My first Barbie was a Growing Up Skipper doll. Skipper is Barbie’s younger sister.
A gift from one of my aunts during the 1970′s, my Skipper doll wasn’t an ordinary doll. Living up to her name, she could “grow” from girl to young woman in an instant. All you had to do was take her arms and wind them forward in a circular motion. Not only would she grow taller but her bust would get bigger. Wind her arms in the opposite direction and all of her would shrink back to original size.
At age 6, all I knew was that I had a “2-for-1” doll. Growing Up Skipper even came with an extra outfit for her older self to wear, and she had a tank top that doubled as a bathing suit. Now, when I look back I am able to see how this doll was sexualized—just like when people prematurely endow girls with certain attributes and qualities so that they seem sexier and more mature.
My own boobs grew pretty quickly when I turned 13. It seemed like one moment my chest was flat and then within the year my mom and I were making multiple trips to Mervyn’s so we could replace the bras I rapidly outgrew.
My relatives were bemused at my physical transformation. While my boy cousins teased me mercilessly— “Hi Boobsie Queen!”— my titas (Filipina aunts) would talk about my breasts. “I don’t remember my boobs growing that fast,” said Tita X, as she and my other titas sat around shuffling mah-jongg tiles back and forth over a card table.
In middle school, CR and BW, two of the most popular boys, would comment on my breasts every chance they got. “Watch those boobs bounce!” CR once yelled out, as I ran from recess back to the classroom. I stopped, then slowed my pace to a walk—unsure whether I’d done something to elicit this attention and feeling like it was in part my chest’s fault.
I also blamed my breasts for adding weight to my body—I so wanted to be skinny, not curvy. I even tried weighing my boobs once when I was 14, lifting the scale onto the bathroom counter and attempting to pile them on as if they were melons. For a while after that, I decided that my “breast weight” shouldn’t count, and I’d knock off several pounds whenever I told anyone what I weighed.
Image: Mike Cogh via Flickr
When you have breasts that are larger than “average” (whatever that really means) even people you don’t know—males, in particular—automatically assume they have permission to comment on your boobs—“Nice tits! BIG BREASTED! Playboy-like, even”—and can touch them just because they feel like it.
There are the sporadic “feel-ups” that can happen anywhere—like at the video arcade during the 80’s when the guy playing Pac-Man next to me suddenly got too close, his hand brushing against the side of my chest in such a way that I couldn’t exactly call him on it. What if he tells me it was just an accident?
Then, there was that “checkup” by my doctor when the nurse stepped out of the room for just a few moments. Rather than slightly lifting up my medical gown to feel my abdominal area, he pulled it up over my bare chest, his eyes grazing over my upper body while he told me to breathe. He may not have physically touched my breasts, but I walked away from that visit feeling violated.
Because of the way my body looked, some of my classmates thought I was sexually experienced even though I’d never been kissed yet. My date, whom I’d asked to a Sadie Hawkins Dance, stayed a polite arm’s length away from me all night, later explaining, “Girls like you probably want more than I’m ready to give.” I’d just been hoping that maybe he would hold my hand.
At a party during my twenties, I ended up being one of a few people to lose a card game. Our penalty was that we had to jump into the pool in our underwear. I figured that this really wasn’t any different from wearing a bikini, so I was surprised when, as I took off my clothes and stood there in bra and underwear, the guys around me started cheering, the sound of their beer bottles clinking together to toast me… or, rather, the sight of my breasts.
Not sure what to do, I just laughed and said, “Thank you!?” I mean, applause is always a compliment, right? Right? Later, when one of the guys that I hardly knew came over to say goodbye, he hugged me, his chest lingering too long and tight against my own even as he kept one arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders.
Unlike Growing Up Skipper dolls, real women don’t have arms that turn back the aging process, and their boobs, like the rest of their bodies, change as they grow older. At some point naturally bigger breasts lose their “perkiness” and whatever perceived social advantages having big boobs supposedly come with get taken away. Instead, you are the recipient of comments like, “Ever thought of a breast lift?” Or, “You must be wearing a push-up bra!” And then you feel bad for feeling bad that your breasts, like the rest of you, are getting older.
What would my experience of my breasts have been like if they hadn’t been objectified so much? I will never know. Then again, why not start relating to them differently now?
I decided to sit front of my mirror and really see my breasts: Is it okay I’m even doing this? As if looking at my own chest was somehow tawdry.
Cue the voice inside my head: I’m checking myself out… no I’m not… so what if I am… this isn’t that! Followed by the realization that despite having had breasts all my life, I’d never really seen them.
Sure, I’d looked at my boobs before—scrutinized them even, to try and figure out what everyone else was fussing about—but to actually see them for their own sake, the way you would something or someone you want to know personally—never. I didn’t even know they were slightly asymmetrical. And then, more thoughts and observations: Is that a mole right there? I wonder if my boobs resemble my grandmother’s? Thank goodness they are healthy! I think I love them… and on and on.
It was as if by seeing them directly, rather than through the filter of someone else’s gaze or perception, I was able to have my own experience of my boobs that was outside the construct of objectification that they had been imprisoned in for so long.
These are my breasts—they are not sex objects that happen to be attached to my body. They are part of my body, part of me.
Originally posted on Stories From The Belly and posted with permission.
Diahann Reyes blogs at http://storiesfromthebelly.com
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