Busting Out All Over

There are three little words that every big-busted woman out there has grown to know and love. “I’m up here.”

In the interest of precision and honesty, I will tell you that at current measurements, I am a 36H. To give you a bit of context for that, picture a fairly normal ribcage and stack two cantaloupes on it side by side. I don’t blame you if you can’t quite picture it, though. Even Google has a hard time with it. For comparison, I just typed “36C” into Google Images.


Mostly breast-related, right? Now try “36H”.


After several pages of results, there’s nary a tit to be seen. When I typed in “36H breasts” (an activity I highly recommend if you’re at work, by the way), the results may as well have come back like this.


It’s aggravating, to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate my body. Aside from the back problems, I kind of dig the buxom look. Strap those suckers up right and I can fill out a sweater so well you’d speak in tongues. It’s not the breasts. It’s the accompanying… unpleasantness.

The indignity starts as soon as I get dressed in the morning. Where a woman of more modest proportions has bras, I have buttresses. I open the drawer to see plain black and beige staring back at me like a stern German governess. The odd bit of cheerful bright lace peeks out, but the price tag relegates them to special occasion status. Sorry, flirty blue, sultry red, pretty purple. I can’t play today. You are a Sometimes Bra. Fräulein needs to go to work now.

Wait, let me back up a second. Did I mention the price tag? Because shelling out the equivalent of one of my utility bills to look like someone’s tattooed grandmother under my clothes is not an experience I particularly relish. It is of no help whatsoever that when I go into La Senza (the Canadian equivalent of Victoria’s Secret and just as incompetent, if not moreso), I am set upon by some clueless salesgirl who is dead set on selling me whatever bra is the next big thing. The last time I was there looking for underwear, this exchange followed.

Perky Salesgirl: Hi! Can I interest you in the new WatersexxxTek bra? It features a triple push-up with water-filled inserts and a clever hidden atomizer filled with our newest perfume, Fancy Pomegranate Slut!

Me: No thanks. I’m just here to look at the underwear. Where are those little Brazilian cheeky things that are really ass-flattering?

Perky Salesgirl: Are you sure? It’s available in all 216 hexadecimal colour codes!

Me: No thank you. You guys don’t actually carry my size, so I’ll just continue looking at the underwear, thanks. Where are the ones I was looking for?

Perky Salesgirl: (confused) We don’t carry your size? We have everything up to DD-cup!

Me: Ha. Hahaha. No. I’m an H-cup. The underwear…?

Perky Salesgirl: …are you sure a DD-cup wouldn’t fit?

Me: I… what? Yes, I’m sure. Having had them since elementary school, I know where my tits are and are not willing to go. They will bound cheerfully into well-fitted bras, the odd corset, and into the capable hands of professorial-looking dudes in glasses. They will balk like a spooked horse at going into strapless dresses, halter tops, games of strip poker since 2007, and I can tell you as sure as I’m standing here that they are not going anywhere close to a DD-cup bra.

Perky Salesgirl: I can check in the back for an E-cup…

Me: No. Please find me an employee who will help me find what I’m looking for. Preferably one that is of voting age.

And so forth.

It’s the comments that really seal it, though. What’s weird is that the worst of it doesn’t come from men. Men stare too long sometimes, but only the most juvenile and crass will say something. Pretty much all the worst and most demeaning comments come from other women.

“Ugh, thank God I don’t look like that. I don’t know how she stands up.” (Just fine, thanks. You’d find it doesn’t impede my right hook much, either.)

“Holy shit, you’ve got really big boobs.” (Holy shit! So I do. I managed not to look down once since puberty.)

“Wow, Jugs! No trouble to tell what the guys like you for, is it?” (Thank you! I didn’t realize intelligence and a daffy sense of humour was as obvious upon first glance as being a shallow bitch!)

“Are they real? Can I touch them?” (They are imaginary and no you may not.)

I probably sound bitter and I don’t mean to. It’s just that I’ve had a total of seventeen years of this kind of bullshit, and it gets tiresome.  It’s not much fun being remembered by casual acquaintances as “the one with the tits”. It’s kind of irritating to be treated like Sideshow Boob by strangers.

Still, it’s hard not to smile on those good days, the tight sweater days. A little vexation and a whole lot of va-va-voom. Not the worst trade-off.

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Skin

freckle

Shoulders, nose, arms, cheeks.

Sunblock wasn’t the done thing when I was growing up. I remember going out into the blistering sun to feel the heat winding and settling like a living thing, watching the skin turn brown like toast and then flushing pink. I remember peeling back sunburn as gleefully as I’d unwrap a present. New freckles showed up on a near-daily basis and I’d look for constellations in the bath as the water cooled around me.

Last week I went to the park. The sky was cloudless and perfect. I wiggled my toes in the grass and thought about summers past, with bicycles and ice cream and barefoot hopscotch on sizzling pavement. I remembered going to bed the same time as the sun, falling asleep under just a cool sheet, hair still tangled and lips still sugary-sticky, waiting for something I couldn’t put my finger on.

