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The whole time, all I could think about was how to ask her to buy me a bra. My mom and I were shopping for back-to-school clothes. Finally, towards the end of our shopping trip I mustered up the courage and blurted out, “I need a bra!” She laughed, if not to mock me and remind me that really… there was no need for one, but fine, she’d get me one. Awkwardly we walked into the brightly lit Victoria’s Secret and I started to feel super uncomfortable, as if the women working there would laugh at my attempt to even buy a bra. “What are you supporting?” I thought they’d ask me, smirking.

You see, becoming comfortable with my body and all its womanly parts took me a while—probably because my transition from girl to woman was never talked about. My Indian parents assumed I had been taught the beauty of reproduction and puberty in my few years of public school, so we dodged that awkward conversation. While I had never had a problem with any of the other stuff and went with the flow of the changes through only a few tears, the one thing I noticed not changing was my chest. Therefore, when the young saleswoman measured me and told me, “You’re a 32AA!”, pointing to the very first drawer of the table, I wasn’t even surprised (despite my inner deep hopes of wanting to hear that I was miraculously a B cup). “Whatever,” I thought. I was getting a bra or, rather, boobs at this store, so really I shouldn’t care.

More or less, my first bra in a much, much smaller size

I picked out a tan, padded, unlined 32AA bra that cost a measly $40. Money well spent at the time, considering it turned my flat chest into slight speed bumps. I still remember walking on my high school campus the first day of freshman year when my friend asked me if I had “grown” over the summer. I knew she was most definitely not referring to my height.

I hadn’t planned on being asked this and scrambled to think logically. Truthfully… I hadn’t grown. At least not really. But then again, I wasn’t stuffing my blouse… so could I say yes? Or was padding false advertising for what wasn’t there? I gave a warped answer of a combined yes and no. Yet the point made was that people were noticing.

No pin-up girl was ever flat-chested… damn it.

The first two years of high school were fine. No one really cared about my chest since it was an all-girls’ school. However, as I got older and the formals and basketball games at the neighboring schools became more frequent, I began to become more aware of my chest – or the lack thereof. My skinny body failed to fill out bathing suits and I spent a significant amount of time in front of my mirror contemplating how I could create curves on the upper half of my body without emptying a box of tissues.

With all the lights on and the bathroom door locked, I laid out women’s magazines which taught me “how to create cleavage.” Using a makeup brush and bronzer, I stood there in my padded bra pushing my boobs up and brushing on dark powder in an effort to create a shadow of the curve hoping it would result in the illusion of cleavage. I then pulled on a shirt and looked in the mirror, wondering if people could tell that I had cleavage or just brown powder on my chest.

Boobs without plastic surgery! Hooray!

You see as a teenager, big breasts appeared to be the essence of femininity. Looking at the models in ads and then down at my own chest, I felt boyish. At 16, I became hugely self-conscious and wondered if boys would like and find me attractive if I was so flat that I passed the pencil test? Was having a flat chest a deal breaker? I knew no person was worth it if their answer was yes, but I didn’t want that to be the reason I was deemed unattractive! It sounds silly and foolish now, but at 16 it was a big deal. So much that I failed to notice the other parts of my body that made me feminine.

Flat never looked so fab!

To make myself feel better, I’d read through women’s magazines about whether or not boobs were really necessary to be attractive. I noticed flat-chested celebrities like Kate Hudson. After that yellow dress in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, with no cleavage to speak of, I started to believe that a woman could be absolutely flat yet still so hot.

I then entered college finally graduating from AA’s to an A, something I was really excited about (maybe someday I’d even make it to B’s! I dreamed). However, as my teenage years ended and I started my 20s, I grew more comfortable with my body as a whole. I wasn’t so awkwardly skinny because my hips had grown in, and my friends had enlightened me on the butt I never realized was there because I was so focused on my front. I began to actually like my small boobs and my small upper frame because it allowed me to wear clothes some of my friends couldn’t wear.

My newly found security allowed me to joke about what had made me once so self-conscious. After all, I could safely say the one thing I consistently always had straight As in were my boobs! Then, every time we took pictures and a small shadow appeared in the middle of my chest, my girlfriends would cheer pointing out “Divya has cleavage!” I too then would smile without embarrassment when my small chest could make a low cut dress look incredibly chic.

Rejoice! Divya has a chest!

What I learned from my years of staring in front of the mirror and spending countless hours at the mall trying on bathing suit after bathing suit is that boobs will always be a big deal. For so long they have been seen as a defining characteristic of a woman’s body. Whether you’re an A, B, C, D or bigger, figuring out how to make them look appealing and be comfortable is always a struggle. I will fully admit that yes, my bras are still slightly padded or push-up and on the beach you’ll only find me in a bandeau top. However, instead of intently focusing on what I don’t have, I have learned to love and work with what I do have. Furthermore, taking focus off my boobs, I have realized that femininity is different for me and every woman. For some it can be her breasts, for others it can be the exposure of her collarbone, legs or slender wrists. So while being a 32A will always give me trouble when it comes to filling out certain clothes, I have learned that it isn’t the central trait for my femininity or beauty. While I may never reach a coveted B, I am more than thankful for the two A’s I’ve always had!

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