Saturday, April 20, 2013

Breasts: A Memoir in Four Parts

The following is the text of a monologue/stand-up comedy routine/story that I told as part of Pressgang Theatre's ongoing storytelling nights. The theme of the most recent evening, where I will be performing this story, is "Great Expectations," a collection of funny, unusual and thought-provoking stories about how we try - and often fail to meet, or side-step entirely - the expectations we, and others, put on ourselves. Please imagine yourself slightly drunk, in a warm room full of well-dressed strangers, a glass of bourbon in hand.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to take a good look at my tits. I know social convention frowns on this - the usual interaction is that you look, quickly and unobtrusively, and I pretend not to notice. But tonight, I want you to feast your eyes on these melons. I deliberately wore a low-cut outfit just so your job would be easier. Consider the size, where they are on my body. Food for thought: I wear a 36-E cup, which means that my breasts stand a full six inches - half a foot! - away from my ribcage. Think about the weight, how they might look in a tank top, or as I go jogging, or in an ill-fitting bathing suit. Think about what they might look like on a fourteen-year-old, or a 68-year-old. Imagine yourself as the owner-operator of this chest. Guys, I hate to break it to you, but I spend very little of my time at home playing with them. I spend far more time trying to wrestle them into some form of social acceptability. Trying not to scare the children, or make your wife uncomfortable. Imagine trying shopping for a job interview outfit, or even a goddamned button-up shirt.

When I was eleven, Alison Riley was the first girl in our class to start developing breasts. One day, we were all the same: little flat-chested kids with long arms and straight hair. The next - bam. Puberty. Puberty was a fickle and bad-tempered mistress for me. I was slammed with all the lousy, no-good parts of puberty first: acne, weird smells, an unshakeable chubbiness that was foreign to my previously lean little-girl body. My hair changed, from stick straight blonde to something that looked like a hedge. And I became devastatingly aware of boys. Once my friends, now they were the object of crushes, which meant that I was too terrified of them to actually hold a conversation. With all that avoided eye contact and mumbling, I developed a reputation as being weird. This was not unjustified.

In the young-adult books I read, breasts were often a subject of concern. I remember reading one book that suggested that your boobs would be fully developed when you could hold a toothbrush in place under your tit; the main character replied that the only way that would happen to her is if she glued the damn thing in place with toothpaste. I came of age in a time of buxom supermodels like Cindy Crawford, and Topanga from Boy Meets World, who had an unbeatable rack.

I yearned for breasts because I thought they would be my key to the kingdom of boys. After all, boobs were sexy, and boys wanted sex; ergo, boys would want me if I had boobs. The math seemed simple enough. I imagined that breasts would give me confidence, would transform me from mousy to Madonna. Alison Riley had become the object of male fascination with her new accessories, and I vowed that I would have the same for myself. 

It might surprise the men in this audience to hear that growing tits hurts. Remember those pubescent growth spurts that would keep you awake at night, your whole body vibrating from the shock and betrayal of your next couple inches? We had the same thing, only our growth spurts were on our chests.

The process of developing breasts starts with a tenderness around the nipple. It itches, actually, but there is no way to scratch that infernal itch. Your breasts begin to swell. At this point, you spend all your waking hours trying to determine the exact moment you need a bra - too early, and you would be a poseur; too late, and you’re a floozy. Your nipples invert. You lie awake at night, trying to ignore the burn in your chest, and take a mental inventory of your clothes - which ones will hide your new assets, and which will show them off. Your parents start acting weird around you. At a certain point, you may realize that your tits aren’t going to look at all like the models in the magazines, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Remember: you are twelve years old.

The entire process take months. In the end, you have breasts. If you’re lucky, they are a pleasing size, shape, and symmetry. But, you know...probably not. They’re probably too big, too small, too low, different cup sizes, dark nipples, light nipples, and maybe even a hair or two. All your dreams come true, right?

I was twelve when I started developing, and instead of making me a sex symbol, I felt like I had a target painted on my chest. Attention from skeevy older boys was eagerly reciprocated, much to the disgust of my mom. I was one of a group of overdeveloped tweens, and our peers mocked up for allowing our boobs to grow so big. As if we had a choice. My female classmates gave me side-eye; the boys snapped my brastrap or “accidentally” brushed up against me on the bus. I withdrew as much as I could, but those damned things still stuck out. I was most disappointed in the reaction of the boys around me. I expected that growing a pair would render them helpless in my presence. After all, all the big-chested women in my magazines and Friday-night sitcoms had dudes falling all over them. What I failed to realize then was that the boobs had to be attached to someone with confidence. For something so soft, boobs make you tough in a hurry.

Mostly, they’re kind of a hassle. They get sore and swollen when I get my period, and they’re practically impossible to dress well at the office. I get inappropriate comments from men, and drunk women often think it’s okay to grope me - like they’re conducting a science experiment by feeling me up. Bras cost a ton of money, and no matter how hard I work out or how much I deny myself, there’s no way for me to diet into a B-cup.

The boob fairy was clearly drunk when she dropped off my rations, but that’s okay. I’m anticipating a rowdy support group someday - it’ll be me, Alison Riley, the ghost of Anna Nicole Smith, and all the big-titted ambivalent ladies I meet along the way. We’re out there, struggling in our turtlenecks and four-hook bras. We can see you staring. And one day, I swear to god, we are going to find a button-down shirt that actually fits.