Eventually I collapsed and was hospitalized with double pneumonia. The attending physician sized me up and knew I also had anorexia. He treated the pneumonia and wouldn’t let me leave hospital until I gained 15 pounds. He spent a lot of time talking to me about health and fitness and how fragile the balance is, and how ridiculous and unattainable the modern image of the ideal woman is. And how sad it is that intelligent women fall prey to media images.
He told me he’d bring me anything I wanted to eat; non-hospital food. It had been so long since I’d eaten “real” food. I’d been forcing away cravings for so long that I didn’t even know what I liked to eat. Every day he brought in something different and would make me try it.
When I was well enough to talk without coughing up what appeared to be vital organs I confided my plight to him. All of it, including the breast issues. He’d been treating my lungs, listening to them, he’d seen my breasts. I figured he knew better than just about anyone what I was dealing with in that area.
We talked a lot about the negative attention my boobs garnered. We talked about what purpose boobs serve. We talked about how stupid men can be. We talked about how competitive women can be. We talked about how insecure both genders are. We talked about what I wanted to do with my life. My goals, my dreams, my hopes, my interests, my likes and dislikes.
None of my aspirations or likes involved anything remotely to do with men who covet large breasts or women who criticize other women. Nothing I enjoyed or wanted to try required smaller breasts.
Anyone who was petty and superficial enough to use, hurt, insult, or judge me by my breasts was not worthy of a second of my time or consideration. When we talked, when he pointed out those obvious facts, I felt reassured and relieved. I knew all of that all along, but man ever confirmed any of it.
My breasts were either a source of negative attention or were simply not discussed in polite company. Finally someone, a man, no less, spoke the realistic and sane perspective on breasts. My breasts. This guy was probably fifteen years older than me, intelligent, funny, kind, educated, and respectful. I trusted him and I trusted his opinion. I thought, “Okay, this guy respects me. He’s an intelligent, kind man. The sort of guy I want to date. If he feels this way surely there are others like him.” I started eating. He saved my life and I’m grateful for his intervention and help.
I went back to work and grad school. I gained a few pounds and within a few weeks was right back up to a D cup. I focused on being healthy. Eating healthy. Exercising healthy. Gaining muscle and energy. Feeling healthy. For the first time since they “grew in” I thought of my breasts in terms of their function. One day those boobs would nourish a baby or two. I thought of them as useful, purposeful and for the first time ever: I still didn’t see the need for such large ones but I was proud of what they would one day do for my babies. I wanted to be healthy so they would be healthy so my eventual babies would be healthy. (Cue The Circle of Life.)
A few months later, as if written into my life for poignant affect, I met a guy who wasn’t a “boob guy.” He liked my personality. It was the first sane, rational, healthy, respectful dating relationship I’d ever had with a man. He liked me. When he talked to me he looked at me, my eyes, not my boobs. When I talked he listened to what I was saying, and gave thoughtful responses. When he touched me he touched my hand, my arm, my face, my neck, my waist—and never “slipped” and “accidentally” touched my breasts. He encouraged me to gain weight. We cooked meals together and I learned to enjoy food again. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.
And then we broke up. For a lot of reasons. Then I moved. And moved on.
Years later he contacted me via a friend of a friend. We talked. I found out one of the reasons on his “list” of reasons why we didn’t make it as a couple was that his friends made a lot of sexual jokes and remarks about my breasts. It bothered him that his friends were fixated on his girlfriend’s breasts. It bothered him that when we went out together other men stared at my breasts. It bothered him that women thought he was a stupid superficial man because he was dating a woman with breast implants.
Yes. My breasts embarrassed him.
When we were dating he never mentioned any of this to me. But there he was, years later, “coming clean” about it. He said at the time he didn’t know how to approach the topic without hurting my feelings. So instead we broke up. Which hurt my feelings.
So there’s the back-story on my boobs.
