Be warned, this has only faint tenuous links to eating disorders and is basically about breasts. This blog wasn’t supposed to be like this, it was about L and her struggle, but before you know it, I end up sounding off about feminism, mental health and now bosoms. Hey, that’s women for you, once they find a voice, you can’t shut them up.
So this post is partly inspired by a trip K and I take to Cardiff. To buy bras. You may wonder why the big city in which we live isn’t a place to buy bras. It is, but not special bras. Special big bras. True, it is better than it used to be. Many years ago when trying to find bras for my special big breasts, there were only a few, usually tucked away out of sight. I once was in M &S, looking around and say a mother and daughter holding just such a special bra and laughing, suggesting uses like a dog hammock. They put it back on its hook, only to see me pick it up and scurry crimson faced to the changing rooms while they snorted with laughter. Today, women like me have special shops where our ‘boobs’ are embraced (no, not literally as that IS a crime) and we can go buy all kinds of lacy, coloured numbers rather than expecting the bra fitter to bring you boxes covered in dust.
Finding the right bra doesn’t actually solve the whole breast problem though. And, yes, some of you may say – Problem? This is the truth, large breasts are a problem, not a blessing. Neck and back strain, curved spines caused partly by the weight, but mainly by the stooping, arm folding and shamed postures we large breasted women adopt from an early age. Because what we believed to be our breasts, in the way our feet are just feet, turn out to be body parts designed to provide hours of amusement for adolescent boys. Pointing, sniggering and endless commenting. What is this about? Do boys expect us to look down and say Holy Shit, where did they come from?!! Thank you for pointing them out. Or, is it a compliment? And of course, what every painfully shy adolescent girls wants is a spotty lad yelling, “Look at the knockers on that!” So we stoop and we hide and one day an osteopath tells you your shoulder pain probably won’t ever get better.
Because adolescent boys are everywhere. In smart suits, sitting behind desks in offices, driving cars and vans. They may have wrinkles where their spots once were, paunches rather than concave chests and bald heads where greasy hair once lay. But they behave the same. In pay negotiations some years ago, as the lead negotiator for a large staff group, the managing director told me he understood why I wanted to keep my cards close to my chest, paused for effect, and added to the audience of an all male management side, “….and gentleman, wouldn’t we all want to be those cards?” He was initially rewarded by Beavis and Butthead sniggers, followed by “Are you 12? If so, can I negotiate with your mum until you’re old enough to be allowed out?”. Not that long ago, I received hate mail which told me to “Put my tits away” so I could be a proper feminist. Had the author been brave enough to use his name or address I might have been able to tell them that I would love to put them away, in a sideboard cupboard or the loft, but they were actually attached to me and weren’t comedy stag party breasts.
I suppose it’s not the fault of these adolescent boys – they have been raised to believe these organs which fed them and their sisters from birth are objects of comedy and fun. We wear our large comedy breasts for entertainment. They are displayed in the first inside page of the best selling newspaper in the country. For the gratification of men and boys everywhere, and the same boys and men learn the message: Breasts are theirs. To be gawped at, grabbed at, mocked for their size, laughed at in order to shame and humiliate the woman behind them. Perhaps it is also their power. These breasts that can feed small babies, by the same person who can bear children in her womb exert such terrifying power that only lifelong shaming can control it.
I am not ashamed of my breasts, inconvenient though they are. I am proud of their role in feeding my children, including my twin girls sometimes, both together. I understand why that act is actually a spectator sport. And they’re not that large in my opinion, but the world has decreed women like K and I must go to special shops. Where our breasts (always called boobs or curves) are celebrated. The thing is, I don’t want them to be celebrated, I just want them not to matter, for them not to be an issue. For women’s brains to be far more interesting. Is that too much? For the moment yes. And that makes me sad.