Today I saw an "herbal breast enhancement" commercial; I was familiar with the Isis people from their radio and magazine ads, but I figured they had some sort of snake-oil monopoly. I didn't know there was one that advertised on television. This new product seems identical to the others, and remarkably similar to the patent medicines sold in the olden days to cure everything from headaches to eczema. They claim to work by stimulating the breast to grow with a secret blend of herbals; allegedly the ingredients soak into the skin and cause some sort of reaction that says, "Hey, tits: grow!" (Odd, you'd think that if something like that were to really work, it would need to be regulated by the FDA.) A friend of mine commented that such ads reminded him of the old-timey ads they used to have on tables at the fast food restaurant Wendy's; one was for topical cream that would make breasts grow, to help create the busty and nipped-waist torso so popular at the turn of the century.
I'm around breasts all day, of all shapes and sizes; there's remarkable diversity in our particular topless club. Big, small, upthrust, low, natural, fake, uneven, symmetrical, lined with stretch marks, perfectly smooth . . . we have them all. This is a good business move on the management's part, I think; our customers have wide variation in their preferences, and we accommodate that. Seeing so much variation in body type makes me think how lucky I am that I have the body I want.
I am a flat-chested woman, and I don't mind it a bit.
As a kid I always assumed I'd end up like most everyone else, either a B or C cup. My mother was average, and though my body type didn't resemble hers, I figured my breasts would be somewhat comparable to hers. But by eighth grade or so, I'd given up any hopes of being voluptuous. I watched other girls get tall and fill their bras, while I remained short and flat. I was teased a little, but it was limited by its subject; my response was sort of, "Yeah, I'm flat, so what?" It died down fairly quickly when it was clear I wasn't going to be rattled by it. When all was said and done, I barely filled out an A cup, and that's how I am today (32A, baby). I'm so flat it's noticeable.
For some time in high school, I felt compelled to wear padded bras; this is due in large part to the dearth of unpadded bras in my size. The best (worst?) was a monstrosity that I still own, bought for homecoming and known as "Tank Bra" to my friends; it's so thickly padded it could deflect a bullet, and rigid enough to stand on its own. Eventually I realized that the first thing I did when I got home from school each day was take off my bra, so I stopped wearing them altogether. What liberation, to admit to the world that I had no tits and I didn't care, and maybe even liked it that way. The bra was only a formality, after all, it didn't serve any real purpose. I went braless from then on. I seem to recall that the much-maligned "waif look" was the trend of the time, not that it filtered down to my suburban high school. So technically I was in fashion, even if nobody knew it.
My mother made my senior prom dress herself, an ice-blue satin flapper gown with sparkling spaghetti straps and a long chiffon scarf to match. I didn't wear a bra that night; I covered my nipples with band-aids and left it at that. Other girls I knew had elaborate underpinnings that thrust their breasts up and squished their stomachs in; you could pick them out easily, they were the ones who were too bound to dance or eat or even move from their tables. Meanwhile, I was out on the dance floor the entire night, unencumbered.
My friends are amused when I tell them I had breasts, real ones, for a brief period. I was on the Pill during my first year of college, and gained a little weight almost immediately ^× including heavy breasts that spilled over from a B cup. I didn't like the side effects and stopped taking the Pill after a few months. To be honest, I was happy to see my chest shrink back down. I hated wearing a bra every day, and it was uncomfortable when I curled up to sleep. Dancing at my boyfriend's ska shows was awful; my chest bounced when I tried to do the hoppy little skanking I'd always done. When I hugged someone, I couldn't get as close as I could before; when I did, my breasts were squashed and it hurt. I didn't like the way my swollen breasts looked and felt; I was happy when they were gone. I felt like myself again.
Soon after I got my small breasts back, I went to a lingerie shop to buy a corset for a trip to New Orleans; the salesman swore it would give any woman cleavage to die for. On me, there wasn't an ounce of flesh to push up and the salesman admitted defeat; I bought it anyway, and still wear it to this day. I may not look busty, but I sure do look good. (It turns out the salesman did drag in his free time and offered to show me how to duct-tape-bind my tits to create cleavage, but I declined. I'd rather go with the flapper look.)
