by Abigail Peabody
You are in fifth grade, sitting next to Sarah Murphy on the school bus, and she tells you she is wearing a B-cup bra. She has you lift up the back of her green tank top to read the silver writing on the band of her bra. She asks you what size bra you wear, and you reply that you just wear those camis with the built-in shelf bra.
"Oh," she says, and you study the monkey keychain on your backpack while she explains how terrible wearing a bra is, how the underwire digs, and the straps itch. She tells you that her mom predicts she'll be a D cup, "You know, the kind of boobs so big that when you lay flat on your back and pick your head up, you can't see your toes over them."
You are in sixth grade, lying naked on the carpet in your bedroom, trying to see if your boobs are so big that you can't see your toes over them. You have just bought your first bra. You noticed most of the girls in the PE locker room wore real bras and not the white training bras you had your mom purchase for you after talking with Sarah Murphy, so you begged your mom to take you bra shopping.
You stood with your mom in the Belk's fitting room; nude, grey, white, and light pink cups dangling off clear hangers. You stood topless, staring in the mirror while your mom studied your boobs, trying to determine their size. You didn't let the lady with the pink tape measurer around her neck near you. You tried on the 32A, your boobs spilling over the cups. Your mom suggested you were a 34B, and you smiled at that because you weren’t an A-cup like Sarah Murphy thought. You left the store with a 2-pack of light pink and grey cotton bras, size 34B.
Now, you lay naked on the carpet in your bedroom, light pink 34B bra cast to the side, staring at your toes, which are still visible. Your boobs have flopped over to the side and flattened out, and now, it looks like you don’t have boobs at all. You grab your boobs, pushing them together, but you can still see your toes. Your bra doesn’t even have an underwire. You bet Sarah Murphy is already a D-cup by now.
You spend the next few years filling the bottom drawer of your dresser with 34B bras: nude bras, black bras, bras with underwire, and sports bras. While out with your grandmother, you buy your first bra with lace that's on sale for $10. Pink floral lace covers the cups, and scallop lace lines the straps. At home, you stand in front of your mirror in jean shorts and your new bra, and for the first time, your boobs are pretty. You go to show your mom your new bra.
“Your boobs are falling out of the cups,” she says, “What size did you buy?” she points at your bra.
“34B,” you reply.
Your mom shakes her head at your reply and takes you bra shopping again. This time, the woman with the pink tape measurer enters the fitting room with you. The woman asks you to take off your shirt. You stand there in a white bra, your boobs folding over the top of the cups, and you now know it is wrong to look like this. The woman moves behind you and wraps the tape measurer around your boobs. Her hands are cold, and the diamond on her wedding band scrapes your armpit.
"34DD," she says. You leave the store with a new nude and black bra. When you return home, you throw out the old 34B bras, including the one with the light pink lace. You arrange the new bras in your dresser next to the white camis you haven't touched since elementary school. That night, in your summer before high school, you lie on the carpet in your bedroom, and you can't see your toes over your boobs. You look up the average bra size on your first cellphone. It's the same size as you, which doesn't make sense because everyone in 90s rom-com movies always talks about DD boobs like diamonds. You keep googling and reading under the covers about how bra sizes have increased since 2000, partially due to the increase in plastic surgery. Women pay for boobs like yours.
You enter high school with your new 34DD bras and freshly bleached hair with the goal of being skinny, pretty, and popular. You and your best friend start going on walks for hours, and you download an app that tells you to eat less than 1,200 calories daily. You survive on whipped yogurt, rice crackers, and those 100-calorie snack packs of Oreos. You lose five pounds in two weeks. Your mom notices that your turquoise athletic shorts are fitting looser and asks if you've lost weight, and you beam as you say yes. You sit with the right people at lunch, the girls with colorful shorts that are just short enough to make you question if they are following the dress code.
By the end of your freshman year of high school, you stop hanging out with those girls, and you wonder if it's because your pink metallic sneakers were too loud or if it's because your thighs now fill your athletic shorts, the nylon crinkling and riding up when you stood up from the lunch table. When you try on your old swimsuit from last year, the elastic waistband digs into your hips, carving a red 40-inch line when you pull the material away. When you let go, your old bottoms snap against your hips like a slap bracelet. You bury the bottoms in your bathroom trashcan and buy a new swimsuit, a bright pink bandeau bikini the same color as those girls' shorts. You have the kind of boobs to fill out the top, but your mom worries that it's too promiscuous. You hate how your stomach hangs over the matching pink bottoms, but you buy the bikini because you are determined to be a girl that wears a bikini.
At the beach, you stop swimming in the ocean and start laying out in the sun. You like laying on your towel because, in this position, your stomach looks flat, and when you look up, you can't see your toes, reminding you of your boobs that other women pay thousands of dollars for. You also stop swimming because when you tried diving into a wave in your pink bandeau, your boobs escaped the top. Your mom tells you your swimsuit is made for looks and not for swimming, and before this, you never realized there were swimsuits not designed for swimming.
