My breasts are too big. Professionals from the age of 11, they skipped their training and went right to the C cup.
When I flash on growing up with my breasts, I remember mostly humiliating things: my piss-yellow gym uniform gaping at the snaps; the obvious size discrepancy between the two as revealed by the green Speedo I wore for swim practice and meets every day of the summer for all my high-school years; being called Moose Miller, after the comic strip, by two boys in the sixth grade who had not learned to like breasts yet—or they had and simply acted as boys in the sixth grade do (which, come to think of it, is not unlike the way many men do). Perhaps my most vivid recollection is standing naked in front of a male plastic surgeon as he took pictures of them during a consultation for a breast reduction that I never had.
From my teen years on, I often slept in a bra when I had my period, and my breasts spent the majority of my pregnant nights in a much larger one. They are the first body part to gain weight, and they are the last to lose it.
My sister, my husband, and many of my girlfriends regularly point out their size to me, as if they are separate entities controlled by remote, which I use to inflate or deflate them at will. Some people, mostly men, talk to them instead of my nice eyes.
Last year’s mammogram hurt so much that, despite my having lymphoma and needing to do regular cancer screenings, I postponed this year’s mammogram by more than four months. And this one, performed two weeks ago, hurt so much that they still throb from the crushing.
What bothers me most about my breasts—more than ill-fitting tops and now-wrinkled cleavage and soreness and wires poking into my ribcage for thirteen hours a day (even now, as I sit in my bed and compose this sad ode to them)—are the divots in my shoulders, the permanent cuts in my bones.
Nothing, save a fluffy pillow, could have stopped the elastic straps from cutting grooves into my shoulders. Surely not fatter straps, which would have likely caused fatter grooves. I couldn’t have chosen no bra or a strapless bra or even a racer back, which would have simply moved the groove closer to my neck. During the eighties, however, I reduced the discomfort and the cutting effect by placing my shoulder pads undermy bra straps. Alas, shoulder pad style was short lived and never made a comeback—unlike bell bottoms, hip huggers, and tube tops. (That I couldn’t wear a tube top is probably the most positive result of my breast size.)
In the summer, my divots are most visible. Though the swimsuit straps should fit nicely into the grooves, where they will stay put and are not subject to sliding down, my breasts are too heavy to stay put. A length of yarn ties the straps together at the back to hold me up.
Most of the time, no one sees my physical deformity except for my husband, my daughter, and a random friend for whom, when I want sympathy, I will occasionally yank over my shirt and slip down my bra strap. But I can see it. More important: I can feel it.
Friends joke sometimes when they hear I’m thinking again about a breast reduction. “You can give me what you don’t want,” one woman says; another replies, “Maybe we can split it!”
I feel a little like a traitor now, having spent the last 600 words dissing the girls, both of whom have served me well in a few of life’s most important arenas. Despite the abnormalities and the pain and the disfigurement they’ve caused me over the years, I don’t hate them nearly as much as I hate my ankles.
I write about my breasts and my struggles with the consequences of their size because I get a little weary of the insensitive messages sent by deceptive advertisers and well-meaning friends alike. Every day, someone posts a so-called positive, uplifting message about how wonderful our bodies are and how we should love them and not fall prey to Madison Avenue’s unachievable lingerie-model standard.
Our feelings about our bodies go far deeper than what we look like in the mirror. I don’t know which is more insulting—the notion that beauty is a size 0 or the impression that I am so shallow that I would reject my body parts because of their appearance alone—or that appearance doesn’t also hinder function.
So I’ll say it: I don’t love my body. I sometimes don’t like it. But every day, I stuff parts into fabric contraptions and make the best of what works and what doesn’t. And my relationship with those parts is an intimate, personal one (though it’s not, now, a private one) influenced by gym teachers and doctors and parents and lovers and children and friends and bullies and disease and books and music and, yes, advertising, because we don’t live in a vacuum.
Like America itself, the motto of the body should not be “love it or leave it.” It should be “love it or try to make it better.” And that’s probably what most of us do.
I know the divots well. I have a picture of myself wearing a very similar style of shirt and jeans. We look like twins except that you're missing the afro or I'm missing the long, lovely locks.
