My Breasts Belong To Me

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“34DD” she said, and smiled.

I looked at her across the brightly lit dressing room.  “You’re kidding me. Are you sure?”  From his lookout point in the stroller, my tiny wisp of a 1 month old started to cry.  “I’ll be back with some options for you to try on” she laughed, and closed the door behind her.

My breasts stared at me, all of their 34DD glory reflected back at me underneath the ugly fluorescent lights .

I have always considered my breasts to be my greatest asset.  Suddenly, we were strangers.

I’m a curvy girl.  Curvy in the “nice boobs and ass, so don’t look too long at my stomach and thighs” kind of way.  I hated the rest of my body, but my boobs?  They were the only thing that I could count on.

At 22, my breasts had a front row seat to every first date that I went on.  They spent their youth boosted and propped and flaunted and adorned in drop necklaces and wrap dresses and lacy things that I paid too much money for.  They screamed young and unafraid and brave and self-confident.  They were my armor.  They were my calling card.  They were my super-power.  They were a visual reminder that my femininity and my feminism could co-exist.

I was married in a strapless wedding gown, and honeymooned in a halter sundress.  The last years of my 20’s coincided with my first years of being someone’s significant other, and I devoured the opportunity to discover what it meant to be sexy, self-aware, and feminine beyond casual dates and tight jeans.  I watched with a healthy mix of fascination and terror as my body changed to accommodate the tiny bean that was growing inside of me.  The irony of having large, full breasts at a time when I felt too sick and tired to properly use them was not lost on me.   Still, I welcomed the optical illusion that a swollen belly created, slimming everything else in comparison.  I wore dresses that didn’t hide my figure.  For the first time in years, I wanted to show off the curves that screamed that I was a woman, an adult, unafraid of a sexuality that I had matured in to.

Until suddenly, the breasts that had empowered me in my 20’s and revisited me in my early 30’s, failed me miserably after my first son was born.  I sat on a worn couch in the lactation consultant’s office, gritting my teeth as she poked and prodded my pale skin.  The tiny rivers of icy blue veins mocked me from beneath my expensive nursing bra.  There wasn’t any milk there.  There never would be.  My breasts could no longer be counted on.  After weeks of being drawn viciously into the shaft of a breast pump, exposed at countless doctor’s appointments, cried over, yelled at, and cursed, they no longer belonged to me.

Instead, they belonged to everyone else.  “Try harder, position the baby with his mouth like this, squish your breast like this, here let me show you.”  My feminism had always included a fuck-you style of self-confidence, but for the first time, my breasts weren’t working in anyone’s favor.  “Your nipples are too big too small too flat too mismatched to your baby’s mouth so really what else are they good for?”  What else are they good for?  They had been good enough for me, until now.  Until now, when I suddenly hated them.  They looked amazing in a wrap dress, but I didn’t want to wear one.  They were finally large enough to really flaunt during sex, but I winced when my husband touched them.  And the dirty looks that came my way when my 20-something cleavage peeked out from a tiny camisole at the college bar were nothing compared to the smirks that I got when I pulled a bottle out of my diaper bag and filled it with powdered formula.  My breasts had failed me.  People were staring.  Mom-shaming was the new slut-shaming, but without the morning-after high.

In college I would have dared you to look twice.  In my twenties, I was one of five civilian women working for a large urban police department, and though I wore sensible, button-up shirts and an ever-present glare, I was seen as nothing more than a set of boobs.  If a man had told me back then how I should use, not use, expose, not expose, or feel about my breasts, I would’ve filed a sexual harassment complaint against him.  Oh wait.  I did.

And then a human being is born from your flesh, and suddenly your bodily autonomy and sexual identity no longer belong to you.  From the moment a boy snaps your bra strap in the junior high lunchroom, you learn to set boundaries for how your body will or will not be treated.  In the moments after cold 14 year old hands trickle across your ribs in a halting attempt to reach second base, you learn how you will talk to yourself about desire and discretion.  In the hours that you spend wrapped with your partner in a bed that you bought together, you learn how to ask for what feels good.  You grow into a sexuality that is fiercely private, and perfectly honed, and fought for after embarrassing breakups and pictures that you wish you could take back and years that you are unabashedly thankful for.  And when you finally think that you deserve to say you have it all figured out, that your breasts and your body belong to you, they don’t anymore.

Perhaps that is where the story begins.  When your love affair with your body becomes foreign and familiar, all at once.  Your breasts belong to you, still.  Even now.  Especially now.  You reclaim them the moment that your stomach muscles relax as you ease your tired and torn body onto your husband’s for the first time after you have birthed.  You reclaim them when you feel the tiny flutters of excitement as you slide into a new, lacy, surprising something instead of your old maternity pajamas.  You forgive them as you realize that your baby is healthy and attached and loved and fine, even though his milk did not come from you.  You reinvent them, as you learn how they look underneath clothes that you can run in and twirl babies in and play Legos in.  You welcome them, as they finally fill with milk after your second child is born, and prove to you that they are capable, and useful, and overflowing with hope.  You thank them, as you remind yourself that people are only staring because they’re not used to seeing women breastfeeding in public.  You laugh about them, because you  had no problem showing them off at a dance club, so you should be brave about using them to feed your baby in a shopping mall.  You are proud of them.  Thankfully.  Finally.

