One night I went to sleep a fifth-grader with tiny bumps on my chest and woke up the next morning with breasts rivaling those of tennis star Simona Halep. I exaggerate just a bit, of course, but it’s more truth than fiction.
Simona Halep has folks talking because of her plans for breast reduction surgery; her large (reportedly 34DD) breasts get in the way of her tennis game. Everyone, it seems, has some sort of opinion on the young athlete’s decision.
I feel her discomfort, and no one should judge her decision without first walking a mile (or an entire day) with her breasts.
While breasts carry deep, primal meaning — they nourish; they inspire; they comfort; they arouse; they attract great and sometimes weird attention — they also hold physical implications, limitations and complications for their owners.
The words we use to describe breasts are so telling: When you talk about bosoms, you conjure up images of comfort and intimacy and love. You cradle a child to your bosom, the place from which America and apple pie also spring. Boobs are what Girls Gone Wild flash carelessly in a misguided effort to achieve some sort of star status while appealing to the most prurient interests of testosterone-raging males; boobs also describe testosterone-raging men who can’t get their eyes off a woman’s breasts. No one goes to Hooters to ponder democracy, and tits go hand-in-hand with ass.
The world is simply dysfunctional about breasts. Much like the approach the three bears took to their porridge, breasts are either too big, too small, or just right. And what’s just right for one person isn’t right for someone else.
Discomfort is the reality of big breasts: the backaches; the sore shoulders from bras that lift and separate and minimize and support; and, of course, dealing with some men (but that’s a post for another day).
On top of backaches and other challenges, it’s also a struggle to find properly fitting clothes. I can’t think of a fashion designer who creates stylish clothing that flatters super-endowed women.
I live this truth. But don’t just take my word for it – ask any woman who is at least a DD. They’ll tell you how difficult it is to shop for clothing — especially professional wear — that fits just so. Necklines are too low, the drape is usually wrong, bra straps show, and jackets never button properly. After a severe safety-pin malfunction in my teenage years, I learned to sew closed shirts that button up the front and then slip them on and off over my head.
I’ve worn an off-the-shoulder dress just once in my life, when I was a bridesmaid. It was a frighteningly Mother Nature-esque, white, billowing gown with elastic around the neckline and waist. Going bra-less wasn’t an option for this girl in that dress, so I hunted desperately for a strapless bra. I ended up at a high-end department store. The saleswoman raised an eyebrow when I asked whether they carried strapless bras in my size.
“We’ve got some specialty bras in the back,” she said. “Let me take a look for you.”
She emerged with a big, strapless bra that was not only underwired, but “boned,” which meant it had wide wires running up the sides, presumably to keep it in place.
That bra looked big and stiff and scary, like some sort of medieval torture device. On top of that, I couldn’t grasp the physics of it; it seemed impossible to contain my breasts by supporting them only from the bottom. But the saleswoman was confident in her product. “If this boned bra won’t do it, nothing will,” she said.
So I bought it.
While the bra was excrutiatingly uncomfortable — I felt like I couldn’t breathe deeply — it seemed at first to do its job quite nicely. Then, as I began my march down the aisle, I felt the bra shift in such a way that I knew my breasts had begun fighting for independence from the cruel undergarment. I worried they would win.
I was almost down the aisle when the bra surrendered and flopped, not over, but straight forward; it was like that damn bra was presenting my breasts for inspection. I spent the ceremony keeping everything in place by holding my bridesmaid’s flowers tightly to my chest.
While that was the first and last “boned” and strapless bra I’ll ever purchase, I regularly wore bras with underwire for support, and wide shoulder straps for a modicum of comfort. There were many a time, by the end of the day, that my shoulders were grooved from the straps and the area under my breasts sore from the stiffness of the underwire. As most people kick off their shoes the minute they get home from work, I am expert at unhooking and snaking off my bra without disturbing any other clothing.
But even the dependable underwire can malfunction.
I was in the midst of a raucous evening in a bar during the annual convention of the professional association for which I worked at the time. It was one of those magical evenings that stay in the mind long after they’re done, a party resplendent with great energy and perfect karma.
I took a break from dancing to chat with an association acquaintance, a lovely gentleman who had always treated me professionally and with great respect. As I sat down, I noticed he was staring at my chest. This man had never done anything like that before. Never.
I felt confused and uncomfortable. I hoped he’d break his gaze away from my chest and look at my face, but no doing.
Finally, I glanced down.
There, rising out from my sweater was the underwire from my bra, emerging from my clothing like a radio antenna in search of better reception, or a periscope desperate for a better view. Frankly, I was surprised it hadn’t stabbed me in the chin and drawn blood. That wire must have worked its way loose and tried to make a run for it while I was dancing.
The man saw me look down and notice the obvious wire protruding from my sweater. There wasn’t much more to do but laugh. Or was there?
Fueled by alcohol and the weirdness of the sight, I seized the wire and pulled it the rest of the way out. I marveled at its size and curve, both testament to its power. I had never seen an underwire from a bra before; it resembled an ancient, thin, sharp, hand-held weapon fully capable of decapitating a man in a single slice.
“No sense anyone getting hurt,” I joked.
So, my breasts have been uncomfortable for me throughout my life, but I soldiered though, confident in the hope that nature gave them to me for a reason.
When I gave birth to my only child, I thought I’d finally realize why I’ve carried these breasts around all my life. I imagined a flow of milk to rival Niagara Falls. Heck, I figured I’d be able to nurse my child and provide power to my town.
But that wasn’t meant to be.
My big breasts produced but a miniscule amount of milk.
I was dumbfounded, let-down. My doctor recommended drinking beer to relax me and stimulate milk production; it didn’t help.
Then, she recommended an electric breast pump. “Maybe you just need to get in the habit of producing milk regularly,” she said, so I rented a machine from the hospital supply store.
I hooked up to that noisy machine and pumped every two hours, ’round the clock, for a month. The only thing that increased was my frustration, so I supplemented my baby’s diet with formula. And he’s growing up just fine, thank you.
These days, I seek comfort rather than perkiness, eschewing underwire for “soft-cup” bras that do the trick nearly as well without the level of discomfort and occasional element of surprise.
While I’m going through with my original equipment, I have several similarly endowed friends who’ve opted for breast reduction surgery. I do not judge. In all honesty, I understand their decision, even though I’ve never considered reduction surgery for myself. They’re my breasts, after all, and I’m sticking with them.
- Howell, Michigan, USA
- February 17
- Maria Stuart is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, their teenage son, and Ted, the hyper labradoodle who keeps her from sitting at the computer too long. You can check out her website at mariastuart.com or TheLivingstonPost.com. Follow @mariastuart on Twitter.
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