If you are a woman (and if you are, hi! hello! this guide is for you! — Men, you are also welcome here! When I use the term “men” in this guide, you understand that I don’t mean ALL men. I’m sure YOU have never done any of the things described here), you have something in common with almost all women everywhere. That is to say that you have breasts.
Or you will have them someday (I see you, tween readers). Now, some of you have exceptionally large ones (like, whoa) while others of you have breasts that stopped growing almost before they even started. But either way, grow they did (or will), and every woman needs a guide; a helpmate, if you will, on the path of estrogen-fueled fat growth (that’s what happens, btw, when your breasts start to grow). To that end, I offer you these eight pointers (pun intended) for living with breasts.
Before we begin, however, you might be wondering about my qualifications. What makes me uniquely suited to be your guide for the journey? It’s simple, really. I have breasts. Not only that but I used to have pretty big ones. We’re not talking double J’s or anything. They weren’t even large enough to cause back pain. But still. They were sizable. The envy of my smaller-breasted friends and noticeable enough that men and boys were remarking on them before I had reached my eleventh birthday.
However, it’s not the size of my breasts but rather what happened to them that uniquely qualifies me to take your hand and walk a ways down the path with you. You see, a few years ago, my breasts mysteriously started shrinking. I know. Weird, right? First it was just a cup size. No big deal. It happens to a lot of women when they finish breastfeeding. I bought some smaller bras and went on my merry way. But then I lost another cup size. And then another. All told I went from a DD to a B cup in less than three years. I brought it up with my doctor at my yearly appointment, eager to unearth the source of my shrinkage. She listened attentively, examined me and asked a dozen questions, but in the end she shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. The chart note from my annual check up that year reads: “Breast atrophy. Cause unknown.”
So I have walked through the world with breasts both big and small. This has allowed me the rare vantage point of having been both a voluptuous woman and a “flat” woman . This is not to say that I have firsthand experience with every sort of breast in the world or every sort of experience that a woman might have with her breasts. But I’ve had, perhaps, more than most, and I should like to think that I will be a companionable and competent guide to you as you press on in this very confusing journey. Let’s get started!
Signpost ahead! Stay vigilant!
(Or: Did you think those things were yours? That’s funny.)
Ok, so every woman reaches this signpost at some point in her life. Usually earlier than later. You’d been living your life, minding your own business, for the past however-many years (depending on when you started puberty and believe me, tweens, not everyone starts in second grade like Susie Sandoval did) believing that your body was yours. As far as you had always known, your arms, legs, torso, breasts, butt, brain and so forth, were yours to do with as you liked. How could you have known?
When I was ten, I was perched on the back of our brown and white-striped 80’s-style sofa with my nose in a book when my mom marched out of the laundry room clutching a tired-looking grocery bag in one hand. She took a deep breath, looking like she was about to tell me that my dog had died, and announced in a resolute voice that she and my father had decided it was time for me to start wearing a bra. Before I could even open my mouth to say “WHO SAY WHAT NOW? You and Dad WHAT?!?,” she simply proffered the grocery bag, which, it turns out, was full of hand-me-down bras from my also-early-to-bloom older sister, and walked away.
It is a waypost past which every woman must walk. Whether delivered by the comment of a classmate, the smirk of a boy with the subtlety of a skunk in heat, or, as in my case, the kind voice of an insistent mother, it is the moment we learn something crucial about our bodies. It is the moment we learn that something we thought was private is in fact quite public. Something we thought belonged only to us evidently belongs to everyone.
This is a significant moment in every woman’s life — even if she doesn’t realize it at the time. This is the moment at which she understands, perhaps for the very first time, that there are people who believe that her body — and in particular her breasts — belong to them. That they are theirs to comment on, look at, disparage, praise, or even grab at will. For this reason, we must stay vigilant, ladies. They do not belong to men. Admittedly your mom might need to encourage you to wear a bra to, say, gymnastics practice if you are already a B cup and bouncing around with abandon in your leotard (happened to a friend), but that’s understandable. Commendable even. Anyone else having a say? Not so much. But they’ll try. Oh, they’ll try.
We love them! We hate them! Or maybe we hate you? Tough call.
This is a tricky one, even for the most seasoned of us breast bearers, but I know you’ll be able to track with me. Here’s the deal: Men appear to both love and hate our breasts. At the same time.
