In which we see how many alternative words there are for ‘boobs’ and also discuss the sexualisation of female bodies.
I was eighteen when a magician poked one of my boobs and asked, ‘When did you get these done?’ We’d just met. To this day I am still shocked that I managed to get out something like ‘about when two X chromosomes crossed over and my genetic code was determined’ instead of standing in mere shock. That may well be the only time my A-level Biology comes in handy, but it’s not the only time someone has thought parts of my body are public domain purely because they extend slightly further into the world than others.
The truth is I’ve had a complicated relationship with my chest since it popped out of nowhere at the age of thirteen. It started off with, ‘what are these?’ and quickly went to ‘I don’t want these’. A lot of the other girls didn’t have them; I felt weird. I was forced to confront what felt like the sexual aspect of being a woman before I even had my head wrapped around sex as a concept. I longed for my baby pink training bra, which was nothing more than a sheath of fabric.
I never really wanted to be ‘sexy’ and the disparity between my own relationship with my body and the leering gaze of some men when I was simply getting on with my everyday life made it feel alien to me. I wanted to remove it, and for years would find myself googling ‘breast reduction surgery’. I had no pain, and bras fit me fine, but a natural part of my body made me feel so uncomfortable that I wanted it gone. These were my boobs, my body, and if I couldn’t have ownership of them then no one could.
I’d hunch my shoulders, try to make myself smaller. I couldn’t accept the space that I took up. Girls would comment on how lucky I was, and I’d smile and laugh, all the while wanting to curl up into a ball and roll away. The shape of my body, the discussion of body shape in general, felt like public domain. I couldn’t understand why people I didn’t know had an opinion on whether my breasts would stop growing, or when. It felt personal, private. I don’t know where my desire to keep my chest hidden for most of my adolescence started and where the uncomfortable fear that someone might comment on them ended. I struggled for years to find clothes that would hide them; something that would de-sexualise them so that boys at school wouldn’t comment ‘she’s got a great rack’ when I walked away or so that men wouldn’t honk on the street.
It’s the root of my problem with catcalling. The guy who runs the local corner shop has asked to marry me and I didn’t want to shrink to the size of a pea. I think maybe I’ve even been flirted with before, and it didn’t make me feel alien from the bits of meat they’d picked off from my body. There is a difference between a compliment and objectification. There is a disparity between making someone feel good about themselves and making someone feel they can’t walk down their road without wanting to curl into themselves when some man yells ‘nice tits’ out of a van. If you don’t think you can tell the difference between complimenting someone and objectifying them, refrain from doing either until you can.
Girls are raised fearing the natural expansion of their body as they grow. Should they be naturally less curvy, they’re taught to fear the lack of hips and chest as though it impacts upon their status as a woman. Somewhere entangled in these mixed messages are the women who will perhaps never be able to see their bodies detached from the worlds’ comment on them. I will never be able to remove the sexual associations that have become too tightly woven to my lovely lady lumps. If I have children and choose to breastfeed in public, I’ll be told it’s disgusting. Why? Perhaps because it isn’t sexual, and society cannot see past the erotica of a damn nipple when it’s on a woman.
I’ve been a DD since I can remember; I’m 5”9 and now they don’t look particularly large anymore, not that it matters. But there were the years where I wasn’t so tall, before my incessant consumption of vodka during my first year at university somehow led to a final growth spurt of an extra inch or so. The reality though is that I only started to feel comfortable about my boobs and stand up straight when I grew into them. I’ve gotten better at taking ownership of my body, and I like my boobs now (except when I’m trying to sleep on my stomach). I can hold things between and under them and one day they may or may not fulfil a purpose, but they’ll always be mine. I’m not afraid, or ashamed of them anymore. But de-sexualising your own body is not something I think anyone should have to learn.
My body, my boobs and my bum; they’re all private property, no tresspassers allowed.
Follow Camilla on twitter: @camillaackley