I know ‘boring’ is subjective, but so is beauty. I grew up worried about being plain-faced, flat-chested, and boring. As a teenager, I realized I couldn’t control my physical characteristics, but as an adult, I recognize how self-loathing my childhood “goals” were.
As a young woman, my breasts grew larger than everyone else’s breasts around me. Suddenly, instead of worrying about “having nothing,” I found myself the topic of conversation. Boys had opinions about my body. Apparently, so too did our teachers, a supervisor, and even relatives.
Each word a thorn, I did my best to shrug off negativity and arm myself with salty come-backs. It wasn’t easy.
I tried to stand tall, but that strategy made my breasts even more visible. I hunched over, but that too met with comments. “You look like you have arthritis!,” shouted my grandmother. She suggested instead that I “stop dressing for attention with my tight shirts.”
I gave up. By 18, I figured my body (and my brain) was good enough to allow me to navigate college and beyond. I embraced my voluptuous figure and searched out solutions to my “Double D-E-F situation” a friend had nicknamed my chest.
“You know, I realize some people pay good money for this,” I frequently told others. I meant it. I was proud of my figure, but more importantly, I was proud of not letting anyone belittle me or treat me poorly because of what they perceived of me. I wasn’t an “easy” woman because my breasts were large, nor was I afraid to embrace my new sexuality. I didn’t feel shame–I felt lucky.
In my 20s, I learned how different bras would appear to minimize my breasts. I learned to sew shut the row of buttons in my favorite shirts, and I often purchased larger clothing to mask my body. These strategies helped — at least until I was pregnant. As my child grew, so too did my self-consciousness.
Every weekday, I left work and headed home to eat, nap, and hop onto another train for my graduate seminars. The hum of the subways and the rocking cars would frequently lull me to sleep. On more than one occasion, I woke to a nearby passenger staring at me. My breasts, yet again, were up for some man’s discussion.
“Hey Momma,” one man commented. I looked away. “You preggers? Those titties gonna feed a baby for sure.” I ignored him. Was he a registered lactation consultant? Did he know I was panicking about breastfeeding my baby?
I didn’t have time or the stamina for a sassy remark. His comment had awoken me, and I felt uncharacteristically nauseated. Our train continued dropping and picking up passengers. Suddenly, the nausea was too much. I leapt up as I recognized the train coming to my station. At the precise moment the doors opened and directed me to “stand clear,” I lost my lunch (and dinner) in view of the entire subway car.
The man stared at me with a shocked face. I looked down and realized that while I threw up; I had accidentally thrust open my sweater, slightly exposing my bra and breasts. “Dammit,” I thought as I tried to steady myself. Even pregnant and clearly ill, I couldn’t catch a much-needed break.
I was glad to exit the train, and I was grateful for the first time to be walking with a large purse. I pulled my bag to the front to shield my baby—and my bosom—from anyone else’s subjective comments.
As time went on, I reflected on what I could have said and why I felt the need to say anything at all? I don’t owe anyone a comment, particularly when it’s inappropriate to begin with. I don’t owe anyone anything, except for the children I chose to bring into this difficult world. I recognize that my body, my face, and my life aren’t anyone else’s to govern. Sure, I may not have the most contemporarily Western-Euro-centric look in the world, but who cares? I love my smile, and I love the life I have since built for myself.
Though I have long left New York, that incident is seared into my memory as a teaching tool for my children. I have already begun teaching my daughter about self-love and abuse in all its forms. “No man has a right to talk about your body,” I repeat. I pray she will have the courage to confront harassers. As for my infant son, I will teach him about autonomy, consent, and more. I pray he grows into a kind, observant, and helpful ally.
While the subway ogler may have upset me that night, in the end, he confirmed what I already knew—that yes, my body can nourish a baby, but no comment could ever change my opinion of myself.
I’m constantly in awe of my body and my life. I love my breasts, my not-perfect nose, my flat cheekbones and even flatter backside. Since adulthood and my late 30s, I have come full-circle of self-respect. And as I said earlier, I know ‘boring’ is subjective, but so too is beauty. Is my life as exciting as I wanted it to be? In some regards, yes. But incredibly, my life is all my own to shape. Words will always be spoken-or shouted- by others. That’s inevitable, but the ones I repeat to myself–those are the only ones with staying power.