Really perfectly written. I so agree with you on the supposedly positive but actually slightly scolding ( and naive ) urgings we read every day to "Love yourself as is, you are perfect ". OF COURSE we as women should not hold ourselves up to externally imposed standards of "beauty". But it's normal, in small doses, and we all do: assess ourselves. As long as we don't obsess, or "hate" ourselves.
I have divots too. They have slowly appeared in the last 5-10 years. I run my fingers over them and wonder how/ why they are there, marvel at how DEFINITE they are, cut into something as soft as shoulder flesh. I am not large sized; for years I was smallish. After childbirth I became average sized, and stayed that way. I'm lucky that I've never been uncomfortable physically, they are not especially weighty, etc. and I'm happy with how I'm put together in general.
So what caused my divots ? I have no idea. Perhaps it's something all of us except the very thinnest have from years of hoisting/strapping up breasts of any weight at all. I don't like them, they almost seem like scars. So I put them out of my mind ( and yes, I wear strapless dresses ) , along with the saggy upper arms, the creases at the outside of my mouth I inherited from my Dad, the small pigment spots all over my legs and partly arms I've had since my 30's, because… because, there's nothing I can do about it, and I'm glad to be here at 60 years. I always swore I would "age gracefully". Now let's see if I can do it!
Very well written as always! Thoughtful and poignant. Having had a G cup since high school I can sympathize. However, getting fitted properly and wearing the right size, style and fit makes ALL the difference. I'm sure you've gone through all of that but it took me until my early 30s to figure out (and someone had to almost literally beat me over the head with it) that the bra makes all the difference in my perception of my breasts. An ill-fitting bra makes my clothes fit poorly and makes me aware and annoyed with my breasts and body. A bra that fits well becomes unnoticeable on both my body and under my clothes. I look better, I feel better. As I gain and lose weight I have to be re-fitted. I don't really lose weight in my breasts but the band size changes which throws off the whole dynamic. I spend a small fortune on bras but it is well worth it! I've never seriously considered a reduction, even in the days of ill fitting bras that made my back and neck hurt, they are a part of me the same as my bad ankles and fat calves.
@Kristi Lenz Thanks for the compliment.
I once wrote an article about the ladies that fit you at the fancy bra store. I've had a fitting, but I've still never found the right bra. And my mom just had a fitting and was steered toward a set of expensive, special order bras that are too big. The good news: I get them.
I don't believe you're ever really stuck with anything—just because they're part of you. Leg hair and snot are part of me, but I shave and blow. I know it's not the same thing, but a G cup has to hurt, and that surgery might have helped you a great deal more than it could help me!
I recommend Chantelle and Wacol bras, and if you ever come to STL I'll go with you to get fitted, my Nordstrom's has the best fitters!
I too have the divots and I've nicknamed one of the girls, "frankenboob," due to a surgical scar.
Wacoal and Natori make great bras for support and you can usually find them at Nordstrom Rack at half their normal cost.
I went through all of that growing up and more. It was humiliating. I finally was able to reduce them through surgery. I felt much better, no more back pain, no more gawking from idiots.
Great piece of writing. Gives new perspective to a breast man.
Coobie bra. Not the "one size", get the "full size". No painful wires, lymph nodes can flow, divots go away. Works great for this pair of 34Es. Good luck to you.
@AnonymousWhat? Never heard of that! I will look, but I don't know how the divots can go away. They are in the bones.
Great piece, Leslie – I, of course, recognize myself as one of those well-meaning but insensitive friends in the conversation you quote, and in the spirit of Elul and the High Holidays, I apologize for being insensitive. I'd venture to say we're all of us – people of all shapes and sizes – weary of being told simultaneously that we're not good/attractive enough AND that we're weak if we don't have the self-confidence to love and appreciate ourselves as we are. xo
@Aliza Oh, I never consider it insensitive. It's part of friendship to be lighthearted. If you weren't, well, you wouldn't be a friend. It's more that we take for granted the baggage of others. It's easy to do. The grass is greener.
I don't have divots but some of my best friends do.
In truth, I have as many female friends and family who are unhappy with their large breasts as I do friends and family who are unhappy with their small ones.
It might be divots, or back pain or unwanted visual attention, but large breasts aren't a flat 'sexy' photograph with no weight and mass, they are heavy and a pain to lug around from what I've heard and seen.
Visually I don't think your divots look bad, but it's definitely an odd feeling when you realize something you wear has actually changed your body, probably permanently. Like the fact I have no hair on my legs from the sock line down.