A Breast Cancer Awareness Month Special:
I spent my prepubescent years in an all-girls school. Leading up to puberty, I was never really worried about when I would be declared a ‘woman’. When puberty made a disappointingly slow approach, the only changes brought about were having to clear an extra space in my wardrobe for bras and having to run around class asking for pads. But breast sizes didn’t matter and no one gave two hoots if you were on your period – I mean, everyone in class had it once a month.
When I was 14, I remember a couple of girls giggling in class. They told us about another girl in the next class who stuffed her bra with bubble wrap. That made absolutely no sense to me – does anyone not realise how uncomfortable that must feel? But I digress. Back to this girl – let’s call her Bubblewrap girl – her classmates found out during one of those weekly physical education classes where they make you run around and sometimes throw balls in hoops. Another girl had tried to grab the ball off Bubblewrap girl but a misjudgment led to a solid hit in the chest, followed by the unmistaken sound of popping.
I think the story ended with Bubblewrap girl running off to cry. The girls told me it wasn’t the first time she got caught stuffing her bra – the last time they were involved in a jumping exercise, a balled up sock came rolling out under her shirt.
When I was 14, I never understood that. It made no sense why Bubblewrap girl would, on separate occasions, stuff her bra with different materials. In a school full of girls, did your chest size really matter?
When I was 18, I asked my (extremely well-endowed) mother to buy me more bras. She took a look at my chest and said two plasters could do the job just as well. She was joking, as she always does, like when she tells me I was picked up from the dustbin. But that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
When I was 20, I was in a polytechnic and had boys as classmates – which, by the way, made the whole ‘asking girls for pads’ thing very difficult. I also had a (now ex) boyfriend of two years then, and was paying more attention to my looks and outfits. I knew a girl who would scurry on Twitter to post mean comments about outfits that revealed the slightest hint of cleavage. I tried hard not to take any of her comments personal but it was hard. Dressing for school then meant having to take her opinion into consideration. Looking back, it’s disappointing that another female made me ashamed of my body and my choice of dressing.
When I was 22, I hit a bar with a friend. I ordered a pint of stout and she had a bottle of her favourite beer. It was six in the evening on a weekday so the bar was pretty empty. It was also getting hot so I took my jacket off. Before I knew it, the waiter walked over with shots and told us it was on the house. That was when my friend suggested hitting more bars with my jacket off.
I’m 23 now, and I still think about 14-year-old me and how I wondered if my chest size really mattered. And you know what? Yes, it does, but only to me. Not to the girl who sent out bitter tweets only to make me feel terrible, and not to guys at bars with a few extra dollars in their pockets to buy me shots, but only to me. My chest has endured some pretty brutal comments, all unnecessary. I have been made to feel ashamed and insecure about my breasts by people around me. But at the end of the day, I’ve learnt that the only comments that matter, are mine.
So do me a favour. The next time anyone decides their unsolicited opinion of your chest needs to be heard, look them in the eye (just one, because I’ve also realised it’s impossible to look someone in both eyes at the same time) while grabbing your breasts with both hands* and tell them, ‘”I love my breasts.”
*Action up to your discretion.
Text: Elizabeth Boon