Monday, August 17, 2009

The Breast of Intentions

This is a pretty awesome series of posts over at Adventures of a Young Feminist. The posts, crafted after a senior thesis project done by Laura, are detailed around the implications of breasts in American society (and occasionally elsewhere). They touch on everything from the male gaze to breast health to breasts as sexual vs. functional. Some really good stuff.

I'm inspired by them to write again on a personal level. I've got to say that my breasts have been a major part of my experience in womanhood. I know that this is not uncommon, but I think the narratives here are important, because so much of it is dependent on so many other things.

When I was ten, my dad was revisiting his second marriage. She was never good to us, and her re-emergence in his life was painful at best. She wasn't back for long, but she was there long enough to shout menacingly from the kitchen as I played with my brother in the living room, "You really need to be wearing a bra, you know."

Fast forward six hours and I'm hiding in the corner of my own bedroom while my mom and dad argue about whether it was appropriate for her to mention it to me. The ultimate decision was no, but regardless, it was only an argument because my parents were both hesitant to recognize the fact that I was moving from girlhood to womanhood, and all that that implied. My mother, who to this day cannot say vagina in a normal tone of voice, was little help with the body confidence issues that spring up as you go from flat-chested to a C-cup in the course of a year. Granted, I had no idea what cup size I was for a long time, because the only bras I would wear were athletic. I was intent on minimizing those monstrosities on my chest, and so while the girls around me started flaunting their pert little babes, I spent middle school all squashed up and hiding under t-shirts. When I started bleeding in 8th grade, I was terrified at the pain I felt in them, certain that something was wrong with me but with nobody to ask. Thankfully the internet rolled into our living room midway through that year and I was at least able to alleviate some of the anxiety.

My sophomore year of high school I finally went with a friend and had a real bra fitting. By that point some of my peers had caught up with me, and I was a little more comfortable with the idea that they existed to begin with. I was also venturing outside of my family and into the treacherous grounds of being a small-town feminist (as mentioned in my previous post), and dealing with the body image issues and the eating disorder. All this was going on at once, but I bought a real bra, with light padding and underwire. I also bought my first formal gown and proved to myself once and for all that I could be beautiful. I have not failed to believe in at least the potential since, which has been nice for me and has certainly helped me manage the food issues better. I have certainly not starved myself to the point of delirium since then.

Of course, it was right about then that I started getting the attention. I had my first boyfriend by the middle of my sophomore year (that would last until March of my senior year and end disastrously, but that's for another day). Throughout that relationship I fended off attention from boys and men alike. My parents were so terrified that I would get pregnant that they drove me back into depression with their hatred of my adult body. Every outfit was scrutinized, and though I was generally pretty put-together and cleavage-free, my jeans were always too tight or I wasn't wearing baggy enough shirts. I took to wearing a jacket all the time. The first time anyone other than myself touched my breasts, I was 15, and he took a good forty-five minutes to work up the nerve to slide his hand from my waist to my chest. It was another year before I would lose my virginity, and at the time I felt like I was behind schedule, though afterward, of course, it was made quite clear that I had crossed a line I shouldn't have. And again, it was brought back to the way I wore my shirts.

I currently sport a D-cup and have become painfully accustomed to addressing (or ignoring, depending on the situation) the amount of uninvited attention they get. I still have a tendency to hide in t-shirts unless I'm feeling particularly plucky. I have had men ask for a great many things having to do with my breasts, most of them beyond the limits of appropriateness. I have had to repeatedly remind even my boyfriends that my breasts were mine, and therefore invitation-only. A few have respected that; a few haven't (and were pretty promptly kicked to the curb).

When I have children, I anticipate an entirely new dynamic around them. First, I am afraid of them growing, simply because they are more than I'd like to have to deal with already, and because I'm not looking forward to having extra male attention hovering around my aching chest. Second, as an avid believer in breastfeeding, I foresee dealing with American society as it currently is (since nobody vocal is doing a whole lot these days to change it). The sexualization of the breast means that using them functionally is offensive, and having dealt with the sexualization aspect, I worry about having another body crisis when they are being judged in a completely different way. I am, however, not terribly concerned about the long-term changes, which I have a pretty realistic idea of thanks to my mom (who had some radical ideas about childbirth and early childhood, despite her other forms of closetedness), so I guess there is that safe point.

This has been a major part of why I identify as queer, as well. Note that I distinguish this from straight/lesbian/bisexual, but that's really a topic for another day. In practice I am primarily heterosexual, though I have had one female partner. For me, the implications of my body for her were completely different than the implications have been for men. That different dynamic is really one of the primary reasons I don't simply identify as straight. That, and the fact that if a woman who matched me well walked into my life I wouldn't hesitate to be with her.

Now I know that my body is attractive. First because I myself happen to like it, and also because I have been told it. I have gotten positive and negative attention because of it. It's funny, because my body does not fit the typical mold for beauty. I generally chalk it up to a combination of my face and my shape, which is larger than perhaps ideal but proportional. I no longer have body image issues (most days) although I do still sometimes struggle with remembering that I do, in fact, have to eat to survive. My partner's younger cousin has a crush on me (he ranks me as a 7.5 on the Megan Fox scale, I'm told, whatever that means). I'm okay with most of it. But sometimes, it still becomes threatening. I am aware of the power and the vulnerability my body gives me.

The ends of my posts always trail off into the present. This has, as I'm sure you can gather, been a long trek. It took time and energy and hurt to get me to where I am.

No comments:

Post a Comment