I spent a good chunk of last month ruminating on whether or not I should finally become the kind of adult who spends her money on private health insurance as part of a wider quest to rid my body of the fatigue-inducing endometriosis that has plagued it since my uterus first started to shed. As is my MO, I enlisted a string of ~experts~ to help me reach my decision. My mum was in the affirmative camp, mostly because it would seriously expedite me having laparoscopic surgery (an operation that can be lengthy to book in for if you go down the public health route). She called me up one day to tell me so, and, while at it, pitched another medical procedure. The conversation went a little something like this:
Mum: “I’ve spoken to your father, and we’ve decided that *dramatic exhale* we’re happy to pay for your breast reduction.”
Me: “Lol, wut?”
I was taken aback to say the least, partly because this was one of the most generous things anyone has ever offered me. Smaller boobs do not come cheap. While I’d like to think I’m fairly open-minded, the fact that my parents were discussing the size of my breasts also had me a little shook. Mainly I was dumbfounded, because, while I find my boobs to be stupidly big at times (mainly when trying to find a bikini that fits), I’ve grown to accept my body for what it is. I’ll never be rail-thin, and while that does exclude me from participating in a lot of trends I wish I could participate in (shout out to handkerchief tops), I’m so grateful for my body and what it allows me to do every day. While I doubt I’ll ever completely unlearn the lessons society has taught me, I am inching slowly towards a place of self-acceptance and love. And the Internet—with special respect to publications like Man Repeller and Teen Vogue, along with platforms like Instagram—is helping me, and anyone who doesn’t fit the traditional ideal of beauty, on that journey.
Growing up was a different story. My boobs sprouted on a previously concave chest at age ten. Ten! I detested the little mounds I’d once prayed for. By age 12, they’d ripened far beyond their years, and began to elicit unsolicited attention from males much older than the young girl who carried them. Far from making me feel special, this filled me with shame. My boobs hurt me when I ran. In tandem with my generous thighs and shapely hips, they made me feel grotesquely fat, and I hated that I had to prematurely graduate from age-appropriate, cotton bralettes to the sturdy, underwire bras favoured by my mum and grown women everywhere, far before my time. Bandeau tops may have looked fly AF on my fellow compadres, but all they did was serve as gateway to the much-maligned uniboob. At the time, I tearily, relentlessly, and exasperatedly begged my mum to let me get a breast reduction. Thankfully she denied. That was a decade ago.
In November of last year, British Vogue pitched a question as to whether or not cleavage was “over.” To give you a refresher, the article began like this:
“The cleavage—those magnificent mounds pushed together to display sexual empowerment, to seduce, to inspire lust, or even just to show off—is over, or at least, taking a well-earned break.”
Along with a sizeable chunk of the Internet, I was furious at the supposition that a woman’s body could hit its expiry date. The idea that my boobs had become passé was insane to me, but I can’t say I was shocked. Since I first began to feverishly devour as many fashion mags as my paltry allowance would permit, I’d been conditioned to believe that my body shape—breasts included—was something to cover, hide, and hate. Both in covert ways, like the marked singularity of body types on display, and in overt ways, like ~helpful~ articles on what owners of large breasts or hips were *supposed* to wear. This kind of clothes-based commentary is eyeroll-inducing, but it pales in comparison to the treatment of women’s natural-born body parts as fashion accessories. Every time I put on a bra, is it an act of seduction, of sexual empowerment? Or is it just me going about my everyday life in the vessel assigned to me? Also, where TF was I supposed to put my breasts during this “well-earned break”?
If you’d asked me at age 17, I would have happily gone under the knife. At this current juncture in my life, however, I don’t feel the need to alter the body I was born with. But with publications like Vogue positing whether or not big boobs are over in much the same way as one might question the relevance of a shoe, it hardly surprises me that my mum would think I still might.
Words, Madeleine Woon.