Photo by Breezy Ritter

I Want To Unlearn Everything

I didn’t wear a bra today.

My shirt is tan in color, the material has a somewhat opaque look and feel to it, leaving the shape of my breast and nipple open for interpretation to anyone who stares at me.

I’m usually unaware of my chest. I don’t think about it much. I don’t wonder what my boobs are doing. They don’t do much, either. Since I’m not a new mother and I’m not breastfeeding, no one reminds me that they’re there. My boobs are also small enough that they’ve never garnered public attention, and I have never had to defend my cleavage from the sticky eyeballs of strangers.

Today, I walked through the lobby of my hotel, and I turned in my desk key. The woman at the desk gave me a weird look, and my immediate reaction was that she swallowed bubblegum or had possibly choked on spit. Her eyes went a little wide, and she seemed distracted by what I had assumed were dysfunctions of her epiglottis, so I waited politely for her to speak. She checked me out, and I requested to keep my bag behind the desk. I was waiting for my flight.

I took a seat in the lobby, plopped my belongings on a couch, then whipped out my laptop to finish some work. I spent the next two hours with my head glued to my screen, not bothering to look up or look around. When I paused for a break, I realized the lobby was full. Nervous about leaving my computer alone while I went to pee, I motioned to a lobby attendant to watch my bags. He sweetly agreed, and I stood up to go to the restroom.

The second my boobs went on full lobby display, a man sitting a couple chairs away from me threw his head back and stared at me so intently that I almost thought he was attempting to have a private joke with me. I wouldn’t have noticed him had he not dropped the bag he was carrying so heavily onto the small footstool in front of him.

I thought it was weird, but I also thought he may have received bad news and I had been the unfortunate, but random, receiver of his dazed, concerned gaze. Or perhaps he was only being playful, and I had missed the point. I made my way to the restroom and was greeted by another lobby attendant at the elevator (the restrooms are down the stairs from the elevator area in this particular hotel). He smiled at me, and then his eyes went quickly to my chest. He looked back up, smiled at me again, and walked toward the other room.

I walked into the bathroom, and a woman was washing her hands vigorously under the communal sinks (which were oddly placed in the center of a lobby that led to the gendered restrooms). She looked up and stopped washing her hands.

She then hastily scrubbed her fingers and maintained a steady, concentrated focus on what now felt like fleshy mountains below my neck. Self-aware, self-conscious and suddenly embarrassed, I awkwardly crossed my arms over my tits and did not uncross them until I sat down on the toilet.

Have you ever woken from a dream, entirely sure that you were naked? In the dream, you had been standing atop a stage, addressing your high school graduating class, the tassled cap firmly placed on your head, fully believing your peers were so enrapt in your speech, their eyes glued to your body, your every word, only to realize every inch of you was exposed — their stares not appreciative, but offended and amused. You screamed, you ran off and you desperately searched for your clothes. You never found them. You wake up, breathing heavily, and you frantically pat yourself down, calmed by the presence of your pajamas.

Today, wearing pants, a conservative blouse, a baseball cap and combat boots, I felt naked. I had been walking through that lobby, completely unaware of my nudity. Thank you, boobs, for being slightly perkier than usual. Thank you, blouse, for only enhancing this. Thank you, brain, for not noticing.

I’m an accommodating person, and I don’t like to make others feel uncomfortable. I debated grabbing a bra from my overstuffed duffel to restrain these insanely captivating B-cups, my oh-so-sexual B-cups. So, when I exited the restroom and saw a woman gazing at me, her mouth open, I immediately shielded my breasty beacons from her glares. I tucked my head down, and I returned to my seat in the lobby, back hunched over to disguise these two lumps on my person that seemed to be sending rockets of light, flare alerts straight from my nipples, to the world.

I calmed myself down and again talked myself out of finding the bellhop to return my duffel, so I could fish through my bag and find a bra. “They’re only boobs, they’re only nipples, they’re only boobs, they’re only nipples,” I chanted a couple of times in my mind.

Luckily, the thought of sifting through my ridiculously packed bag felt so irrational that I did not action on my fears.

If I’m entirely honest with myself, though, I would have gone back in time and worn a bra this morning.

That makes me upset. That makes me mad at myself. That makes me frustrated with the way the world works.

That does not make me mad at people. That does not make me angry with the strange list of consecutively interested bystanders who found my nipples engaging and worth a double-take.

No, it makes me want to unlearn everything.

I want to be like Ishi, the Native American found in the wilderness in August of 1911, the last of the Yahi tribe. He stood nude and proud and had no idea his testicles were dangling between his legs, unless they rubbed against his thighs. When anthropologists took him to San Francisco, he wore a suit. Looking at old photos of him, he stands stiff and uncomfortable, much more aware of the fabric on his skin than the organs beneath it.

Today, I have an insatiable desire to walk into a hotel lobby, braless, and have no idea that anyone is staring at my nipples — my sexualized, cultured, demonized nipples — because they are nothing more to me than what they are.

Nipples.

“Culture doesn’t make people. People make culture.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Originally published at byjaneclaire.com on June 10, 2015.