Overlooking Hanauma Bay in Hawaii, boobs and all. (Photo courtesy Jennifer Ha)
Growing up in Florida in the ‘70s, everywhere I looked, boobs and bikinis. As my family was always at the pool or the beach, I just thought that bikinis were what most women wore, all the time. Laugh-In was on television, and seeing Goldie Hawn smiling and giggling in a red two-piece reinforced this. I was a tomboy and could have cared less what I wore. I did notice that boys, however, got away with wearing swim trunks (for reasons which eluded me). It all seemed so unfair. Of course karmically that meant that I would be blessed with that which I did not want: big boobs.
I started to develop on the early side, and resisted bras for as long as I could. Finally, when I was about 10 years old, my mom trundled me off in the car to J.C. Penney in pursuit of the dreaded “training bra.” Mom took me first to Ladies’ Intimates to ask where to find bras for girls. A brassy-looking saleslady arranging merchandise in the corner yelled out for all to hear: “They keep the training bras upstairs!” The store was crowded, and no less than 10 sets of evaluating eyes settled on my Mom, then me, and next, my chest. I shrank behind my Mom, mortified. Back then bras were of a serviceable and durable white fabric, rigid and uncomfortable. I was in the fourth grade and was the first girl to need a bra and to wear one — a point that did not go unnoticed by the boys. On the playground, they’d chase me and snap my bra from behind. I’d chase them back.
The “Girls” Meet the Boys
I kept up an advanced pace of development, and by 8th grade, I was wearing underwires. I’d sit in algebra class and my bra would unhook on its own. I’d try to skulk off to the girls’ room to right myself before anyone noticed, Trapper Keeper hugged to my chest. Boys noticed my development too, but thankfully we were all barely past the hitting each other and running away stage. But in high school, that all changed.
Occasionally a boy would “accidentally” nudge against me, or another would stare. Luckily, the boys I went to school with were, for the most part, respectful. I never got any comments about my chest except once in a junior trigonometry class (I was a sophomore.) As was my studious habit, I’d get to class early and as I sat there waiting for the bell to ring, I had the feeling that people were looking at me. Once I looked up, they’d quickly turned away. After class, I asked a friend what the story was, and he explained that someone had been arguing that girls with large breasts were not usually intelligent. However someone else countered that I had big boobs and was smart. “He’s just a jerk anyway,” my friend said. I certainly had been intelligent enough to gather that.
Not For Teacher
Sadly, some of teachers were not as respectful. One creepy freshman science teacher kept me after school to prey on me. I was the only one kept back, and he pretended he had extra work for me to do. But when he started talking about how pretty I was, and circled behind me like a predator, I got the hell out of the class. After school I went to my Mom and told her to get me out, and I didn’t care how. They moved me to the sophomore science class, but did not remove the teacher. Things were much different then. That kind of behavior, though not condoned, rarely resulted in disciplinary action.
Breaking the Law
When I was 15 and my older sister was home on break from college, we would hit the Ft. Lauderdale bars. I never got carded, and my theory is that my boobs made me look at least five years older. I started to care less and less about being large-chested, and the self-consciousness began to fade. I wore two-pieces happily, like everyone else in South Florida. Days at the beach or pool were about hanging out with friends and getting the perfect tan. A friend and I were once walking on the sidewalk by Ft. Lauderdale beach — in bikinis — when a cop looked at me over and said, “Now that ought to be illegal.” Pretty funny coming from a cop, because at 16, I was illegal.
While some friends were padding their bras, I was struggling in other ways. Button-down shirts never worked; they’d always pop open. Tops and dresses would routinely need safety pins. Bikini makers weren’t designing tops in bra sizes back then, so it was a pain finding a top that would fit. And if they did fit, the closures weren’t strong enough to hold up to the stress of the weight and would either snap open or break. At one point I fashioned a key ring through the back pieces to make them stay. I became the McGuyver of bikini repair. After college, when I started to work, it mattered less and less, because I was covered up, and in general I dressed pretty conservatively. I’d made my peace with my assets and had realized that despite some unwanted attention at times, it was my body and I’d make the best of it. Large bras back then were ugly affairs, bright whites and dull tans. But now, perhaps in part to the fake boob industry, manufacturers are definitely producing more and more variety for the big breasted demo.
A Life of Ogle
Tits can make men stupid, and since you can’t hide them, you get to witness a lot of stupidity. Boobs stick out, and there’s just nothing you can do about that. And the more they stick out, the more they get noticed. Just like with pregnant women, complete strangers often seem to feel that because my boobs stick out, it’s their right to comment freely on them. “You’ve got big tits!” and “Nice rack!” are comments obviously meant to be instructive, helpful and revelatory, right?
Of course the type of man who would yell something like that at a woman isn’t worth a response, but they often seem to be dismayed when you ignore them and their rude behavior. Amazingly, they think any attention is positive. Besides the overt comments, there are also discreet oglers, and thankfully there are the men who, if they are attracted to breasts, you would never know it. I’m now past the age where I get ogled on the street and have found middle age delightful—almost like an invisibility cloak. Physical attractiveness in an older woman becomes less and less the focal point of younger male notice, and so I’m now free of ugly comments.
But being a mother — and having a boy — does make me wonder how ingrained men’s love for boobs really is. The answer? Pretty damn ingrained. Everyone expects babies to be attracted and obsessed with their food source. But that doesn’t end once a baby is weaned. While my kids both sought the comfort of a hug and snuggle from Mom, one of the biggest surprises came from my son’s singleminded attention to my breasts when he was really little. Well past the bottle stage, if he’d get stressed or upset, down his little hand traveled into my shirt for comfort. Did it all really go back to that? Comfort? Maybe it did. I laughed at the cliché. I haven’t had much chance to compare notes with other moms about boys and boobs, but for my son, they represented coziness and safety. How powerful is that? As powerful as it gets.