Let’s start with the love. I doubt you need evidence. Breasts are literally everywhere; an endless homage to men’s love for them. Billboards, magazine covers, park benches and the backs of city buses. We emblazon them on literally everything. Need to sell some hex wrenches or a baseball glove? Just throw a boob on it. Beer? Throw a boob on it. Cars? Cockroach Spray? Plumbing Services? Just slap a busty woman next to your brand name and it’s sure to sell. We’ve even got things like “breastaurants” (think Hooters) and “bikini barista” joints with clever names like Mugs & Jugs and Natte Latte because, you know, apparently sipping espresso and downing some fries is best done with some décolletage (Décolletage is the word we use when we want to say “cleavage” in an upscale way. Basically it’s what comes out the top of your shirt or dress when you push your boobs together. It’s like a butt, up top)
But wait! Don’t forget that men hate them, too. I told you it was confusing. See, if you use your breasts to do something men consider untoward, like breastfeeding, say, all bets are off. Men don’t like that. Nursing women get kicked off of airplanes, out of department stores, churches, restaurants, you name it. In July of 2018 a woman was kicked out of an aquatic center in Mora, Minnesota for breastfeeding in a public space. The staff at the pool even went so far as to call the police, who eventually convinced the mother to leave, despite the fact that Minnesota state law allows women to breastfeed “in any location, public or private,” and “irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered.”
If you haven’t seen this in action, just wait a year or two. The topic will inevitably resurface, as it always does, and you can see for yourself as our talk show hosts weigh in on whether or not folks “need to see that” and our elected representatives debate at length over whether women can be charged with a misdemeanor (she can’t, btw) for exposing her nipples during the act of breastfeeding a child in public.
See what I’m saying? They love our breasts and they hate our breasts. And if there is one woman who knows this better than anyone else, it’s Janet Jackson. Depending on your age, you may or may not remember the SuperBowl halftime show in 2004 but it was a doozy. Let me brief you: Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake were performing together and it was being broadcast live throughout the country. During a planned move, Timberlake was supposed to pull part of Jackson’s costume off to reveal one side of her red bra. But he accidentally pulled the whole thing off! So everyone who was watching (143.6 million people) saw Janet Jackson’s nipple for 9/16th of a second. Go grab the stopwatch you got for Christmas in third grade and see if you can get it to stop at 9/16th of a second.
Did Justin Timberlake get much flak for pulling off Jackson’s bra? Not really. He was still invited to perform at the Grammy’s the next week and he went on to… well, you know what he went on to. He’s a legend, right? But the country all but lost its collective mind over Janet Jackson. Her invitation to the Grammy’s was rescinded. Radio stations across the country refused to play her songs and her music was blacklisted by Clear Channel Communications which owned both Infinity Broadcasting and Viacom, home to CBS and MTV. The halftime “wardrobe malfunction’ resulted in over 540,000 complaints filed with the FCC, more than any other event in television history, and permanently changed the way we watch live TV with a censorship ruling that went all the way to the Supreme Court in 2012. Dang, right?
But guess what else happened? At the very same time that all these viewers were filing complaints with the FCC and going on about the “declining morality in America,” — which is how Senator Zell Miller of Georgia described it, both on the floor of the United States Senate and in an editorial in Salon — the phrase “Janet Jackson Superbowl” was on its way to becoming the most Googled search term in history (the astronomical number of searches for the Janet Jackson Superbowl video was a leading factor in the creation of YouTube).
The exposure of Jackson’s breast caused her personal popularity to plummet but it was still the video everyone had to have. Men (and admittedly some women as well) might have hated Janet Jackson after the Superbowl. But they still wanted to see her boob. (It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t simply that we saw Jackson’s breast. It’s that we saw her black breast. In pulling off her costume Timberlake also pulled out the old Jezebel trope about black female sexuality. But that’s another essay).
This juxtaposition of breasts glorified and breasts vilified is incredibly confusing. Ultimately it reveals that there is a problem with the story men like to tell themselves. Wanting to see breasts emblazoned on anything and everything from coffee mugs to mud flaps while at the very same time crucifying the bearer of such beautiful breasts for using or exposing them (or having them exposed for you) in ways that they do not approve tells us perhaps the truest story. It tells us that maybe men don’t actually hate breasts at all. Maybe they just hate women. Tricky, no?
See, men believe that our breasts exist for their pleasure, their joy, their boredom, their masturbatory needs, their depression, anger, excitement, fatigue. Take the Janet Jackson nip sitch. If our men truly loved women, it might have been expressed in concern over the deep embarrassment Jackson suffered during the Superbowl and its aftermath. It might have been expressed in a circling of wagons around Jackson as she had to defend herself again and again and again and answer to the folks who lambasted her for her wardrobe malfunction. Instead the exposure of her breast is one of the most viewed videos in internet history and Janet Jackson herself was burned at the stake for it.