To my Darling Double-Ds,
Started from the bottom, now we here.
This letter is a long time coming, I know. We’ve been through a hell of a lot together and I never appreciated you the way that I should have. But that’s all going to change now, ok? I’m going to make up for it. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.
Today, we dared to go outside without a bra on for the first time since the third grade.
There you were, out for the whole world to see, in a daring spaghetti-strap crop top that screamed CLEAVAGE to everyone I pointed you at. Pew! Pew! Pew!
For the first time ever, we walked down the street, tits-first, loud and proud and bouncing.
“You seem more confident,” people say. “Like a weight’s been lifted off your shoulders.”
Yeah, or a couple of tight-ass bra straps and a lifetime of shame.
Those who’ve gone through puberty far too early will understand.
One minute you’re a child, happily frolicking with friends, digging for worms, doing cartwheels, memorizing the correct order of the (9) planets… the next minute, you shoot up like a beanstalk and exist in the stratosphere, far above the heads of your adorable, petit, normal friends. Your chest balloons out like someone cartoon-punched you twice from behind, your hair gets greasy and limp, and prickly little porcupine hairs start growing in disgusting places. Like on your legs.
It’s mortifying enough without all the little boys (who are all still shorter than you) yelling from across the playground, “Everybody get out of the way! It’s Boobasaurus-Rex!
It turns out, I’d done all the growing I would ever do over the course of one summer. I haven’t grown an inch since then. I shit you not, I still wear the same shoe size as I did when I was 8 years old. I was a child in a woman’s body, the only girl who had to wear a bra, which might as well have been Forrest Gump’s leg braces for all the teasing and strife it brought me. Except that his awkward contraption brought attention to a far less mortifying part of his body.
I began to slouch in an attempt to fold my boobs back into my body and not look so tall among my peers. I crossed my arms a lot and held things directly in front of my chest whenever I could, which gave my arms the appearance of tiny little T-rex arms.
It became pretty clear that my friends were gonna have to ditch me soon. They included me at school out of sheer habit but, when they went to get glamor shots together at the mall on weekends, they never invited me. When they started picking out their first “boyfriends”, like picking names out of a hat so they’d be distributed evenly, it was never really assumed that I’d participate. Every cute little girl had a cute little boy to match but there was no match for me — Boobasaurus-Rex.
“You know what you should do?” said my mom after school one day when I told her about the bullying through tears, mucus, and hiccups. “You should ask those boys about their testicles.”
I knew what testicles were, of course. My parents were both doctors and they gave me and my siblings “the talk” about once a year, aided by picture books and anatomy posters. If a certain number of months went by without getting “the talk”, you could be sure that one of them would bring it up some quiet evening at the dinner table.
“How long has it been since we talked to you guys about sex stuff? Does anybody have any questions? …About puberty maybe? …You guys doing ok?”
One day, the teasing at school just got to be too much. One boy was the worst. I won’t say his name to protect his anonymity but picture Jonathan Taylor Thomas if Jonathan Taylor Thomas was super mean (I guess I always imagined that the real Jonathan Taylor Thomas is pretty mild-mannered). He was, by far, the most popular boy in school and he hated my boobs. And not in the, “Oh, he just likes you!” kind of way, but in the, “Someone check on what’s happening to this kid at home” kind of way.
One day, as we were all trading pokemon cards under our usual tree (every little girl symbolically paired with every little boy in some awkward configuration or another), this particular little 90’s heartthrob took one of his typical jabs — “How’s your boobs today, Boobasaurus-Rex?”
Filled with blind rage and panic, I responded, “I don’t know, Michael, how are your testicles doing today? Did they drop yet?”
(Oops, I said his name. Whatever. Too late now, what’s editing?)
Everyone fell completely silent. Oh no, I’d crossed the line. Boobasaurus-Rex was now also a pervert who’d asked the most popular boy in school if his testicles had dropped.
Then Michael said, “…What are testicles?”
Pairs of little heads all swiveled towards him. “Wait. You don’t know what testicles are?” someone said.
Michael turned bright red. “Why should I know?”
“He doesn’t know, oh my god!”
And, for one glorious day, my monstrous boobs were no longer the topic of conversation. Instead, it was which boys’ testicles had dropped, how to know, and what an idiot Michael was for not knowing a word that I’m pretty sure half the kids in the class didn’t know before that day either.
My mom’s never been prouder of me. She still cough-laughs through that story during the holidays.
I’ve done everything I possibly can over the years to “manage” my boobs.
I tried wearing baggy boys clothes for a while because I thought they made me look cool and because they turned me into a sort of shapeless blob. That backfired when the boy I had a crush on asked me if I was a boy or a girl. He was the star of the basketball team and I was the only girl on the team so I could see why he might have been confused. When I told him I was a girl, he stopped passing the ball to me on the court. One time, he straight-up punched me in the stomach in the middle of a game. No real reason. He just didn’t like me. Thought I was a freak. His name was Keyvon, since we’re outing all the mean little boys.
I ended up quitting the team after that. It’s ok, all the boys (and most of the girls) got taller than me over the next few years, so I wouldn’t have had a basketball career anyway.
After that, it was a never-ending lineup of uncomfortable bra after uncomfortable bra, along with attempts to be at least a feminine blob with my fashion choices (slightly more girly, loose-fitting clothes). I convinced myself that these bras were actually super comfortable because the emotional discomfort of not being supported, strapped, and held in seemed far worse at the time.
