I suppose my journey into womanhood began just like everyone else’s. One day, I came home from school in fourth grade and my mother handed me a light blue training bra from Limited Too and one of those puberty books for girls titled something like, Why Am I Growing Hair Down There?!. Like most mothers, her breasts doubled in size after she was pregnant; but unlike most mothers, she blossomed into a hefty size F. As a preteen, staring up at my mother’s giant breasts was like an ominous foreshadowing of my future as a woman, ridden with bloody underwear, immobilizing cramps, cuts on my legs from shaving and, most of all, a never-ending cleavage.
I knew I had above-average-sized boobs throughout those awkward years at sleepaway camp and from changing in the locker room in middle school. But it was not until high school that my boobs became a defining characteristic of my appearance, as I started to become known as “the girl with big boobs.” When my high school boyfriend’s mom was describing me to his grandparents over the phone, I heard her use the curious word “Rubenesque.” I quickly ran home to a computer and discovered it means a curvy, large, and voluptuous woman, named after the big naked women depicted by the Baroque painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens. I gasped when I saw his paintings, coming to terms with the fact that because I had big boobs and a big butt, it was inevitable I would be described as a big woman.
Until that point I assumed only horny high school boys noticed things like boob size, and I suddenly became self-conscious of my overt femininity, constantly paranoid about stares from waiters, store clerks, teachers and the overprotective eyes of my boyfriend’s mother. Wearing my sexuality on my sleeve is unavoidable, because all shirts somehow manage to look too low-cut, too tight or awkwardly fitted.
Of course, I know the other side of the boob spectrum struggles with the opposite anxiety. In Nora Ephron’s famous essay “A Few Words About Breasts,” she describes being insecure about her seemingly androgynous and flat-chested body, feeling like an incomplete woman in a time where sexuality was as cut and dry as one’s profession and wardrobe. Resorting to stuffing her bathing suits in order to feel feminine, it seems every woman wants what she can’t have.
As I prepared to enter college, I struggled to find bras that fit right AND were sexy as I committed hours to shopping and kneeling on the floor searching through the bottom drawers. Victoria’s Secret, the notorious powerhouse of big boobs, somehow manages to make bra shopping an utter nightmare for women with boobs larger than a C cup. With all of the cute prints and styles only fully stocked in the smaller sizes, it’s like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks got all the free samples of the larger sizes and left none for the rest of us.
Naturally, there are always plenty of padded bras left over in the bigger sizes, mocking me from inside the drawer, staring up at me as if to say, “Yes, you finally found a bra in your size! Lucky for you, my giant pad will make your boobs look two sizes bigger, and your chin may or may not be devoured by your freakishly enhanced cleavage.”
I entered freshman year with about five bras, which were all boring, full-coverage, and solid colors: black, white, nude, brown and light pink. To my dismay, my 32B freshman year roommate had a drawer overflowing with sexy bras in all sorts of colors and patterns: black and white polka-dots, lace, padded, neon, strapless, crisscross, bandeau; the list went on. Oh, the irony! She was jealous of my boobs and I was jealous of her bra collection—the grass really is greener on the other side of the boob spectrum.
Now, in the final weeks of the summer before my senior year, it is clear my boobs will always play an extremely active role in my daily life. In the past week alone, it was as if the boob gods were watching my every move. On Monday morning, while wearing a dress and a cardigan on the way to my internship, a random man in the subway stairwell whistled and stared at my cleavage – which I tactfully ignored after years of practice, thank you very much.
In a department meeting on Tuesday, my supervisor complimented me on a recent project, causing the whole room to turn and stare. Did a few eyes get distracted by my chest and forget about my accomplishment, or was I just being paranoid?
On Wednesday night as my friends and I were getting ready to go out to dinner, I tried on my friend’s shirt, causing her to stare at my boobs and say, “I don’t want you to stretch it out!” I shrugged and took the cute top off, looking around for something else to wear. Why is it that the same shirt can look wonky on one girl and stylish on another, just because of boob size?
At a crowded bar on Thursday night, my friends suggested I should be the one to go up to the bartender and attempt to order our drinks, since it seemed “my assets” would come in handy. The power of cleavage is undeniable, and I must admit I was much more successful at getting his attention than Nora Ephron would have been.
And just this past Friday night, I was in a black dress and heels at a bar called MJ Armstrong’s a few blocks away from my apartment, playing a competitive game of beer pong with one of my best friends and two guys we just met. Predictably, we were losing, and just as the guys went to make the winning shot my friend shouts, “Joanna! Distract them with your boobs!” As I casually laughed it off, one of the guys unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt and pretended to flash his cleavage at us. How hilarious.
I suppose people just don’t know what to do around big boobs, and ultimately end up staring or blurting out something inappropriate. From adjusting the straps on my training bra, to staring at the cartoon nipples in my puberty book, to flaunting my new black lacy bra that fits (almost) perfectly, the diary of a 36DD is a frustrating, sexy, self-conscious and exciting journey.