I’m older and a lot more jaded and don’t care what anyone thinks about my body. Sure, I’d rather not be objectified. I’d rather not have men stare at my boobs. But I’ve learned that’s unrealistic. I do the best I can to minimize them, keep them covered and draped so as to deflect attention away from them. But if I feel like wearing a t-shirt, I wear a t-shirt. Negative attention be damned.
Yes. It has occurred to me to put them out there more, to use them to attract men. I’ve tried it. And yes, it attracts a few men. Men who stare at women’s breasts. Men who are interested in breasts and nothing else. Men who think conversation is a necessary nuisance to get past so the real fun can begin with the boobs. I prefer to remain alone and loveless, thanks.
Complicating the boob issue is my height. At 5’11” I’m taller than a lot of men. Very often men have to look up to me to make eye contact. My boobs are more in their line of vision than my eyes. Shorter men can’t help but “notice” my boobs. It can be awkward and embarrassing for everyone involved.
If the guy is polite and bothers to try to pay attention to me and not my boobs the resulting awkwardness pretty much kills all hope for getting to know each other. One shorter man I met via an online dating site finally just came out and said, “I didn’t think this height difference through as well as I should have, I don’t think this is going to work out … ” he nodded toward my chest calling my attention to the fact that his chin was exactly at cleavage level.
Apart from dating issues I don’t mind that I have them. I still wish they were smaller. I wish instead of noticing my breasts people would notice my brain, my creativity, my eyes or my smile. I wish I didn’t have to compensate or make adjustments to some of the things smaller breasted women don’t even have to consider. They’re a pain at the gym, even a mild clip on the treadmill requires wearing two jogging bras. Buying blouses is difficult. I have to buy tops to fit my boobs, which means going up a couple sizes larger than the rest of me. And forget trying to find a dress that fits without a ton of tailoring. Bathing suit shopping is universally dreaded, but adding a long torso and disproportionate boobs to the equation makes for comedy worthy of the good seasons on Saturday Night Live.
The pretty, dainty bras sold at popular shops aren’t made in my size. Or, rather, the few pretty dainty ones which are made in my size don’t do anything a bra is supposed to do. One of the popular “intimates” stores has a special drawer in the back of the store for women my size. Yes. They hide the bra, singular, they have one style of bra for us, in a drawer in the back of the store. It is not a pretty bra. It is not dainty or sexy or lacy or see-through. It’s not quite as bad as a 50s Sears catalog bra, but it’s close. And even that bra at that store doesn’t really “work.” It’s better than the ridiculous lack of support and accentuation the other bras they try to pass off as my size offer, but, that’s not saying much. So instead I buy utilitarian bras which are packaged in boxes (as opposed to pretty dainty little hangers) and conjure images of Communist regime work camps and “mature” women named Helga.
My breast exams are always a treat. I do them in the shower while conditioning my hair. I get a really deep condition treatment on breast exam days. I often worry I’ve missed a spot. When a doctor does it the exam takes so long it gets kind of awkward laying there for a prolonged period of time while she works away at my breasts. But I’m used to it, now. The compensations I make and the negative attention they attract is just part of my life. They are bigger than average. I should expect it. So far my back and neck are pain-free. Apparently I can carry them, I am built to handle them.
It’s becoming obvious I won’t be a mother. Months (and eggs) whirl by and I’m no closer to having a great date let alone a good, stable relationship. I won’t have babies and my breasts will not perform the function they’re biologically intended to perform. The reason, their reason, which gave me perspective and solace, won’t be actualized. The sting and sorrow of not having children is amplified twice as much. Not only am I trying to accept and come to some sort of peace with not having children, I have to find other forms of solace in “dealing” with my breasts. There they are, ready and waiting … and waiting … and waiting … the biology which has been a source of comfort and pride is losing its purpose and hence its calming influence on me. They’re no longer sources of life and nourishment for my potential babies.
They’re just boobs.