(Just a heads up, this post contains some explicit images.)
Most parts of the human body remain gender neutral.
Hands, for example. Both boys and girls have them. Legs. Arms. Wrists, knees, neck, collar bones, stomach, back, buttcheeks. Almost all parts of the body are common to both male and female of the species. When I compare myself to my male counterpart, there are a lot of ways we are similar. Although the length and size and girth and strength of our equivalent parts differ due to my feminine designation, the parts are the same. Thighs are thighs, mouths are mouths, hair is hair.
All parts are the same, save two – genitalia, and breasts.
And, since genitalia are tucked neatly and privately away inside our clothes, breasts are most obvious distinction between male and female anatomy.
Breasts are, as our culture tends to show us all the time, the part of our body that makes us women.
Yep, breasts = women.
Also, breasts can be round and soft. Voluptuous. Attractive. They are feminine at any size. In our culture, breasts are considered sexy. They are stimulating both visually and physically, and regardless of perspective they are considered sexual organs, part of our reproductive process. On a level of awareness that most people miss, they are loving and nurturing, almost divine in their ability to produce manna-like nourishment from nothing but water and breath.
Growing up, as it is for most girls, the arrival of my breasts was an anxious, exciting, butterfly-metamorphosis experience. I waited so eagerly. So impatiently. Whenever I would walk through the mall or the clothing section at the grocery store, I’d drag my feet through the lingerie department. “Hey, there’s bras over there, maybe we should look. You know, just in case.” I was READY. I was ready to need a pretty undergarment. I was ready to do that fancy clip-it-behind-your-back thing, and the strip-it-off-without-taking-off-your-shirt thing from Flashdance. I wanted boobs, and all the other fancy, womany, grown-up things that went with them.
Finally, after waiting FOREVER, my breasts started to come in. At the start they were little lumps pushing against the inside of my shirt, not visible from the outside of the fabric, but visible from the inside when I tucked my face inside the neckhole of my t shirt. (And yes, in the beginning I did that a lot. I was super excited, duh.) They grew slowly, they moved from little lumps to modest bumps,
then they stopped growing.
oh. my. goodness.
Hi. My name is Erin, and I am one of the founding members of The Itty Bitty Tittie Committee. (call sign: skittles)
At first, I was pissed. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME, GRANDMA’S BOOBS WERE HUGE (they were), I HAVE A COUSIN THAT HAD TO HAVE SIX POUNDS TAKEN OUT (not kidding), I HAVE ANOTHER COUSIN THAT WEARS A BRA THE SIZE OF MY PILLOWCASE (still serious), HOW IS THIS (angry pointing at chest) ALL I GOT. FUCK YOU, FATE. FUCK. YOU.”
I ranted and railed, cried and grieved, but just like any of the other realities we cannot change, I had to eventually accept it.
Learning to identify as female was hard for me, for a lot of reasons. My sexual compass was all messed up. My hands and feet were bigger than my mother’s by the time I was thirteen. I was clumsy and awkward, more than the average teen. I enjoyed doing boy things, like digging in the dirt and rolling in the mud and shooting guns and playing with Transformers. I did not like ruffles or frills or glitter or bows.
Consider all those not-traditionally-girly tendencies, slap a pair of super small, not super feminine boobies on my rail thin body, and yeah.
I had problems.
At the time, if I had to choose one word to describe how my breasts make me feel, I would have said “inadequate.”
They were just not quite enough.
To get over this notion, to accept my reality, I tried to look at the bright side.
I played sports. My breasts were just the right size for the type of activity I participated in.
I dug in the dirt and changed my oil and rolled in the grass for fun. My breasts never got in the way, they never hurt.
I’m an anorexic at heart. My breasts were distinctly “not fat,” and since breasts can be composed of up to 50% fat, they really didn’t have much of a chance.
I had small breasts, and I just had to get okay with it.
