Someone once explained to me that using “tits” as a positive exclamatory was valid because everybody likes tits. I’d say that that statement is mostly true. Save for gay men and the asexual, most people do, in fact, enjoy tits on one level or another. But I believe that many women have a love/hate relationship with them.
- They help me get what I want!
- They’re funny, and interesting to play with.
But that’s pretty much where it ends.
- Everyone, literally everyone, is staring at them, trying to grab them, play with them, use them as food, bop them like drums… so on and so forth, whether they have permission or not.
- They get in the way – sometimes people accidentally bop them and it hurts.
I totally get why women are objectified. We have fascinating orbs attached to our chests that everyone feels entitled to in some way. My cousin has a toddler, about a year and a half old. She still breast feeds occasionally. But between her baby and her husband, she can’t get a break. I ask her, “Do you ever say, ‘Shop’s closed! Get away from me!’?” She responds, “I think it all the time.” She’s a better person than me.
I wasn’t necessarily taught to be proud of my body. Even into adulthood my family has questioned my fashion choices.
My parents: You wore that on the train ride down here?
Me wearing a t-shirt and shorts: What?
When I was going through puberty, I remedied the situation by wearing my older brothers’ t-shirts. Being four and six years older than me, and I a dainty little thing, their clothes are around nine sizes too big at any given age. Perfect for hiding my blossoming bosom. I hate that I said that, too.
My mother, bless her heart, had no idea what was going on under there. And if you’re thinking, What kind of mother doesn’t notice her own daughter’s development? I can tell you this, I’m really good at hiding things from my parents – my boobs, drugs, boyfriends, what have you. Besides, my mother grew up in a traditional Mexican household. As in, her-mother-didn’t-drive traditional. As in, girls-don’t-go-to-college traditional. As in, you’re-a-burden-until-you-get-married traditional. And they definitely did not discuss puberty, much less blossoming bosoms.
My mother told me the story of her first period around the time I got mine. She was playing at the park and felt like she needed to pee. So she ran home, went into the bathroom, pulled down her pants and saw blood. She nearly fainted, screamed for her mother, and my Buela ran in. She calmed my mother down and said, “Don’t worry. This is completely normal. Your sister will come in and explain everything.” So there ya go.
Also, my mom was blessed with a small chest. She’s in her 60s and threw out all her bras once she retired. I think she assumed it would be a like-mother-like-daughter situation. But she hadn’t considered my paternal grandmother’s physique. Wowza! Ahooga! And so on.
I remember vividly when my parents found out about my boobs. It was the summer of ’99. Tankinis were all the rage and my mother bought me a brand-new swim suit from TJ Max. Yes, my mother was an original Maxxinista – before it was cool.
She was excited about the purchase, knowing how in-style it would be, and how the blue and green color palate would satisfy my tomboy tendencies. She’d held out the suit like a prize on the Price Is Right. “Try it on, and show me and your father!” I cringed. Why do my parents want to see me in a bathing suit? I put up a half-hearted fight, coming off more annoyed and ungrateful than I should have.
To my mother’s insistence, I begrudgingly went up to my room to put it on. I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story… if Ralphie’s aunt had accidentally sent him a Playboy bunny outfit. I grimaced as I looked myself up and down in my full-length mirror, my new perky breasts just a little too big for the thin stretchy fabric. It was the equivalent of strutting around in your underwear, in front of your parents, and not being a stripper with a great familial support system. My mother called for me, “Mary, get down here!”
My mind flashed back to a particularly horrendous back-to-school shopping trip a few years earlier. The whole family went to the local Kohl’s to get pants, shirts, gym shoes, school schools, socks, underwear and other things that people need, like home appliances, toys, other shoes, and some other stuff.
This was the year my body started to change. I was looking less like an adolescent boy and more like a miniature woman by the day. I started growing these new things called hips. I also learned that I had a butt. But I wasn’t wearing bras yet and my face was still angelic. So my parents, none the wiser, brought me to the kid’s section where they undoubtedly forced Osh Kosh B’gosh and whatever other little baby brands were in sight.
Nothing fit. I could barely get these jeans over my tush, and wouldn't come out of the dressing room wearing anything but the clothes I'd arrived in. My father grew increasingly annoyed at watching me exit the dressing room, over and over, in my old clothes claiming, “These don’t fit,” and handing back whatever he’d picked out for me. He’s a retired detective with a hound-like sense for bullshit, and a frugal man. And I was being just a bit too blasé about the whole thing. The tedious task of shopping with an adolescent girl who doesn’t understand her body, combined with purchasing a year’s worth of clothing for his entire family, sent him over the edge. He yelled at me in the dressing room, demanding that I come out to show him the pants that he’d chosen for me. I broke into tears, “They don’t fit me!”
