To Boob Job or Not? That Was the Question

(Illustration by Nancy Gonzalez/TueNight)

I stood obediently still in the bridal shop as the seamstress fussed with my wedding dress. A saleswoman watched from across the room. “Give her a little shape up top,” she called out, loud enough for every customer in the store to hear (and possibly those in the shop across the street). “I’m trying,” the seamstress yelled back, “but she’s got nothing. Nothing!”

Like every small-breasted woman, I’ve got tons of stories like this one, tales of humiliation, longing and finally, resignation that the boobs I was born with were not going to get any bigger on their own.

Angst over my boob-less-ness started early. At age 12, the one girl in my summer camp bunk with sizable breasts — Jodi S. — was a celebrity. She wasn’t particularly pretty or charming, but her boobs made her a star. My prepubescent friends and I were fascinated with the way those puppies looked encased in a plain white bra, on display in a pink bikini, taut under a tee shirt, or swinging loose in a flannel nightie. And the pre-teen boys at camp? They were out of their minds for Jodi’s boobs, most of them staring shamelessly, the rest stealing not-so-discreet peeks.

I purchased bathing suits with formed cups that made me look like I had something going on in there — until you pressed the cup with a finger and discovered my hollow secret.

When I returned from camp season, I entered the sixth grade, and all the talk was of Sylvia R.’s assets, which had sprouted spectacularly over the summer. Rumor had it she even let some boys feel her up in the playground, news that stirred both distress and envy in me. I didn’t want to be felt up in the playground — I just wanted someone to want to.

My mother didn’t have large breasts, but she had something compared to my nothing. Plus, she was a beautiful adult, while I was at my absolute gawkiest, a fact that only added to my self-esteem woes. My father’s mother had huge breasts (she referred to her bra as her “stop-em-from-floppin”), a trait she passed on to my first cousin, Annie, who flaunted her prodigious prizes in a thousand sexy ways.

It was during those preteen years that I began my decades-long quest to make my breasts look bigger. I bought padded bras, which I sometimes stuffed with tissues. I purchased bathing suits with formed cups that made me look like I had something going on in there — until you pressed the cup with a finger and discovered my hollow secret.

As I got older and started dating, my embarrassment over my petite bosoms persisted. Most boyfriends were sweet and told me my body was beautiful. One went so far as to declare my breasts small and perfect — note he didn’t say small but perfect — and said it would be criminal to tamper with them. But I had trouble believing him. I was sure that if given the choice, every honest man would opt for a woman with large breasts over one with tiny ta-tas.

I was also sure that every woman with big boobs was thrilled to have them. I now know that is not the case, as many of my well-endowed friends recall their own brand of emotional torture, especially as teenagers, as they dealt with ogling and catcalls, as well as pining for cute tops and dresses that their big boobs made impossible to wear.

I thought briefly about implants in my 20s, but they were not yet the rage they’ve become in the past couple of decades. In those days, women who made their boobs bigger were strippers and porn stars, not kindergarten teachers and soccer moms (or associate magazine editors like me). Two other roadblocks: I had neither the money to afford the procedure nor the confidence in the implants themselves. There were reports of implants becoming hard as rocks, while others leaked and some even exploded. Plus, my musician cousin, who had touched a couple of hundred breasts in his life on the road warned, “I could always, always tell a fake.”

I thought again about getting implants in my 30s, but by then I had babies to nurse so it didn’t seem prudent to tamper with the milk machine. (The only time I was ever a true B-cup was when I was breastfeeding my sons.)

But as I approached 40, I warmed to the idea. I was done bearing children. Women were getting augmented left and right. So why not me and why not now? My husband was skeptical but supportive, offering a tepid, “I don’t think you need to, but if it’ll make you happy, go ahead.”

Serious research followed as I scouted out the best surgeons in New York. A doctor friend referred me to the Chief of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. Overkill perhaps, but this guy knew his boobs. I met the understated doctor at his Park Avenue office and he took a look.

“No problem,” he said. “How big would you like them?” Together, we perused a photo album of breasts and concurred that a full B would be as big as we should go given my thin frame. Then a nurse snapped some pictures, gave me a sheaf of papers to read and sent me on my way with the instruction to call to set up my surgery date.

With that, a lifetime of ambivalence churned into high gear. Yes, I had wanted bigger breasts for 25 years, imagining myself happy in silky halter dresses, cleavage-baring V-necks, sleek maillots and filmy negligees. I knew that unlike those tacky women who flaunted their big boobs by wearing too-small tees and crazy push-up bras, I’d wear mine demurely and casually. “Oh, these? They’re just my perfect breasts, no big deal.”

But when faced with actually going through with the procedure, it was a big deal. Suddenly, the notion that boobs could make me happy seemed misguided and maybe even idiotic. Because when it came down to it, the things that gave me real satisfaction in life came from inside my heart, not outside my chest.

When I told my sons, then ages 8 and 10, what I was considering they were appalled. “Please don’t, mom. It’s so wrong.” I knew their opinions were anything but objective. After all, what boy wants to think about his mom’s boobs at all, let alone the idea of making them bigger? But their little voices got to me.

Still wavering, visions of Uma Thurman’s magnificent breasts in the 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons swayed me back toward augmentation. I still remember the collective gasp of the audience as she lifted her nightgown for the lecherous John Malkovich. I wanted gasp-worthy breasts!

Yet, as the daughter of a mother who had endured a dozen cancer surgeries, I shuddered at the thought of cutting my healthy flesh. And I hated the idea of people gossiping about me as my friends and I gossiped about any and every woman with implants.

So I struggled with the choice for weeks, changing my mind from minute to minute.

Ultimately, my inability to make a decision became the decision; I passed on the surgery and have found peace (most days) with my body as it is. And as I’ve become more fit, I’ve embraced the sexiness of a toned body rather than a voluptuous one, and that includes my still pert, sag-free little boobs.

Before and after, boobs intact. (Photos courtesy Amy Barr)

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7 Responses

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    […] To Boob Job or Not? That Was the Question […]

  3. A. Daniel Corson

    It is a huge mistake to think that all men prefer large breasts. If you explore tumblr you will find that there are numerous sites devoted to the beauty of “small breasted women.” Someone close to me got breast implants, for all the reasons noted in this article. She is happy with the result. I am sad that she wasn’t happy with her body as it was–which was in proportion to her frame.

  4. Margit’s Note: Love That Body | Tue Night

    […] Amy Barr debates a boob job […]

  5. Why I’ve Aged out of Embarrassment | Tue Night

    […] readers may already know of my angst over this issue but just to review: As a preteen, I stuffed tissues in my bra, waiting in vain to sprout. In high […]

  6. Keely

    I stopped reading your article when you said you told your 8 and 10 years old boys. That’s odd. I’m sure you could do such a personal thing and they wouldn’t notice unless you’re still breastfeeding…..why the hell would they notice. That’s your business. Why do people like you think you owe every ounce of your identity to your offspring….you don’t have to explain yourself every step of the way. I stopped reading at that point. Lame.


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