What Women Feel
By ELLEN LEWIS
I’ve been doing some thinking since Ali Cudby posted her last two articles in our She Buzz column. Her forthright foray into her past and those incidents that caused her the kind of shame that many women encounter, hit a nerve. Maybe it’s the entire dialog flooding the media today about a woman’s right to be respected. But whatever the reason, I decided to contribute a bit of personal testimony to the discussion.
From the time I was very young, I have not had a very positive relationship with my breasts. I grew up in 50’s coming to my teens in 1963. I was on the cusp of feminine change. My very early exposure was more Mad Men. By the time I first menstruated I was wearing a bra, underwires and all. I was larger than my friends. I have a strong memory of climbing the 4 flights of stairs to science in junior high school praying that the boys would not pull my bra strap. My mother’s solution to this debacle was to tell me not to wear sweaters. I went through high school pretty wary of the intentions of the opposite sex. It informed many social decisions in college and after.
Throughout my teens, my mother urged me to consider a breast reduction. I pushed back not understanding why it was on the table. But in my early 20’s, when I was forced to wear bras under a leotard to the beach, when a walk to work through an iffy neighborhood invited cat calls and oogly eyes from construction workers and purchasing a bra became a major trip to Saks for a special fitting, I relented. At 25, I took a few weeks off from work and had the surgery. Returning to my office, most people believed I had been deadly ill, had lost 25 pounds. I was complimented on my figure. Because I had kept it a secret, they had no idea what I really had done. In fact, I had lost only 3 pounds, discarded a boatload of misguided modesty and began to buy clothes that I could never wear before. I was now a 34C cup, could shop for bras anywhere, wear the same swimsuits as my friends, fit into the status quo. I no longer stuck out.
I don’t remember being particularly aware of my breasts infringing again on my life much until I had my first child and breast feeding became a challenge. Was this a result of my operation? Perhaps. Or it could have been my once again well-meaning mother, whose concern about her granddaughter’s nourishment coupled with her own uptight upbringing pressured me into bottle feeding. Breast issues picked up their pace after 3 pregnancies. By the 9th month of my son’s incubation, I was going braless just to avoid the pressure of a bra. The real uptick in my breast disdain revival occurred after menopause. Here I am, body thicker, boobs back to where they were before, even bigger, and my days controlled by what bra I must wear, want to wear, can wear and how fast I can get home to take it off. Once again they are controlling my life. But this time it’s not about shame. It’s about pain. Should I do it again? I am 66 years old and finally able to accept that I will never be a 6ft drink of water. I resent my breast’s infringement on my life, don’t want to undergo a knife and can’t stand my own personal preoccupation. Thank goodness, the market has found a way to accommodate women of a certain size, young, pregnant, mother mode and beyond. I guess now it’s up to me. But I believe that had I been raised to be proud of my body in the first place, this whole journey could have been very different.