I may be unable to breastfeed, because when I was twenty years old I had a breast reduction. Most of my life I had allowed myself to be defined by my breasts – not on what other people said, though once I was in university my friends had plenty to say. No, I defined myself by having the biggest breasts. I don’t know what breasts meant to me then – being grown up, free, better than other people?
I was in third grade when I got my first bra; it was a B cup. The next bra I got was a D cup. And from there, they grew and grew. I grew and grew. I remember feeling fat, out of place, but when I look back on pictures of the younger me I am not fat. I see myself as an awkward, out of place, non-fat little girl. I didn’t feel little when I was twelve; I felt old, weary, wondering already if this was it. Unable to picture a place in life when I would be happy; unsure what happiness really was. None of that particularly bothered me. Because I had always been unhappy, I didn’t realise what ‘happy’ was.
I was content when I was alone, though. Free. When it was just me and the woods, or just me and my notebook, or just me and my toys. I played with toys for years past when I imagined other people did – just now, I stopped myself from writing ‘girls.’ I don’t think I felt like a girl. I didn’t want to kiss boys or wear make-up, and my first attempts at powder were an unmitigated disaster.
My one connection to the women’s world was my breasts.
I didn’t think of them as being unnaturally large until camp, when I was in university and in a world populated by forests and raunchy talk. I remember those breasts, my breasts; I once held a giant maglite under them. I have a picture of me with a milk carton neatly balancing on the top. Those breasts that hung to my waist, nipples way down at the bottom instead of up in the middle, where I thought nipples were supposed to be.
My breasts let me down in high school. No matter how the boys touched or kissed or sucked, my nipples remained flat. I would peek at other girls when I had the chance; at a camp reunion, the first time I saw another pair of breasts, I was shocked to see that the girl next to me had nipples that poked out. I always wondered if I felt like a Barbie – big breasts with no nipples, just a smooth softness. No boys complained. My best friend’s brother once gave me a great compliment on them, in the middle of the night, secret in our world on the couch.
He wrote me an insulting email last year, and I took it as a compliment. He spoke about those teen times when we fumbled and tried and then he would ignore me, he said they were his hottest fantasy and he thought of me still. I think that’s what I needed; I needed a boy to love me, to desire me, to want me. I was never the girl boys talked about, wondered about, competed for. Or at least I suspect I was not.
My big breasts did not win the boys over, and when I stepped into a world of women there seemed to be only two alternatives – giant, swaying breasts not confined in a bra, or tight, small, perfect breasts in or out of a bra. I was neither. My breasts were beautiful, and nippled, round and soft, full and womanly. I liked the way they looked, but worried about what my male roommate said were ‘baseball nipples.’ I began to carve a public identity out of my breasts; or rather, I allowed Chirp and other friends to do it for me.
I became the girl with the giant breasts. Maybe they were proof of who I was, who I would become, what my potential was. Maybe they were signs of everything that was going wrong. Maybe they were sexual, maybe they were fat, maybe.
Every year I saw a nice Jewish doctor for my cervical smear and breast exam. (Even now, I don’t like to give myself self-exams. The idea of pushing, pushing, trying to find a lump, repulses me.) My doctor was gentle, showing me how to relax my inner thighs, telling me her sister was gay, listening to me. The only bad thing she ever did was tell me I would have to pick – while either was okay, I had to like boys or girls. I could not like both. She made me angry, and I didn’t say anything.
I mentioned the pains – deep grooves from my underwires that never went away, that hurt all the time. Extreme back pain. An inability to sit at a table or desk without heaving my breasts onto the surface in order to give myself from support and ease the weight. Now I wonder if those things were true; even as I can see the red gashes, I wonder if I made them up. So strong are my guilt and doubt.
My doctor suggested that a breast reduction was something that might be able to help me. And because neither she nor the surgeon said I needed to lose weight first, because both agreed it was a good idea, because no one I knew said maybe it wasn’t, I did it. But mostly I had my breasts sized down in order to prove to myself that they were large in the first place. I remember holding the pillow on my lap during the drive to the hospital, wondering why I was doing this. Not believing I would do it.
Yet I did. Or rather, I allowed it to be done to me.
fifteen minutes up.