The breeze washed over me and brought me back to reality, with all its bills and complications and a body that seems significantly older every time I take note of it. Summers just aren’t the same as they used to be.

Still, the sun draws the freckles to the surface. They brighten and spark like living memory, tingling on my skin like sugar on the tongue. You are still here, they seem to say. All is not lost yet.

scar

Knees, face, feet, head.

Grace is not one of my virtues. Before I learned to be mostly still, I careened through my surroundings like a whirling dervish, bouncing off the nearest surface in my heedless haste. Most of my scrapes and scratches didn’t leave any lasting evidence, but my skin bears a few reminders of carelessness past.

The knees are splotchy pink, peppered with a million clumsy hopscotch falls and failed fence climbs. If you look closely enough, you’ll see the faded road rash from being pulled down onto the pavement in walking my exuberant dog. That dog is long gone, blurry in my memory, but the scars remind me of a best friend I used to have. The sting of hydrogen peroxide hovers just below the surface, just barely dulled.

There are small acne scars on my chin and cheeks. They are still the bane of my existence, but the little divot on my forehead makes me smile at the remembered outrage of a bout with chicken pox in my late teens. My very first driver’s license photo had one perfect dot on my face, a humourless punctuation mark to my expression.

My ankles and feet betray a weakness for footwear that eschews comfort in lieu of style. Red stiletto heel, black suede peep-toe, faux-snakeskin pumps, I love you all. The blisters were worth it.

The punchline to all of them is hidden underneath my hair, just at the crown. I fell down a flight of stairs onto the corner of a piano. That right there is a lifelong dedication to physical comedy.

line

Eyes, hips, thighs, breasts, belly.

I remember the very first stretch marks I ever got. I was eleven years old and in full bloom, my body making unfamiliar shapes like I was being sculpted by invisible hands. Girls curled their lips and whispered behind books about how I was stuffing my bra while the boys snapped at its straps. I didn’t understand why this thing I hadn’t asked for suddenly made me public property to be discussed and poked and prodded. Didn’t understand why older men sometimes stared a little too long. Why I was supposed to be ashamed.

My body became something that was always hidden from view. I got dressed in the dark.

At first what I noticed was the itchiness along the side of my hip. Mosquito bite, I figured, scratching at it absently. When I looked, I saw angry red stripes. After spending a solid two weeks convinced I was dying of scarlet fever or some such ailment, I worked up the nerve to ask my mother what they were.

“Stretch marks,” she said gently. “They happen sometimes when your body grows so fast.”

I asked if they ever went away. She told me that they didn’t, but they do fade. Just one more indignity to add to the growing pile of resentments I had toward puberty. The lines kept coming, marking me in all the places I hated. My body was growing so fast that it was literally tearing me apart. I felt like crying and keening like a wild animal.

They’ve all faded now, just like my mother said they would. Just little grooves that don’t quite have a colour anymore. Not quite pink, not quite white. In just the right light, though, they’re shot through with silver. Tigress stripes.

Different lines are coming now, evidence of laughter and worry borne out around my eyes. I wish I could tell you that I’ve made my peace with the idea, but I haven’t quite yet. Some days, they’re a sign of a life being lived to the fullest. Some days, I contemplate making a savings account for Botox in ten years. My body has a mind of its own and I can’t seem to keep up.

tattoo

These are different from all the others. I chose them, decided exactly where they’d be and what they would look like.

My lower back bears a black phoenix. I was nineteen years old and hadn’t yet heard the phrase “tramp stamp”. My grandmother had passed away a few months before and in a twisted way, getting the tattoo was a small and unconscious rebellion. If you’re going to die and leave me, I guess I’m going to just get a tattoo and show you that I don’t need you.

A symbol of immortality in the colour of mourning. It’s exactly the kind of thing she’d have laughed at, my way of storming off while proving the exact point she’d been making. It was like the time I was three years old and marched into the kitchen carrying one of her prize ceramic dogs, delightedly saying “Nanny, I’m not allowed to touch this, am I?”

The tattoo itself didn’t hurt terribly. Less than an hour of what felt like cat scratches. It healed easily and settled in like it was supposed to be there. It felt anticlimactic.

My right side is covered in cherry blossoms, bright pink and white flowers blooming up my hip to my back.

I was spinning out of control when I got it. I was depressed, heartbroken and totally adrift. The size of it, taking one eight-hour sitting to complete, was pure masochism. I’ve never been into self-injury before or since, but at that time, I wanted to hurt. I wanted to turn all the ugly things in me into something beautiful. Once it was finished, I literally passed out from adrenaline and pain and exhaustion. This, I thought, is a tattoo.

I love them both as much as you can love anything you made for the wrong reasons.

Now that they’ve become part of the landscape, the whole of my body feels like it tells a story. Each mark is like a hieroglyphic, or a landmark, or a passport stamp. It’s topography of life. I’m learning to think it’s beautiful.

A Very Special Episode

“Good night, honey,” Mom said, tucking the blankets close around me. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night, Mom,” I replied sleepily. “Have a good night at work.”

Mom worked as a bartender at the local pub. I knew it wasn’t a job she loved, but it was a necessity at the moment, since it paid well in tips and we needed the money. She would put me to bed before her shift started. It was important to her to go through our usual routine; read a book (though it had turned to me reading the books to her — for practice, she said, but I think she just liked it), brush my teeth, and braid my hair. I loved when she would brush my hair gently, as I yawned and breathed in a mouthful of her perfume. Dad tried his best, but he always pulled too hard and it looked messy afterwards.

It was that way for a few years, up until I was nine or so. It was the same year I started to realize that all those insipid family shows I watched were telling me that my family wasn’t normal. Other mothers stayed at home, or worked nine to five at nondescript office jobs. Other dads didn’t play in bands, or let their bassists sleep on their couches for months at a time. Other families had big houses for their happy middle-class families, and would have been shocked at us, the Three Musketeers, this merry trio living in a tin-roofed trailer.

Most of the time, it didn’t occur to me to be upset by this. I loved our family, and the way we all had fun together in that little trailer. I loved the way the kitchen was slightly downhill and the way the rain sounded like maracas on the roof. I didn’t think to be ashamed of the fact that all my clothes had belonged to my older cousin, or that we had a makeshift ping-pong table made from a card table with a board in the middle and copies of “The Pokey Little Puppy” for paddles. Around Grade 3, I became aware that this wasn’t quite the norm. I felt like Adam and Eve after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and wished I could go back.

That Halloween, I came in from trick-or-treating with a threadbare pillow case full of loot. My face was sticky from the rain on my vampire makeup and traces of caramel on my lips. Dad was leaning back on our couch, playing a beat-up electric guitar.

“Hi, angel,” he smiled through notes of Tom Petty, “I hope you’re going to share some of that.”

“I will, but there’s not much left. I ate some of it on the way. I kind of have a stomach-ache now.”

Dad wasn’t the fuss-over-you type. He expressed concern, but not in a worried way like Mom would. She was at work again, this time at a double shift.

“Go have a glass of water. I’ll help take care of some of this candy,” Dad said.

I would have had some water, if I had not been struck with an immediate urge to go to the bathroom. It was there that I was met with a sight that was not uncommon for Halloween — blood. Unfortunately, this blood was not fake, and it was in a place where I was not expecting it.

I wasn’t ignorant. I knew full well what it was, since my parents were always very open and honest, and never minded me looking through the more diagram-y parts of the encyclopedia. This was a beautiful moment in a young girl’s life, and I was blossoming like a flower into womanhood. I never got why monthly bleeding was supposed to be beautiful, and I certainly didn’t see any beauty right then, with my running pancake makeup in that tiny bathroom lit by a single bulb. My mother wasn’t around to offer any answers. For the first time in my life, I found myself wishing for a different family, one where a smiling matronly type (Meredith Baxter Birney, maybe) would pat my back and hand me a product-placed pad and tell me that this was very special, right before taking me out for ice cream sundaes. Instead, my mother was in some seedy bar, serving up Labatt’s Blue to drunks who wore their hair “business in the front, party in the back.”

My father, bless his heart, tried his best. Upon my dispassionate declaration that I had begun to menstruate, he paused mid-song and blinked at me, before stuttering out a congratulations and asking if I, you know, needed anything. I replied that no, the good manufacturers at Always pretty much had that in the bag, but that I was going to bed and I would be taking the remainder of my chocolate with me, thanks ever so much.

I was stirred awake a few hours later by Mom pushing my unbrushed hair away from my face and smiling at me. Her perfume was mingling with cigarette smoke, and that mother smell that she always had no matter what.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she whispered softly, “I just wanted to see how you were doing. Dad told me.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled sleepily, “Being grown-up isn’t much fun so far.”

“It gets better,” she lied, kissing me on the forehead and tucking me in again. She turned to leave, and paused on her way out the door. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here, baby. You know I would have if I could have.”

She didn’t stay at the bartending job forever. Things got better financially for us over time, and I learned to grudgingly accept the monthly reminder that if there is a God, he’s either a misogynist or a sadist or both. That tiny, poorly-lit bathroom is long gone now, but I still remember the stickiness of the makeup on my face and the muffled sounds of my dad’s guitar from the living room. I still remember how unfair it felt that my introduction to womanhood made me feel helpless and angry about circumstances that neither I nor my mother could control.

Every Halloween, I think that I’d like to meet up at that bar with Eve and my mom. I’d buy them apple martinis and we’d share the laugh of war buddies. We get it, the three of us.