Nowadays, I usually go braless; when I wear one, it's a plain bandeau top with no seams or underwire. A friend of mine recently confessed that she wore a padded bra every day; I told her I couldn't imagine going back to those days. I smile to myself when people inquire about how to support their large chests and still avoid putting pressure on their new nipple piercings; I never had that problem, I tell them.
When I became a dancer, I was a little worried at first that customers wouldn't find me sexy because of my flat chest. I don't know why I was so concerned; other people certainly liked my looks, so why wouldn't the guys in the club? (That's not true, I know exactly why I was so concerned. One would assume that a great deal of the thrill of going to a topless club would be the exposed breasts; one would also assume the employees would have breasts to expose.) It turned out the customers thought I was absolutely dynamite; in fact, I had a monopoly on the men who preferred little girls with little tits (I was surprised how many men out there have this particular inclination). Sure, there have been jokes that I corner the market on pedophiles, but it doesn't bother me.
I'm torn when it comes to breast augmentation. I would never do it myself, and I have a significant distaste for big fake tits. But I'm vehemently in favor of elective body modification, so I feel I should support anyone who wants to go that route. It's one of those cases where I support the principle more than the practice. Of course, are women going under the knife because they really want large breasts, or because they feel like they should have large breasts? I almost never see good implants; even expensive sets can look fake. One of our dancers, a tiny slip of a woman, looks like she has halved basketballs planted on her chest; they don't move, and she told me her husband hates the way they feel. I don't know what she looked like before, but I'm willing to bet she looked better. A girlfriend of an acquaintance is a stunning and talented woman, but when she got her implants they didn't make her any more beautiful (though they did add a comic air to her nude body, I'm sorry to say; they aren't well-done). But she's happy with them and so is her lover, so more power to them. Of course, maybe there are people out there who have implants and they look so wonderful and natural that I didn't even notice.
There's a standard body-dissatisfaction repartee that is scripted among women. Woman One says, "Oh, I hate my [breasts, thighs, etc]. I wish I had yours." Woman Two replies, "No, you look great. My [breasts, thighs, etc] are too [big, fat, etc]." It usually goes on for a few rounds, with the self-depreciation mounting until everyone is satisfied that she looks like a hideous bloated cow with oozing acne. With me, it usually starts out with, "Oh, you're so lucky to have small breasts. Mine have been sagging since I turned eighteen." My scripted response would be, "Oh, I hate it! I wish they were bigger!" But I decline to play; I just respond, "Yeah, I am lucky." And I leave it at that.
Oh, how I worry about girls today. The insecurity is imparted early, before puberty even begins. Will they ever be able to enjoy themselves sexually if they're paralyzed with self-consciousness? An insecure girl is easier to take advantage of, she's more vulnerable than someone with a stronger sense of self. And physical appearance is one of the most assailable areas of a girl's persona; even the smartest, strongest, wittiest girl in the world can feel insecure if she thinks her thighs are too big or her nose is crooked. To be a healthy, sexual person, you can't be so concerned with your perceived inadequacies that you can't enjoy yourself. And I worry that girls will be so worried about the size and shape of their breasts that they won't blossom into happy, adjusted sexual beings.
I'm okay with my body, and when I see so many other women who aren't, it concerns me. After all, the social standards of attractiveness tend to be fairly arbitrary; one season voluptuous is in, the next, waif-thin is the trend. Let's all say it together: Fuck yourself, fashion! We look good no matter what you dictate is the Hot New Look.
If it weren't for prevailing fashion, how many more women would feel better about their bodies? And how many snake-oil peddlers would go out of business because women don't need their worthless products? Ah, a girl can dream. But in the meantime I'll just have to set an example, and show the world I'm happy as I am. (I even have photos of my exposed chest on my website; I have double-pierced nipples, and showing them off requires exposing my breasts. I'm okay with it.) But then, maybe five years from now I'll feel an irresistible urge to be a double-D, and rush to the surgeon and become a busty advocate for breast augmentation. If I do, it will be because I want them (for some odd, odd reason), and not because I feel like I should.
I didn't expect to write so much about this topic. I hope I'm not making a mountain out of a molehill.
Get it? I slay myself.
Second Sex is an ongoing series of essays about the intermingling of sexuality, politics, gender, psychology, feminism, and philosophy.
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