by Jessica Martin-Weber
Once, a supportive male boss told me I was more than a pair of tits. Thanks, I think, so what does that make me? What about other women?
Breasts are at once over celebrated and under appreciated. The bastion of physical femininity, breasts rise up before young girls as the ultimate marker of becoming a woman while at the same time being berated for tripping men up and getting too much attention. Slap a pair of breasts overflowing a lacy bra on the side of a bus and watch the accidents’ ticker tape start rolling. As for coming of age, periods shmeriods, it’s not the uterus the world notices, it’s your tits! We idolize the lactating breast as the best, the mark of superior motherhood, yet we worship the sexually available ready to have fun-oh-sex-goddess-of-desire-breasts as the mark of superior womanhood. Shake those milk jugs and bring all the boys to your yard! Here’s a cover for feeding your babies, don’t let that disgusting best milk of awesome slutty motherness get anywhere or be noticed and here are some pasties for when you set aside your mom of the year sash at night and it’s time to BLOW HIS MIND!
The messages we get about our breasts and our bodies, messages we may internalize, can end up defining us. They don’t have to but often they do without us realizing it. Our successes and our failures may be measured against these messages. We all want to pretend we don’t care what other people think, but the truth is most of us do to an extent. Understandably so because none of us want to be alone. We actually need each other, need community, and needing people means we care about what they think. Sometimes we can’t see past the tips of our nipples. Sometimes, we can’t see past the tips of other women’s nipples either. And more and more we can’t see past the tip of an artificial nipple. Do men have to put up with anything like this? Society gets their panties in a bunch when a woman feeds her baby no matter how she does it, oddly enough, not so much when a dad feeds his baby. Men get accolades for “babysitting” (AKA: parenting) and adored for feeding their child. Women get covers, judgment, shunning, and news reports. Why? Because they’re women. And there are breasts involved even when not being used.
When I began developing I mostly had a feeling of dread tinged with excitement about my impending new appendages. Then they were real, not just a developing idea, they were really, really there and I was thrilled, I was a woman, not only did I bleed between my legs, I had BOOBS! That lasted for all of 2 minutes and came crashing down when I realized that when properly clothed, the tiny bits I had wouldn’t bounce joyfully in a bra, wouldn’t fill out a bathing suit, they wouldn’t even cause a disturbance in the fabric of my shirt. I got mosquito bites for breasts. There had been fire ant bites on my ankles bigger than my tits. Before my breasts grew, I hated the idea of having my own pair of tits and being seen as a sexy symbol of busty lust but once they set up a very disappointing shop on my chest, I wanted nothing more. I had been betrayed!
They were supposed to be alluring. Sexy. Comforting. Nurturing. All at once. Instead, my breasts were barely there. My disappointment was palpable. Unlike my breasts.
My mother has fabulous breasts and I had a deep appreciation for them. To comfort me when mine were disappointing she shared how she had tiny tits once too. But then she got pregnant and breastfed, and my brother, sister, and I gave her the gift of big boobs which stuck around after all her children weaned. It was hope. Except, of course, there wouldn’t be any tits there for my some-day-partner to feel up and lead to baby making, my chest still looked, and felt, like a preteen boy’s. If the only thing that was going to change that was having babies, I might have a problem.
Later, after I had managed the baby making feat, my breasts would still be disappointingly small and my mother, out of love and concern, would come to me with an offer from her and my dad. Breast implants, they would pay for them to ensure my husband was satisfied with me sexually and would not leave me and my daughters. Because they believed what I had long suspected, with my tiny tits, I couldn’t possibly be enough.
Breastfed or not, little girls and boys tend to find comfort at their mother’s or a mother-figure’s breast. Nurturing and comforting, breasts are just pleasant. Why? I’m not sure anybody really knows. Biologically it’s probably because they are both sustenance for the infants of our species and have a certain erotic appeal that helps with the continuation of the species. But none of us are thinking about that when we’re drawn to them. Besides, essentially breasts are skin covered sacks of fat with some glandular tissue and milk ducts thrown in for functionality. They’re more complicated than that, but when you break it down, boobs are fat bags with nerves. Which hardly sounds attractive at all. Still, humans are drawn to these fat bags, the human female breast. At first for food and comfort, then for fascination, and then for sex. Sex, of course, leads to more babies and the cycle starts all over again. Beautiful, important, and confusing.
Are they ever really even ours?
How do we reconcile how we’ve seen our mother’s breasts, the breasts of other maternal figures, the breasts of our peers, the breasts of celebrities, and even the different stages and functions of our own breasts? There’s no switch we get to flip, you know. Moving from one phase of boob love to the next is complicated and confusing. Often it doesn’t go smoothly and there’s struggle involved. Find nurturing comfort and sustenance at the breast, baby! Stop that. Grow some tits! Stop that. Cover them up! Stop that. Flaunt them! Stop that. Boobs = sex! Stop that. Nurture a child with them! Stop that. Play things for your partner! Stop that. Tie them up, nobody wants to see those tired old things hitting your knees, that’s not SEXY! How do we go from being comforted at the breast, to admiring breasts, to wanting our own breasts, to discovering how the world sees breasts, to embracing the sensuality of our breasts, to properly covering them, then by just having breasts somehow being responsible for being harassed for sex, forget the nurturing stuff breasts are for sex, have a baby and hold them to your chest and just be ok with now your baby’s mouth and hands and head are there more than your sexual partner’s. Be a good child, a good sex goddess, a nurturing goddess and don’t be a slut or a bad mom or sexually unavailable. Do. It. All. What you do with your boobs, how you dress them, how you use them, how you present them, and how others notice them requires a lot of time and energy. A defining factor of how others see us and more importantly, how we see ourselves. The shape of our breasts can shape us.
Which can mess with our heads.
I talk with women every day about their breasts. It’s a casual conversation, but honest. Women are surprisingly willing to talk about them, if somewhat hesitant at first. But talking about our tits is kind of like taking our bras off at the end of the day: HALLELUJAH, I DON’T HAVE THAT CONSTRICTIVE TORTURE DEVICE HOLDING ME UP ANY MORE! I CAN BREATHE! We can talk about our boobs! You see, everyone else is talking about them and we know it. Men, fashion designers, doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, fashion magazines, politicians… you name it, everyone’s talking about our tits. Except us. Some of us are still whispering “breast” before cancer because even the word makes us uncomfortable. We’re not supposed to actually notice our own breasts! And noticing the breasts of others comes with baggage packed with jealousy and judgement. We’re certainly not supposed to be talking about them. Feel your boobies? Ok, but could we not say that out loud please? Don’t you just have a card I can stick in my underwear drawer for a monthly reminder? To talk about our breasts means we have to dance our words around in a complicated choreography of avoiding the conflict and appreciation we have about our own chests. It’s not a safe dance. If we like them, we sound like we’re bragging. If we don’t like them, we sound like we don’t enjoy being women. If we enjoy them in sex, we wonder if we’re weird. If we don’t enjoy them in sex, we’re pretty sure we sound frigid. If we’re proud of them, we’re going to be heard as putting down other women. If we’re not proud of them, we’re perceived as being dissatisfied. Most of all, we wonder how much of our success as women, as sexual partners, as mothers is tied up in these things we contain between some elastic, padding, and maybe a bit of wire. If we participate in titty talk, do we risk exposing ourselves with our womanly failures to the world? Are we enough?
Sometimes, our breasts and all the baggage that society hands us to go with them, get in the way of remembering we are human. Perhaps we could connect with our own humanity a little bit deeper by appreciating our breasts without shame, no longer worrying about how others are or are not using theirs, and talking about our own breasts without apologetic whispers. And to look in the mirror and tell ourselves we are enough.
This post is inspired by a portion of one of the talks sponsored by Ergobaby and Ameda, Inc. at MommyCon 2015.