My friend has an enormous rack. When she waitressed at a strip bar, drunk Americans would pay $30 to do a shot off of her breasts. They have been the source of many insistent ‘casual’ relationship invitations. Isolated from their sexual market value, they are also an onerous physical burden. They require a cantilever system of hoisting and separation, through bras whose construction (and cost) rival that of the Mackinac bridge. They dent her shoulders and hurt her back. She has always maintained that if your breasts are above a certain size, they become public domain. Males and females alike will think nothing of giving them a little unsolicited squeeze. This ridiculous intrusion is rarely practiced on the male testicles of our species. Now, no breasts are spared, thanks to our bored and puerile culture of constant voyeurism. Kate Middleton’s boobs are basically public property.
“Kate Middleton topless” yields an impressive 435,000,000 results. Articles about her breasts trump articles about her actions as a public figure. This ‘scandal’ epitomizes everything banal about the cult of celebrity: appearance is king, character a distant second. We all just need to see some tits.
All this rigamarole for two globs of fatty tissue. The recent firestorm surrounding Kate’s boobs is click-through heaven for online media advertisers. Alternately, rival levels of attention are given boobs whose purpose are utilitarian, with breastfeeding advocates giving them elevated, sanctified importance. I can’t speak to the holiness of boobs, but they seem an efficient and portable way to go about feeding a baby person.
For something so common (over 50% of the populace has at least one) breasts are upheld (cough) as risqué, titillating and commanding. All the women I know have some sort of special relationship to their breasts, more so than say, to their shins. They are either strapping them down or padding them to the hilt. One friend declared that her perfect, tiny breasts were “a gift from the baby Jesus himself.” Others eschew medical considerations to plump them up with silicone, a substance originally deigned for aircraft engine insulation.
When I first grew them they made me depressed. I insisted on undershirts until they could no longer be modestly contained. I bitterly resented even training bras. It sounded to me like training wheels – like I was suddenly a bike.
It was also shortly thereafter that I realized the strange, hypnotic power they wielded over the other half of the population. I’d cover up in baggy sweatshirts to avoid the boys hissing, “Tiffany Tits!” as they snapped my bra. I mastered the art of changing without ever being naked and was grateful that I wasn’t the bustiest girl in class, thus deflecting some of the idiotic attention.
Another friend stretched during grade 12 math class, and the front buttons of her sweater exploded off, richocheting off the walls. She was given a new nickname: Tommyguns. Now, years later, she notes: “I’ll feel like I have somehow succeeded in hiding them from the world… that everyone has forgotten they’re there due to my crafty fashion tricks. And then a guy will ride by on his bike and yell BOOB PARTY (2 days ago) and I’ll be right back to 12 years old in the locker room.”
A friend insisted that if, in the advent of divorce, her husband owed her a set of fake tits, as hers had been ravaged ‘giving birth to his child’. Another mentioned that her young daughter was obsessed with her breasts, wondering, “mommy…when will my boobies be long like yours?” As women, we have such conflicting information and feelings about our breasts, all of which is analyzed and magnified when we realize they may be cut off.
My younger cousin recently had a lumpectomy. This came right on the heels of her mom’s breast cancer diagnosis; a diagnosis which resulted in a double mastectomy. Growing up, my cousin had always viewed her own breasts with a mixture of indifference and scorn. A tomboy, she insisted on sports bras throughout high school, the ‘uniboob’ was satisfactorily non-sexual. Upon her mother’s diagnosis however, her perspective shifted.
“I felt a sense of loss for my mom. It wasn’t something she necessarily identified herself, she saw the mastectomy as something that needed to happen in order for her to be OK. I was mourning the loss of her breast, I was thinking about if it was me. This is an identifying feature of being a woman.”
She knew she would have to get the lump in her own breast checked out immediately. Her mom’s cancer was aggressive and hereditary. She was afraid for the lost possibilities that breasts represented in her life. When she told her landlady that she would be taking some time off and her parents would be spending some time at her place because of the surgery, her landlady’s first response was to gasp and reach forward, squeezing her boob. “Where is this lump!?” Thankfully, it was benign, and her mom is on the road to recovery. It made her re-evaluate public perceptions of something that is most decidedly personal. She worries about how societal obsession with breasts can be distinctly harmful, making a woman evaluate her worth according to how big they are, or if they are there at all.
“It’s not about breast or breast size, it’s about who you are and other aspects of yourself that make you a woman. Health is more important than having breasts. If it’s a life or death situation – being unhealthy versus being unwell – I’m definitely going to go for being healthy.”
The reality is, that when you grow a set of these puppies, your life will change. They will irrevocably change how people view you and how you will view them viewing you, how you will view yourself. They make your privates public, no matter if you’re the girl next door or the Duchess of Cambridge. The changes that can occur – puberty, pregnancy, cancer – serve as a constant reminder that while they are part of you, you really have no dominion over them at all. They won’t stay the same. That is the best thing, and the worst.
Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator for the Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson.