Getting It Off My Chest: Life With Really Big Breasts
Turns out they did meet me after all.
Last year, a friend told me that her husband struggles to hold a conversation with me because he “can’t get past my breasts”. I checked that their sheer size wasn’t blocking his way to the exit (this has been known to happen). It wasn’t that. It was those things on the front of my body, which secrete milk after childbirth. They were emotionally intimidating a grown man.
And he isn’t alone. With depressing regularity, I meet people who “can’t get past my breasts”. Some guy shouts, “Look at the rack on that!” from a passing car. As I arrive at a party in an outfit I’d felt comfortable in only seconds before, a friend takes one look at my cleavage and sniggers, “The girls are out.” At university, a professor tells me I’m distracting him during lectures. I spend a few weeks wondering what, exactly, he wants me to do with them, then transfer to a different course. I’ve been advised to “Get ’em out, love!” and “Put ’em away, slag!” on the same day, wearing the same clothes, walking along the same street. Is it any wonder that my breasts and I have had a complicated, often confusing relationship?
Over time, my bra size has varied from a 32C at my smallest to a 38K at my biggest, while I was pregnant with my second daughter. Now, at the age of 34, I find myself the not-so-proud owner of a pair of 32GGs that protrude from my size-10 frame like an obscene cake topper. This year, I lost 3st in weight, but went down only one cup size. I’m built this way. I’m not doing it on purpose.
Here are a few things that my enormous breasts make me feel: cumbersome, bulky, matronly, mumsy, lumbering, massive, unwieldy, hefty, laden, out of proportion, cartoonish, imbalanced, embarrassed. Here are some things they don’t make me feel: abundant, bountiful, blessed, womanly, feminine, confident, sexy, attractive.
I’ve been advised to 'Get ’em out' and 'Put ’em away' on the same day.
It hasn’t always been this way. Back in the days when my boobs were perky, I took full advantage – and why not? Pushing my elbows together while leaning over packed-out bars usually meant I got served very quickly; when I worked as a waitress, the contents of my tip jar seemed to swell in direct correlation with the tightness of my shirt.
However, staying in control of a huge pair of breasts is difficult. In the same way that people will touch a pregnant belly without seeking permission, big breasts are often treated as public property. Strangers in bars open conversations with, “What size are they?” or, “Are those things real?” Wags at parties wonder if I’ve ever lost anything in my cleavage. Perverts offer to help me look for mislaid items. I’m pretty certain that I’ve had my breasts honked (complete with hilarious sound effects), groped, squeezed and “accidentally” brushed against more times than a woman with average-sized assets (which, in the UK, is a 36DD).
When I was younger and more unsure of myself, it was easy to fall into the role of “the one with the tits”, because letting my breasts define me meant that I didn’t have to worry too much about defining myself. But around the time I turned 30 and gave birth to my first daughter, I found myself wanting to be taken more seriously, and to fit in with the other mothers I met.
I’m not sure it’s working. I’ve developed a sinking feeling that my breasts might be spreading lies about me in the school playground, undermining me at work and, above all, betraying who I am – now that I know for sure myself. They want me to be the person I was before my children came along. I know we had good times together, but I’ve moved on and I often guiltily wonder what life might be like without them.
Talking to other large-breasted women of my age, I realised I’m not alone. “Big boobs aren’t a blessing, they’re a curse,” one says bleakly, before divulging an all-too-familiar list of physical complaints: constant back, neck and shoulder ache, permanent marks and sores caused by bra straps and under-wiring, painful rashes under each breast, difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position. “It’s a physical necessity to hold a breast in each hand when I run for a bus or up the stairs,” another friend tells me. “I do that, too,” I interrupt, excitedly. “It makes me look like a weirdo from a Benny Hill sketch.”
Like me, they also find exercise difficult – even low-impact activities such as swimming (my breasts are essentially giant flotation aids) and yoga (I must forgo any poses that involve lying on my front, or side, or bending over). Despite wearing as many sports bras as I have legs, I struggle to heft my breasts along with me on my regular jogs. As running holds the key to my sanity, however, I’ll continue to do it, even if I have to employ someone to skateboard alongside for support. (That’s a job description I’d like to write.)
The biggest source of frustration and misery, however, the one that eclipses all others, is the daily torment of getting dressed. Necklines are the biggest minefield: too high and you suffer from an effect I call “the wall of boob”: a classic look for matrons and maiden aunts, this effectively turns you into the prow of a ship. But go for anything lower than a polo neck, and you’re deliberately flaunting your wares – “asking for it”, as my dad used to say when I tried to leave the house wearing two doilies and a mini-skirt as a teenager.
The list of no-go areas for dressing the top-heavy body is endless. No to anything flowing or loose-fitting, unless you want to be a human marquee. No to being your best friend’s bridesmaid, because she’ll undoubtedly want you to wear a strapless dress, which will undoubtedly end up round your waist on the dancefloor. No to anything clinging or even remotely tight (see above re “asking for it”). Animal prints, gingham, pigtails, corsets or knee-high boots will make anyone bigger than a D cup look like a porn star. Well-stacked women have the utterly useless talent of making even the most expensive, exquisitely cut garment look instantly obscene. And don’t be fooled by those articles that purport to teach you “how to dress a curvy shape”. The most useful piece of advice I’ve come away with is: “Carry a really, really huge bag to detract attention.”
Over the past five years, I’ve breastfed two children into toddlerhood. It’s been the only time that my feelings about my breasts have been truly uncomplicated. That’s where the true power lies: my eldest used to clap when I reached to unhook my nursing bra. When I weaned my youngest child recently, it felt a good time to take a proper look at my breasts. Circled with angry purple stretch marks, they now point due south. The skin that covers them is creped and saggy. They bear the scars of tiny teeth and nails. They’re still absolutely huge – but, oh, how the mighty have fallen.
I conceal my breasts as best I can: from the world, from my partner, even from myself. When I do catch sight of them in the mirror – hanging from my chest like sad, deflated balloons – I can’t help feeling that the party’s well and truly over.
Covert research into breast-reduction surgery tells me that the procedure is painful, invasive and carries serious risks. After giving birth, the idea of pain doesn’t frighten me. I also think I could live with the not-insignificant scarring the scalpel would leave in its wake. What I find more difficult to stomach is the feeling that I’d be butchering and betraying my breasts in order to conform to ideas and ideals that shouldn’t exist.
So we inhabit a no man’s land, my breasts and I. They’re a part of who I am, they nourished my children; but I find it increasingly difficult to swallow the feelings of disgust and self-loathing they now invoke.
Is this normal? “In the long term, coming to terms with your body may be more helpful than permanently altering it,” psychologist Honey Langcaster-James tells me. She points out that people can become over-focused on a body part they’re unhappy with, which can be symptomatic of difficulties they’re having in other areas of their lives, difficulties that surgery definitely won’t fix.
My breasts are safe for now. Whatever I decide, it boils down to one question: if I was secure in myself and in who I am, why would I care what assumptions are made about me based on my bra size? I hope one day I can truly believe that my big breasts are your problem, not mine.