One of my brothers pulled my mom away from whatever pot or pan she was eyeing and filled her in on the dilemma. “Mary’s crying in the dressing room.” My brothers are no frills, straight shooters.
I explained to her through tears that none of the pants Dad handed me fit. “I CAN’T (gasp) EVEN (gasp) PULL THEM (gasp) ALL (gasp) THE WAY (gasp) UP!” After I calmed down, the family huddled for a quick brainstorm.
“It seems like she needs a bigger size.”
“But she’s 10. When you boys were 10, you got your jeans from the 10-year-old section.”
“I’m not a boy!”
This was new territory for my parents. I was a girl. Their only girl. And the youngest. Clothes were purely tactical until this point. Items would be worn until you grew out of them, or until they were rags. Then they’d be handed down or replaced. No one concerned themselves with being fashionable or having the right fit. And my mom was a working woman. She had business attire and PJs, save for a single pair of mom jeans and a couple of shirts that she’d wear on the weekends. She was constantly at the office and trying to raise three kids. That woman didn’t have enough time to give a shit about clothes.
So then there was me – a girl with a changing body and a whole different set of anxieties and emotions when it came to body image – something that I wouldn’t fully understand until adulthood, yet something that has lingered with me for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t just wear my brothers’ hand-me-downs anymore.
Looking back on it, I’m sure my father was giving me pants intended for boys, or at best, some androgynous pieces. I can’t blame him. He’s the kind of guy who thought I could wear tighty-whities when I was growing up. But much like how my mother insisted I have “girls” underwear, I needed jeans that were made for girls, too – that would accommodate hips and butts. Perhaps something with a flared leg.
I don’t know whether it was my mother’s intuition or the suggestion of a sympathetic store clerk, but we broke new ground by entering the Juniors section. If my memory serves me correctly, the entrance had a red carpet and a lit marquee reading “Juniors! This is your time!”. Red velvet ropes surrounded racks and racks of the trendiest clothes a pre-teen could ask for. I think there was a bouncer at the entrance shuffling the haters along. It fascinated us all. There was a whole part of the store made for little ladies just like me. Not kid clothes, not mom stuff. Brittany Spears would later articulate this feeling in her 2001 classic, “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman”. I’m mean, talk about hitting the nail on the head. She must have had a similar experience.
With the help of my family, I picked out a few reasonably priced pairs of pants. They fit! It was official. I was a Junior. My heart exploded at my new-found identity and I beamed all the way home.
I was still staring at my boobs in the mirror when I came out of that day dream thinking, This is not that. I wondered how effective it would have been to walk out of the dressing room with pants halfway around my ass for all of Kohl’s, and my family, to see. Not only would I be embarrassed, my parents would be mortified. At least I had the privacy of my own home to fall back on in this scenario.
“Mary, come on!”
I bit the bullet and walked down stairs into the living room like the world’s most awkward model. Both my parent’s jaws dropped as they finally realized my growth rate had accelerated beyond what they could have imagined.
“Okay. Now go change.”
My mother made an appointment to get me professionally fitted for a bra the very next day. It was one of those old-school brassiere shops run by women who still used the word brassiere. My first real bra was flesh colored, lacy with no padding. It hooked in front and I remember thinking, This is what being a woman is all about, huh? Throughout my teen years, I never gave it much more thought than that. Bras were just something women had to deal with, like tampons and makeup.
It occurred to me in adulthood, when my new-found feminism was at its height, that these three things were the biggest wastes of money. Incidentally, they’re perpetual expenses thrust upon women specifically. Even if your boobs stop changing, which they don’t, bras get loose and worn just like any other article of clothing. Pads and tampons are single use items. And the geniuses of the makeup industry design it so that it’s only good for about three months. Then it gets cakey or crusty or melted and who wants that on their face? Fucking capitalism.
When we moved to California I decided I was done with underwire and padded cups. It’s all bralettes from here on out. I’ve never been happier. I also opted for a menstrual cup a few years ago. No more throwing tampons and my hard-earned cash down the toilet. Makeup, unfortunately, is still on the table. I like to accentuate my best features, and I’d sooner walk through fire than forget to pencil in my eyebrows. Maybe in time I’ll stop giving fucks and society will be forced to accept my mug as is. Some day.
Until then, I’m appreciating the freedom of braless yoga. And when I walk through CVS toward the makeup aisle, I strut past the feminine hygiene products, smirking, knowing that I’m one step closer to beating the system.