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Why I Love My Boobs

As a feminist, I believe breasts shouldn't matter. So why do I care so much how mine look, and whether I lose them?

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October 2005: My grandmother, now 82, needs someone to come live with her so she can keep living in her own house; my grandfather has passed away. At 37, I need someone too. I have left my husband, closed my business, ditched my house. I am alone and verging on despair, asking myself the questions I somehow have never asked before, not even before marrying. What is love? What matters? What are the right qualities in a partner? I agree to stay with her for a while.

A few months earlier, my grandmother received her “five years clean” report, the point in breast cancer treatment deemed as full recovery. She still wears her mastectomy bras, and I take on the task of helping her order new ones—normal on the right side, a secret compartment for an insert on the left. The inserts are laundered and become misshapen, so she replaces them every few months. She’s a 34 C but tends to slouch, so when she tries on the new bras I wind up yanking and tugging on the fake breast to get it aligned with her “real” breast. In a hurried moment, I reach for the wrong side, tugging at her real breast instead of the fake. “Ouch,” she snaps, making a face at me. We both laugh. “See,” she says, “the fake looks so good you didn’t even know which was which.” She’s right.

While living with her, I date only a little and very casually. She asks about the various men who ask me out. She asks why I left Andy. I shrug, shake my head; she pats my hand, lets it go. She says she married my grandfather because “he was smart and fun and had a big heart.”

“That’s it?” I demand.

“What else do you think there is?” she shoots back, shaking her head. My list of wants is miles longer. “Your grandfather was a bunch of other things, too, but those are the reason I married him. A lot happens in life — smart, fun and a big heart will get you through all of them.”

Meanwhile, Mary tells me to buy better bras, ones with more coverage, more support. She tells me to comb my hair. We go shopping and she vetoes the dresses I try on as either being too revealing or too matronly. She lures me out of the baggy sweaters I hide myself in and convinces me to put on a dress occasionally. She coaxes my body out of hiding. I’m still ambivalent about it — it seems unlikely that anyone truly good is going to waltz into my life because they like the glimpse of nipple at the top of my low-cut dress. I know there is a balance to be reached, but finding it seems to elude me.

Eventually, living on my own again, I begin writing full-time and date more, wear dresses again, sexy bras. I date a man who tells me he first noticed me because of my “Shazam boobs,” a man who insists he will provide me with my first “nipplegasm” if only I will let him. Then there’s a lesbian who tells me she loves my tits and my long hair — she is constantly petting my hair and groping me (objectifying tits is not the sole purview of straight men, not by a long shot).

Later, I spend a year with a man who touches my tits before he ever kisses me. At some point he accuses me of “thinking like a feminist again.” Still, I don’t leave. A friend is diagnosed with breast cancer, then another; the boyfriend and I discuss what would happen if I got breast cancer, if I needed a mastectomy. “Don’t lose a titty, baby,” he says, over and over, whenever the subject is broached. I didn’t wince, though I knew I should. And I asked again and again — and always that same, infuriating answer. Later, he says, “Oh come on, you know I’m kidding.” Do I?

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