And suddenly, you realize that your breasts and your feminism, your motherhood and your sexuality, your self-worth and your self-doubt, are all tucked carefully together into two 34DD cups.  They belong to you. These breasts are your history.  Your hope.  Yours to use or not use, as you desire.  Isn’t that what feminism really is?  The right to choose how you use your body?  The right to demand that your body is treated with respect and concern?  The right to decide who touches, who uses, and who has an opinion on your body?  The right to decide if you use them to feed a baby, or don’t use them to feed a baby?  The right to decide if they make you feel sexy, or if they slow you down when you run?  Your breasts belong to you.

“Here are a few pretty ones that might be a good fit” she said, as she returned with a handful of new bras.  I smiled at my reflection in the mirror, and closed the fitting room door behind her.

 

 

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Comments:

  1. I think the whole thing is bs, the point is missed, it’s about what’s best for the kid! This is why slot of people should not be parents, not about you it’s about the kid, what’s better for your kid breast feeding, or other methods?

    • Well Paul, I think you just did a wonderful job of proving my point. Here we have a man chiming in to say how women should or should not use their breasts, instead of supporting a woman in her journey and listening to how SHE wants to use her body. Your judgment about who should be a parent, and what is “better” for kids, shouldn’t be used to shame people who make different choices than you do. This essay was about how women have the right to use their bodies however they want to, without anyone (men included) telling them that they are right or wrong. And the first comment here is now a man, telling women, that they are wrong. And telling women exactly how they should use their breasts. At first I was offended, but now I’m grateful. Grateful that you just made my point for me. A word to the wise? The best way to learn about other people’s experiences is to listen.

  2. Supermouse says:

    Wow, either Paul lacks in reading comprehension skills or abounds with chutzpah.

    Anyway, I think this is a lovely essay and a message I hope all women come to realize, hopefully before they find themselves bullied by jerks like Paul, or lactation consultants, or sanctimommies on the internet or even friends and family. I’m pretty sure people target new mothers because most of them are insecure, scared, nervous, inexperienced, etc and that makes them vulnerable to criticism.

    Why humans get a perverse pleasure out of upsetting others, I don’t know. Sometimes its easy to figure out: when its other mothers, they are often plagued by their own insecurities and put others down to build themselves up. The best defense is self-confidence and a thick skin, which unfortunately, often doesn’t come for some time, after some experience is under the belt. And once a woman realizes that she is confident and other peoples’ comments don’t bother her, she is less likely to judge other women herself. That’s what I’ve observed, anyway, from being on the internet in my almost 6 yrs of being a mother.

    As for Paul, I don’t think he wants to learn about other people’s experiences, and that’s fine. But really, he should mind his own business. To me, that’s a better rallying cry than “Let’s all support each other!” Support your loved ones. Be there for them. If they ask for help, help them, but if not mind your own business. Total strangers? Definitely mind your own business. (I feel like it was ok to offer my unsolicited opinion here, since this is a forum that leaves a space for it. Obviously, it is only a suggestion.)

  3. Why because the kids more important then the size of your breasts .. you can not argue that fact.

  4. completely missed the point of what I was saying, I am actually a feminist.I do not care what anybody does, even abortion, but when you choose to have a kid,you have to think about what is best for the kid, simple as that not about what is best for you unless it involves your kid. Why would you argue that?

  5. It’s not about anything you are talking about its about what is best for the kid!

  6. First, I think this article is great, it really describes what we go thru as women. I know that I can completely relate to how she felt.
    Regarding Paul’s comment on doing what’s best for your child, thank you for stating the obvious. However it’s not that cut and dry. When you are faced with not producing enough milk, and not able to feed your child what’s best for the baby? Starvation or formula? You being a man, have absolutely no idea what that type of uncontrolled failure feels like. I am a firm believer that what is best for your child, is to have a emotionally sound and healthy Mother. If you are going thru a tough time with breast feeding and feeling like you are bad Mother because of the mom-shaming that this society inflicts on you, how can you be doing what’s best for your child?
    I think you should seriously consider all aspects of your comment. Doing what’s best for your child is not always what society wants you to do. Doing what’s best for your child is providing them with everything they need…breast milk isn’t the ONLY thing a child needs.
    Please consider all different aspects of this subject before passing judgement.
    And thanks Kim, for adding to the ever growing articles that are supportive to Mom’s out there that need to hear something other than what society pushes on us. We have to ban together to make a difference in the judgment that is passed.

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