Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Community) was on Ellen this week talking about (among other things) his wife’s struggle with breast cancer. As a nursing mom, his wife thought she had a clogged milk duct, but it ended up being breast cancer. In my years of nursing two babies, I’ve thought about this scenario on several occasions. This is, in fact, my worst nightmare. Luckily for Mrs. Jeong, she caught it in time and has been in remission for almost two years.
Unless you live under a rock (that’s covered up by a pile of more rocks), you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and I’m going to do my part in making people “aware” by reflecting on my relationship with my breasts.
In first grade, my mom picked me up from school one day and asked how my day was. Somberly, I told her, “Mom, I think I have breast cancer.”
My mom was so gracious (she was probably stifling her laughter from the front seat, but she didn’t let on at all), and when we got home I showed her the little dime-sized nubbins that had apparently developed over night. She explained to me that the knots in my chest were just the beginning of breasts, and over the next few years, they would grow to look like hers.
I come from a very immodest family, so I’d seen a lot of ta-tas in my day--my mom, my aunts, even my grandma had changed into swimsuits or walked around naked in front of me after a shower on countless occasions, so I was unphased by this information on some level. I remember seeing women from church nurse their babies and never thought much about it. In fact, my best friend, Robyn and I breastfed our dolls regularly. That’s what breasts were for.
From that day forward, I started wearing a training bra (quite the novelty among my first grade friends, most of which would not wear a training bra for another three or four years at least). By third grade, I actually needed a real bra as my nubbins were easily filling out an A-cup. Each school year, I added a cup size until at the age of twelve, I was a full D-cup. This, unfortunately, coincided with the time when boys began to be OBSESSED with boobs.
Suddenly, having boobies was not so great. At recess one day, I was playing four square with some friends, and one of the fifth grade boys ran over from his tetherball game, squeezed my right breast, and ran back to his game. Horrified, I ran to tell the teacher and we were both sent to the principal’s office to work out what had happened. I found out then that he did it on a dare because everyone was convinced that I stuffed my bra. (I had never heard of stuffing your bra at that point.) Oh. My. God. So not only did this boy feel like it was okay to touch me, but people were talking about it?
I started wearing two sports bras to flatten them out, and when I was playing softball or soccer, I even wore two sports bras and wrapped them with ace bandages. By seventh grade, a few of my friends had smallish breasts, but no one had utters like me. One weekend, we were having a slumber party at a friend’s house and some eighth grade boys showed up in the middle of the night. We let them in the window, of course, and one of the boys wanted to talk to me in the other room--away from everyone else. I had an idea of what was happening but was no less anxious. Nothing happened. He stared at me. I stared at him. He started to lean in (to kiss me, I thought) and then he stopped. He hatefully said, “I heard you were a slut.”
What? I was heartbroken.
Up to this point, I’d played truth or dare a few times with the boys from church, but a slut? I definitely knew what that meant, and I was not THAT. The case against having big boobs was building. (Of course, in my many conversations with women with tiny ta-tas, I’ve learned that the teasing was no less awful for them.) So this is what I figured out. Sometime between fifth grade and seventh grade, my breasts had gone from annoying lumps of flesh I would one day feed my children with to something that made me sexual--at least in the eyes of the boys.
Fast-forward to my senior year of high school. By eighteen, I was much more comfortable with the sexualized part of my breasts. My body had started to catch up--I had thighs and hips now, so my breasts (now a ridiculous DD on a 115 pound 5’ 2” frame) were not so freakish. In fact, I kind of liked having them around. I still attracted the attention of boys, but I was more confident in my ability to shoot them down when they made comments about my “titties,” asking if we could be “bosom buddies” or “breast friends.” As the mother of two boys, I can promise you that if I ever hear my boys refer to a girls’ breasts derogatorily as “titties” or “tits,” they will be running laps around the backyard for days.
As with all things in life, I’ve come full circle and actually nursed two babies. My breasts (ta-tas, jugs, boobies, melons, tetons, gazongas, grapefruits, bubbies, yams, cannonballs, jumbos, knockers, pointer-sisters, hooters, cha-chas, oompas, hottentots, hefties, whoppers...that’s probably enough for now) are what makes me feel most like a woman. And it’s not at all about what they represent to other people. I mean, having a baby made me feel very womanly, but I don’t do that every day. The boobs? They salute me every morning, inspiring a certain amount of girl power that I need to make it through even the roughest days.
So, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’ll be feeling myself up now. I hope you will, too! (And much love to all the women fighting the good fight right now.)