My breasts have been my defining feature for decades—and that’s why I chose to get a breast reduction.
I started wearing a bra the summer before fourth grade. My older sister gave me one of her old ones one summer day when we were taking down laundry.
“Here,” she said, thrusting the crisp, wind-dried material into my hands. “Go try this on.”
“Yes! Just go into the lilacs and put it on.”
I creep into the tall lilacs and pull my shirt over my head, fitting the bra over me. It feels weird. Too loose to be supportive, and kind of scratchy. I pull my shirt back on and crawl out of the lilacs.
“Much better,” she exhales.
We continue unpinning the clothespins, pulling shirts, towels, pants, everything off the line, except for socks and underwear. Those were the only thing my parents used the dryer for.
This was the first intimation that something about my body was different. Something secretive, to be hidden by lilacs and extra layers of uncomfortable material.
Our junior and senior high schools were combined in one building. Seventh grade lockers were a hallway over from the senior lockers, and the puberty spectrum was incredibly apparent across the five or six year age difference.
It’s gym class. For our warm-up, we have to run around the block, around the school and athletic fields, back down to the main doors, and wind up back at the side doors to the gym. I’m jogging slowly, at the back of the pack, huffing hard. I’m not a runner.
A group of upperclassmen are standing around the baseball field. I can see them in my peripheral vision, but I’m not going to look over. I hear them laughing. My cheeks are hot, my eyes are getting teary. I find an extra burst of energy to break into a run to get to the corner, then slow to a walk. The gym teacher berates me for not trying harder to maintain a jog the entire way when I make it, last in the group, to the door.
Later that day, I’m excited to stay after school with my friends to watch a junior high football game. We’re walking to the field when I realize I forgot something in my locker. I return to the building, and climb up the steps. I walk down to my locker, passing the senior hallway. I see a few people glance over but I don’t look, I increase my pace. I can feel steps behind me. Directly behind me. Turning with me as I walk to my locker.
“Hey, it’s Jiggles!” A sneering laugh.
“Jiggles!” The other one says.
I turn to look at them. It’s three guys. One has an older brother in my brother’s grade, one rides the bus as me, the other is the son of a teacher. There is no one visible down the hall in either direction. The classroom lights are all off.
“What are you doing, Jiggles?”
I keep walking. Whatever I wanted in my locker isn’t necessary. I keep my head down and walk a little faster toward the stairs that lead outside.
“Jiggles! Show us your jiggles!” They cackle with laughter as I break into a quicker gait to run up the stairs and push the door open. I walk the length outside, around the entire school, to get to the football field.
From here on out, until this day, almost 25 years later, I wear multiple sports bras to do any kind of physical activity.
My dad created this shorthand sign for my mom to relay a message to me. He would mime pulling his shirt up to his nose. Then my mom would gently ask me to pull my own shirt up, to cover my cleavage. More covering up, more realizing that it didn’t matter what I wore. My breasts were indecent in any top. I started borrowing my dad’s tops in sixth grade—his flannels, his sweaters, all of it oversized but it kept me from being indecent—and I’m sure I was somehow searching for approval or maybe an unconscious desire to show repentance. I don’t want to be showing cleavage, I don’t want this attention.
I have to retake a math test after missing it for being ill, or maybe making up a bad grade. I don’t remember why, but I remember where. I have to go to the teacher’s office during my study hall, and it’s off of a darkened lab classroom. I sit at the desk, just inside the door, and he sits at his desk directly in front of me. Math didn’t come easily to me—although weirdly enough, I showed a high aptitude for it through college—so I’m entirely engrossed in figuring out these problems. So much so that I don’t even hear the door next to me open.
I glance up quickly, just catching the intense stare of my math teacher watching me retake this test before his eyes dart to the side. I look up at the teacher who just entered, but he’s watching my math teacher. There’s a moment before he speaks, asking about some after-school sport schedule. While they’re chatting, I change position, and realise the top two buttons of my polo had popped open.
As I grew, I tried to take charge of this narrative that having a large chest had given me. At the time, through my 20s, I might have thought I had the control. That I was the one making the decisions and calling the shots. But it wasn’t ever on equal footing or grounds. The size of my chest seemed to make as much of an impact as my face did, and both of those seemed to speak louder than any words I might say. And it seemed to put me at odds with other women. A lot.
When I interviewed for a position with a local medical device company, I knew I was a shoe-in. I was in a tech writing Masters program; I was coached by a friend of the head of the department. I wore a calf-length gray pencil skirt with a white button up top. I met with all three women in the department, and we talked about the work, about Hispanic literature, and it felt great.
I didn’t get it. The feedback that I received from the friend of the department head? I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the role, and it would be distracting to the engineers. This happened in 2008.
Other women have often felt compelled to comment on my breasts. Men would ogle or stare, but women were more chatty. Maybe due to our shared gender, or some misguided attempt at mentoring. One summer, when I was 19, I worked selling fireworks. In the checkout, a woman paid, then hung back for a moment to tell me that I needed to cover up and that “her husband wasn’t even looking.” I was wearing the company’s standard-issue random Americana-esque T-shirt.
Some women would be complimentary, either outright kind of congratulating me for their size (like I had anything to do with it), or lamenting their own lack of extra chest fat. Boobs are deeply, deeply tied to femininity and sensuality in our culture. I think it’s somewhat uncomfortable for any woman, even when we think we’re taking control in some way.
I felt that way in my 20s. I thought I could reclaim the narrative with a little promiscuity, the “ho days” as some friends affectionately call them. The problem was that I was still trying to play by the same rules. If guys can do it, I can, too. If they’re going to celebrate my body, I’m going to do it, too. But at the end of the day, it just felt sloppy and lonely. Shilling Miller Lite in a tight tank top in country bars, taking shots and dancing, singing loudly and looking for the next party was an empty existence.
And in the end, if all that mattered was my looks and my youth, it wasn’t going to go anywhere. I got my Masters degree and found work that wasn’t concerned about distracting engineers. I’ve continued down this road, slowly letting go of appearance-based events and roles (or more accurately, roles that I felt only deserved due to my looks). Moving into marriage, motherhood, and remote work, the ultimate F-U to office culture fashion.
And my boobs are still here, present as always. Making the decision to get a breast reduction feels like saying goodbye to a big weight. At first, I was simply excited from a physical perspective—at least 12 pounds off my chest, shoulders, and neck, and having the ability to button shirts and not size up just to get my chest into tops—but over the course of writing this, I find tears filling my eyes. All the unwanted attention, then trying to convince myself that it was good attention, and finally letting it fade away as these giant breasts nourished my daughter. It’s been a true journey of learning to appreciate my body.
But also feeling truly ready to reclaim it as my own.
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