A bra is like a hug, I told myself, completely believing it.
By the time I got to college, other girls in my dorm would talk about how much of a relief it was to take their bras off at the end of the day, but I kept that thing on morning, noon, and night. It only ever came off in the shower and during intimate situations. Then the bra was immediately back on, boobs locked up for the night. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
I continued to slouch and wear high necklines and imagine that I could turn my chest inside-out long into my twenties. Standing up straight felt rude, like I was shoving my breasts into people’s faces. It also felt dangerous. Like, if something sexually violent were to happen to me, it would have been my fault for not doing everything I possibly could to hide my anatomy.
Whenever people tried to get me to sit or stand up straight, I’d get defensive. “Skinny girls with little boobs slouch all the time and you don’t tell them to sit up straight, do you? Look at every magazine photo ever. Slouching is edgy — as long as you have the right body for it. Why should they get to slouch and be comfortable while I lift my heavy boobs into the air and bust my back? That shit hurts.”
I’d turn it into a chant. “Let. Curvy. Girls. Slouch. Let. Curvy. Girls. Slouch.”
A few years ago, a good friend of mine got really into the “free the nipple” campaign. The main message is that there’s a double-standard when it comes to male and female nipples. And there is. Women should be allowed to show a nipple without fear of repercussions, just like men can. Especially when it’s hot out. Especially while breastfeeding.
My friend would post pictures of herself without a bra and you could see her nipples through her shirt. She’d tell stories of getting catcalled on the street and strangers on the bus telling her outright to “Put on a bra, Jesus!” Through it all, she remained strong. Fist in the air, women’s rights, body autonomy, gender equality, power to the nipple.
I watched and, despite my love for her, I cringed. Just seeing her sticking her nipples out, so vulnerable to the world, made me physically fold in on myself all over again. I couldn’t help thinking, Somebody’s gonna grope her.
And — It’s not that hard to put on a bra, though. I do it every day and I’m fine.
And — Is this really worth all this strife?
And — But a bra is like a hug.
I never said those things to her, though. Because I knew, deep down, that I was just jealous of her confidence and concerned for her safety.
“It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.”
― Amy Poehler
A major turning point for me was the #saggyboobsmatter campaign on Instagram. Particularly this video of founder Chidera Eggerue (aka The Slumflower) because you’ll notice that she opens with a familiar comparison:
Instagram, a platform that’s known for making people feel shitty about their bodies, suddenly became my haven. I’d scroll through pictures of people who were proudly, confidently, declaring their self-love for the unique shape of their own boobs. These people all had the same idea as my friend, but it was the sheer amount of them, and the regularity with which I was exposed to them, that eventually got me to come around.
I also found accounts that glorified my hook nose, my belly, my spotted skin, and made me feel good about the gray hairs I thought I had to hide and pluck because I hadn’t reached 30 yet. Eventually, I could feel my lifetime of conditioning start to bend and break.
When I looked at my boobs in the mirror now, they suddenly started to look… normal?
It wasn’t just Instagram that filled my confidence coffers. There are a million other influences I could list that have helped me to feel better about my body over the last several years. Here are just a few:
- Better representation of different body shapes on television, from Steven Universe to Broad City to Parks and Recreation.
- Shows and movies that specifically addressed body image issues such as My Mad Fat Diary and Dumplin’.
- A partner who consistently appreciated and praised my body and never once showed an inkling of judgment toward it. (We’re not dating anymore but he remains a catch.)
- My sister, who was building her own body confidence at the same time and doing amazing.
- Lizzo. Just… Lizzo.
- Moving to Spain, where women’s bodies are not nearly as oggled and demonized as they are in the United States. Every beach is a topless beach and nobody gives a shit.
- Surprisingly? Trump; the personification of every sexist, abusive, gaslit comment ever made. Those words seem pretty small and laughable when you hear them come out of his stupid little mouth.
- The #MeToo Movement. Turns out it doesn’t matter what our boobs look like or how we choose to adorn them or hide them. We’ve all been felt up against our will regardless.
- Chrissy Teigan.
- The strange realization (which came to me while I was watching Good Omens), that if I imagine there are giant, heavy wings coming out of my back and dropping to the floor behind me, it doesn’t feel like an effort to stand up straight. It feels like gravity is doing the job for me. My shoulders get gently pulled back and I feel secretly divine.
I’m not sure what the breaking point was. I think maybe it’s just been a hot summer here in Spain and I got sick of seeing other women successfully rocking the no-bra look. My nipples may have been safely hidden under all that padding, but at what expense? The boob sweat and the shoulder pain and the constant pulling down of the back strap all got to be too much. It became crystal clear that the only thing keeping me from being physically comfortable was shame.
So I bought myself a few camisole-type tops so as to display the boobs with intention (as opposed to just letting them bounce around willy-nilly under a t-shirt) and I hit the town.
And by “hit the town”, I mean I walked to my favorite cafe, bought a coffee, sat down, and wrote.
The girls didn’t go unnoticed. I did definitely get more stares on the street than I’m used to and that’s uncomfortable. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to deal with that before I started going to therapy and addressing my trauma around sexual harassment, but you know what? Whenever I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror or window, I didn’t see a “boobasaurus-rex” anymore. I saw a sexy, confident woman… whose boobs were looking damn good.
You’re free now, boobs.
I believe we’ve officially, finally turned a page. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure this out but I’m glad we finally made it here. Feel free to lead the way for a while, you’ve earned it.
The Rest of the Team