It took some doing, accepting the hand I’d been dealt. Most of my middle and high school years were spent in baggy clothes, both because of my anorexic nature and my lack of chest adornment. I wore clothes to hide what I was, and I wore clothes to hide what I wasn’t. I eventually left home and went to college, and it was there that I found some peace with my physical self. I lived in a sorority, I was surrounded by boobies (not in the dumb shower pillow fight way most men would like to envision, but in a clothed and modest capacity), and I realized that boobs, just like people, come in all shapes and sizes.
What I had, I could get okay with.
I eventually did.
Then I had kids.
Then I BREASTFED my kids.
Then, just as I had been forced to accept the first hand of have-some-tiny-boobie cards I’d been dealt at the start, I had something new to deal with. Something new, and not even the same kind of thing. It was as though the dealer took my boobie cards, stuck them back in the deck, shuffled, SWITCHED DECKS, cut the new deck in half, shuffled again, and handed out some new cards.
Fewer of them, and some of them wrinkled and saggy.
One day, about two days after my third baby weaned completely from breastfeeding, I looked in the mirror.
It was like someone had flipped a switch.
You know those silly parachute-fabric advertising balloon men that dance in front of car lots, moving around all stiff and wonky because they have a fan blowing up their backside, filling them up and filling them out?
Have you seen what they do when you shut the fan off?
On that day, wherever the fan was that blew up chesticles, someone had shut it off.
And now, my dear friend, I’m about to show you a picture of my breasts.
Before I do, I want to segue for a moment and touch on an important topic, one that is vital to The Body Image Project and fundamental for all of us as women. If you read just this one sentence, refuse to read further, and forget everything you read before, as long as you remember this ONE IMPORTANT POINT, my job here is done:
Your body is a biological creation, and there is nothing gross, shameful, or disgusting about it. EVER.
Just like money, the internet, sex, religion, alcohol, food, or any other medium of indulgence, it is not what it is that makes it dirty and bad, it’s how you use it. If I show a picture of a breast in a medical journal, it means something very different than if I text a picture of my nipple to my spouse. Context does matter. “WHY” ALWAYS MATTERS.
Some of us were taught at a young age that genitalia and breasts are shameful. “Don’t show anyone those, DON’T TOUCH THAT, those are private, shame on you, go to your room, you should be punished.” Some of us were taught that we weren’t to touch, even to clean, and ESPECIALLY not for pleasure. Some of us are cracked and dented from life experience, and our bodies themselves act as triggers, sending us into spirals of shame and disgust, self-hate and fear.
Trust me. I get it. I get all of those things.
What I want you to understand is that, no matter what you’ve been taught, no matter what shame and guilt you carry around with you about your sexuality, your physical self, or your sexual response, there is nothing wrong with you. Your body is a machine, albeit one of meat and bone, and as a machine it is designed to perform the task for which it was created. It is made to LIVE, to love, to run and play and jump and explore and hold and eat and drink and rest and fornicate and reproduce, and it is meant to enjoy doing all of those things.
And, just like we should understand how to operate all the machines we surround ourselves with every day, we need to know how the machine we live in works. We should be able to look at the body we live in with a curious mind, a scientific approach, and an emotional void. Like picking out a steak at the meat counter, we need to know what and why and how our bodies do what they do.
Knowing what your breasts look like is a good thing. Knowing what they feel like is important, because routine breast exams can save your life.
Knowing what your vagina and labia and anus look like is a good thing. You should know, and your partner should know.
Knowing what your clitoris is is a GREAT thing, and knowing what it does is even better. Understanding your own sexual response is key to a stellar sex life.
And, if I might be so bold, knowing what your vagina and cervix feel like from the inside is a hugely, important, good thing. Not just “because they are being stimulated,” but because YOU are touching them. Cleaning. Examining.
I’m sure that for some of you even the thought is making your toes curl with embarrassment, but I’m being serious. It’s YOUR BODY, you walk around with it for (if you’re lucky) a hundred years, you should know what it does and what it’s capable of.
In the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, I remember a scene that involved the phrase, “Ladies, straddle your mirrors.” At the time I thought “OH MY GOODNESS THAT IS SO BAD.”
ESSENTIAL. Superb. Intelligent, ahead of its time, WONDERFUL, and I think every woman should do just that.
With all that in mind, I post this picture. It is not meant to offend, but to open some minds. To make you think (“wow, I could probably take a picture of my own boob and it wouldn’t be too bad”), to validate you (“oh, I’m not the only one that had my boobs sucked out of my body by children”), and to empower you to know yourself, without shame and without reservation, at a level and depth you have never known before.
In all honesty, I don’t mind the way my breasts look. I’ve grown mentally in the last few years. I’m emotionally mature. (I say that with finger quotes, because I still laugh at cartoon movies, cry at dog food commercials, and chuckle at poop jokes.) Through a lot of self-therapy, mentoring, support, sweat, and tears, I’ve learned how to accept myself for what I am, and I’ve stopped hating myself for what I’m not.
My breasts are small. On a bloaty day, I wear a size 34 A+, not quite a B cup. My nipples (covered politely with stars, to avoid generating porn results when you Google this blog post) are dark caramel brown, and they point almost straight forward. I learned the hard way that this is a Japanese trait, and that when you shop for bras in a store frequented by white women, you find bras cut in such a way that your nipples pop out the front, just above the hem of the cup.
My breasts are sloped. You can see it especially in that second picture. This is a new, “since babies” thing. It took some getting used to. Although small, my breasts were perky before I had kids. Not so much now. They slant downward, and they sag enough that I gather sweat under there if I’m not adequately clothed. (the boob sweat is also new. my fellow athletes will sympathize, it is a strange sensation.)
My breasts are lopsided. I had, up until I breastfed my first child, and inverted nipple on the left side. It resulted in uneven nursing, which resulted in uneven milk production, which resulted in uneven engorgement, which resulted in uneven, deflated breasts. I didn’t actually know they were THIS lopsided until I took this picture, but after looking at the photo it doesn’t surprise me. (Also, I was told that most women have one breast bigger than the other. It’s more normal than not, kind of like feet.)
My breasts are marked. They have hair around the areola. Thick, dark ones. They have stretch marks and scars from tiny teeth and way-too-much milk.
My breasts have fed my three children over 11,123 meals. (Yes, I did the math.) They have been bitten, yanked on, scratched, blistered, bloody, engorged, and scabbed. They have served my children well, and for that I am very grateful. Only a woman who has carried a baby inside of her, given birth, breast fed, then raised that child herself can understand what true, total, absolute, physical, turn-yourself-inside-out change feels like. If growing breasts was a delicate, butterfly-like metamorphosis, childbirth is like changing a whole cow into ground beef by stuffing C-4 up its ass. It is not delicate. It is not gentle. It is not graceful.
It is hard and abrasive and abrupt.
It is also worth every crazy, painful, volatile moment.
As I stand firmly in that perspective, I really don’t mind the way my breasts look. I’m actually kind of proud of them.
My breasts have grown my children.
What an amazing thing.
Self-acceptance is not an easy undertaking. We live in a world where most women do NOT accept themselves. PEOPLE do not accept themselves. As a society we spend more money on porn and apps and fast food individually than on almost all other line items put together. We pay to forget, because accepting our reality is HARD.
Do it anyways.
To you, my friend and kind reader, I genuinely encourage you to embrace your physical self. Take photos. SHARE photos, even if it’s just with your spouse. Look at who and what you are, without shame, without hiding, without covering your eyes. Find those parts of your reality that trigger fear, and lean into them. PUSH BACK. Own them, and they can no longer own you.
You are so beautiful, and you are enough. Just as you are.
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Live every day like it’s your last one. Find yourself, own your truth, and change your whole world. Forge Depth, and never stop digging.
Push on, my friend.
Always push on.