I hated cameras as a kid. I didn’t want to see my ugly moon face covered in pimples, my flared teeth Mom brought up almost every day, or my tubby body family members politely referred to as heavy-set.
In elementary school, I had to get a bra. My breasts were full of Reese’s cups and Pepsi. One afternoon before I turned ten, Mom sent me to JC Penny’s with my older brother’s girlfriend for a fitting.
Inside the dressing room, I saw my naked body in a three-way mirror for the first time. I cried and blamed the tears on my not being able to work the clasp on the training bra.
I wore the bra to school the next day under a tight, white t-shirt. By mid-afternoon recess, the contraption had bunched and twisted itself into a strangling bowtie. The fabric rubbed my overly developed nipples and they were soon pointing through my white shirt.
“I need to use the bathroom,” I told my teacher.
“You sure do!” she said, staring at my lumpy chest.
I tried to fix the mess in the bathroom but my childish muscles were no match for the spandex. I gave up and wore it that way for the rest of the day. After that, I didn’t put it back on for years.
When I was fifteen, in earshot of Mom, I complained about the sagginess of my bell-shaped DD’s. They already reached my hip bones when I bent over.
“Lord, Sherry, I think if we’d made you keep that bra on when you was little, maybe your breasts wouldn’t be so saggy like that. I think we let you go too long without.”
I’d wanted to hear, “Hush, your tits aren’t saggy,” or even better, “So what? Tits are supposed to be saggy.”
I stopped eating and lost over 75 pounds. My breasts were empty sacks and my flared teeth and cheekbones looked as though they were trying to claw their way out of my face. I felt dizzy from the lack of nutrition and beautiful — conventionally attractive for the first time.
One evening I traced my blue eyes in shaky black eyeliner, painted my lips dark purple, and then pouted into the lens of our digital camera like I was fabulous but had just been told I’d have to give up my favorite fur. I must have taken a hundred pictures.
Months later, I was humiliated when Mom found them. There weren’t many things she loathed more than vanity. If Dad spent an extra twenty seconds grooming his mustache and adjusting his baseball hat in the mirror each morning, Mom would jab me in the ribs and mock him, saying, “Look at him primping! He thinks he’s pretty, Sherry!”
I braced myself for the same mockery when she saw my first pouty picture. Instead, she put the camera down and without looking at me said, “You look pretty nice in them.”
I’m a grown-up now and a heavy-set woman. My breasts are saggier than they’ve ever been from my weight going up and down for twenty years. But instead of hiding from the camera, I take selfies. I still hate bras, but I don’t avoid looking at my saggy breasts. They’re floppy and they’re mine, and just like my crooked teeth and troubled mom, they’re part of the whole package that is my body and mind. Without them, I’m not me.