Before going to your grandma's for the 4th of July family reunion, you buy another bandeau bikini in a blue color. You lounge on the chaise by the pool at your grandma's house despite your cousins begging you to play Marco Polo. Your grandma encourages you to get in the water, and she calls you her "little fish," reminding you of how you used to sit on the bottom of the deep end until you could no longer hold your breath. You consider jumping off the diving board, but you tiptoe down the steps into the shallow end. If you point your toes enough, the water doesn't move with your steps, like you weigh as much as the wind brushing the water. You miss how you used to dive into the water, pushing your arms out in front of you, the water parting and the ripples tickling your skin as you moved through, but your swimsuit is not made for that.
When you get out of the water, your grandma comments that you look like a young woman.
Your aunt chimes in and asks your mom, "Where did she get those?" She sits up straighter in her chaise, raising her eyebrows and narrowing her eyes in on your chest.
Your mom laughs, shakes her head, and says, "Not from me." Your aunt starts giving you advice on what to look for in a bra for extra support. You tell her that you're a 34DD.
She flicks her left hand and says, "No, that can't be right." She turns away from you to look at your mom and says, "She looks more like an F or G cup to me." She waves her finger at your mom while she says, "You should have her measured again."
Your mom takes you bra shopping again. Before the woman with the tape measurer can ask, you have removed your top. She wraps it around, pulling tight, and when she pulls back, the edges of the tape measurer scratch your skin, leaving a small red line like a paper cut.
"36DDD or 36F," she says, "I can bring you some that might work."
All of the bras are nude. Bows, lace, and color don't exist in your size. So you leave with a nude bra, advertised as having a cushioned underwire you'll never feel. You are reminded of Sara Murphy complaining about the underwire in her bra. You have been wearing bras with underwire for a whole year now and have never noticed it digging, but cushioned underwire must be preferred by women with DDD breasts because all of the bras in that size have something similar.
You lie on the floor that night, pick your head up, and try to remember what it felt like to see your toes. You think of your B-cup boobs, the pink lacy bra you bought yourself, and how you took a dance class in middle school and never thought twice about how your boobs might jiggle as you jumped up and down. You wished you had paid for your boobs. Your grandma can always pinpoint fake boobs on the street because they're too round and don't bounce. You wish your boobs didn't bounce, but your boobs are even bigger than the average woman's breast size after plastic surgery. You have boobs so big even Sarah Murphy couldn't call your boobs small. Your aunt, your mom, and your grandma all tell you how desirable your boobs make you with little smiles and quiet voices, like when they talked about you first getting your period.
You are worried someone may call you a slut. You are 15 years old and not confident enough not to care if someone calls you a slut. You worry about how someone may look at you in the grocery store because you are a 15-year-old girl, but grown men do not always look at you like that. Other men obviously avoid looking at your chest altogether; you recognize this is also a problem.
All you wear now are high-neckline tops with sleeves. You miss wearing tank tops, but the strapless bras in your size cost over $80, and you can't justify that for something you might wear once or twice with a sundress. And it hurts to go braless, the weight of your boobs flopping up and down, tugging at your skin. You are also worried it will exacerbate the sagging and stretch marks. You read in a Cosmopolitan magazine that if you can hold a pencil under your boobs, it means you have saggy boobs. So, one night before your shower, you place a pencil under your boob. It stays.
At fifteen, you panic that your boobs are already as saggy as your grandma's, and you remember your grandma doing laundry. Her bra was nude with wide straps, smooth satin, a small ribbon bow between the cups, and a seamless band. It looks just like the one you wear every day. While you are at Kohl's shopping for jeans for your sophomore year of high school, you ask your mom if you can buy a new bra. You comb through racks of purple bras, floral bras, black lacy bras, and cheetah print bras. They all stop at size DD. You head over to the bras labeled DDD. They are all cream, black, and nude smooth satin with cushioned underwire. You return to the colorful bras and grab a 38DD, supposedly your sister size.
You try on the purple bra in the Kohl's fitting room. It doesn't fit. You try on the floral bra. It doesn't fit. You try on the black lacy bra. It doesn't fit. You try on the cheetah print bra. You press down on the tops of your boobs, molding them into the circle cups. You put back on your shirt, but your boobs spill over the top of the bra and create lumps under your shirt. You put back on the purple bra, pushing and shoving your boobs until they are in the cups, but the underwire no longer sits flush with your skin. You put back on the lacy black bra. Scalloped lace camouflages your boobs peeking out from the cups.
Your mom knocks on the door and looks at you, smiling at the too-small bra. "It doesn't fit."
You try to hold your breath and draw your boobs back into your chest, but the lumps stay.
"I'm not going to buy you clothes that don't fit," your mom says, and you look down at the floor.
"It's just…" you say, and you start crying on Monday afternoon in a Kohl's fitting room. You don't take the bra off as your mom searches in her purse for tissues. You sit on the chair in the corner while your mom bends down in front of you. You slouch forward, looking at your knees; your boobs have entirely fallen out of the cups. Their fat and skin have folded on top of themselves, crushing the bra cups into little half-moons. You don't pull the cups back over your boobs. Instead, you look at your knees, at how round and small they are compared to your thighs.
