, other than that they're a burden to shop for and one harbored a deadly tumor.

I am again pregnant and I find myself with mixed emotions about my breasts. They feel "too big" for my body, though they still nourish Anna Maria. They hurt. They may become a point of contention between my daughter and myself, should I need to set limits on her nursing for my own sanity later in my pregnancy and when my new baby comes.

I look forward to the time when my breasts will provide sole nourishment for another life for 6 months. I also look forward to the time when I can wrap my breasts up tight again, and take my body for a run. I don't know when that day will come. --1 June 2004