"Hey, talk to me," your mom says as she hands you a pack of Kleenex. You explain to her how your bras make you feel like an old woman. You explain how you are not even a woman. You explain how you are 15 years old, no one wants to date you, and you've never kissed a boy. You explain how you just want to feel young and pretty and not desirable. You explain how you don't care what men or women think of you, just what boys and girls think of you.
As you lay in bed, you pick up your head, searching for your toes. You try to remember what it felt like to grab a bra with pink lace off the sale rack without trying it on. Are your boobs so big now because you started gaining weight after your freshman year of high school?
You try to lose weight again. You sit at Chick-fil-A with your friends, not buying anything, watching them eat. You're doing Whole30 this time, not calorie counting or Keto, because maybe it's milk making you fat and giving you pimples, and not that you're 16 and full of hormones. You hate almond milk, but you like having a reason to tell others why you're not eating. You stare at your friend eating chicken nuggets and determine that her jeans must be a size 2 or 4.
When you are 16, you go bra shopping again because your old bra straps keep slipping off your shoulder, and your mom mentions how low your boobs hang on your chest underneath shirts. You now notice this in every picture from the past three months.
The woman helping you in the fitting room does not wrap a tape measure around you and tell you your size. She asks what styles you like. You remember that your mom said you have problems with spillage. Your grandma told you that your boobs stick out to the side and that you need to find a bra that pushes them together. Your aunt told you that one of your boobs is half a cup size bigger than the other one. You relay all this information to the fitting room attendant, who tells you it's all normal but that a bra with the proper padding can fix your problems.
She asks you what color you want, but you haven't considered the color of your bra since middle school. But you still remember the pink lacy bra you bought for $10. You tell her you want something fun. She then explains to you the difference between push-up, balcony, plunge, full-coverage, and demi bras. You try them all on and discover you like the full-coverage bra with a little push-up padding. She brings you bras like that in different colors. You stand in a new pink lacy bra and look in the mirror. You don't have to push your boobs down, and the underwire sits flush with your skin. They are round and the same size, and this is how you are supposed to look, so you leave the store with two of these bras, grateful they are on sale instead of the $60 each at full price.
You continue to buy this same bra throughout high school and college. Spending over $200 a year on your boobs freaks you out, but it makes it bearable to look at yourself in the mirror. You like looking at the front of your body in this bra. Your boobs rest high on your chest. Your waist dips in and flares out into what your grandma calls "child-bearing hips." When you breathe in, your stomach doesn't protrude as much as it usually does. You like holding your breath and pretending you're skinny or at least hourglass-shaped. On your worst days, you have the type of body that can birth a child, and that's better than just being fat.
You don't like looking at yourself from the side because then you see your arms. Then, you are not hourglass-shaped. You are round, like an apple, worse than a strawberry, pear, or banana. Strawberries have boobs. Pears have hips. Bananas are models. Apples are fat. It doesn't matter how big an apple's boobs or hips are because their stomachs are too big and their shoulders too broad. When you feel like an apple, you run your hands down your sides, searching for your waist. You sigh when you find it because you might be fat, but you still have a waistline.
You tell a friend in college about how you hate having your picture taken from the side. She shares the same insecurities about her thighs. But she tells you that your weight is your happy weight, the weight that comes from making a friend's birthday cake, hiking for a sunset view, and typing stories at your desk.
You stop trying to lose weight.
When you are 20 years old, your cousin gets a breast reduction. It costs around $8,000, but the insurance company pays for it. You ask your dad to call your insurance company and inquire about breast reduction surgery for you. You write down your measurements and symptoms for him, like how you can never sit up straight for longer than 5 minutes. He tells you that the insurance company requires you to have a documented attempt at weight loss before they pay for a breast reduction. He also tells you that you won't have as much choice over the surgeon, which means you will likely have a male plastic surgeon because there's only one female plastic surgeon in your area who specializes in breast reduction. You shouldn't care—it's just a doctor. Yet, you can't get over the idea of a man drawing on your boobs with a purple marker and telling you how big they ought to be.
You look into dietitians in your area that accept your insurance, but what if the dietitian asks you to stop making birthday cakes for your friends? And this would all be easier if the insurance company would accept the past seven years you've spent trying to lose weight and ultimately gaining weight. You tell everyone that you're going to get a breast reduction, but you stop looking into dietitians and buy a new 36DDD bra, which is really just a different color of the same bra you've been buying since you were 16.
You could find something better, but you are just so tired of searching. If you get the surgery and go back to the pink floral lace B-cup bra, you wonder if you'll be able to see your toes or if your stomach is so big now that you won't see your toes anyway. You put your new bra on and lie on the floor. You look up, searching for your toes, but you don't see them.
Abigail Peabody is a writer originally from North Carolina. She currently lives in Madrid where she teaches English at secondary school and enjoys traveling around Spain and Europe in her free time. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina.