Posted September 13, 2009on:
I dreamed about them again last night. I dreamed about their beginnings. I dreamed about how they’ve existed parallel to my life, serving and exposing me, reflecting my rebellion, betraying my trust. When I awoke, my breasts were sore and achy, probably due to my monthly cycle. But it doesn’t take much creative muscle to imagine that my brain has let slip the fate that awaits them in just a couple of days.
I was an early bloomer, at least 8 years old when they made their debut on my flat chest. One of the first in my class to sprout, I was at first ashamed of them. The source of pointing and giggles from the other little girls, they were subject to be grabbed and pinched by pubescent boys. Mother noticed my frisky adolescent curves, too, and ceremoniously presented me with a girdle.
From the beginning, my breast seemed to exist parallel to my life. They grew peacefully upon my chest, and I did my best to ignore them. Then when I turned 10, they became more interesting as I noticed how interested middle school boys are in girls with perky bosoms. Suddenly, they had a purpose.
The period between 10 and 15 years old – 1969 to 1974 – my breasts became for me symbols of conjured up courage and imitated maturity. Teenage boys assumed I was much older than I actually was, while couldn’t-care-less men approached me boldly. I learned to embrace the power of my bouncy boobies, to appreciate the attention I got because they were on my chest.
I was particularly fond of strutting up and down my working-class Chicago neighborhood outfitted in playfully sexy halter tops and rump revealing hot pants. Naturals were popular then, and my own was always perfectly coiffed. Sleeveless triangular material that tied around the back and again at the back of the neck, my favorite halter tops loosely covered my braless breasts, while my shoulders, upper back, and midriff were bare and exposed. Breasts weren’t so bad after all. I was liberated by the attention.
On television, at the movies, on the covers of Ebony magazine, all around me liberation of one sort or another was being proclaimed and claimed – in an overall rise in youth culture, a national demand by Blacks for civil rights, and second-wave feminism. James Brown recorded and released in 1971 the hit single, “Hot Pants,” which played in heavy rotation on the city’s all-Black radio stations.
Thinkin’ of loosin’ that funky feelin’ don’t!
Cause you got to use just what you got
To get just what you want
Hot pants make ya sure of yourself -good Lord
You walk like you got the only lovin’ left
I was a young teenager, a virgin barely kissed, my own liberation dormant, untested. Yet, I attracted and reveled in the rootless affection the soft roundness of my breasts attracted, and instinctively I knew the Godfather of Soul was singing about me.
Then the babies arrived, a daughter when I was 17, and a son at 19. As my belly grew, so did my breasts until they were so big and full of milk I didn’t recognize them. I remember staring at myself, thinking I looked like someone had taken me by the mouth and blown me up to resemble a human cow. Whenever it was time to feed my babies, or when they simply cried, the fullness in my chest could bring tears to my eyes. The leakage through my clothes made me turn from mirrors in disgust.
So in spite of my mother-in-law’s pestering, I reclaimed my body. Stocked up on formula and glass baby bottles, and stubbornly refused to breastfeed. I was not yet 20 years old. The health benefits of breastfeeding were not as well known. Young and hot, I was not interested in latching babies to my breasts. More than 30 years later it seems my mother-in-law, bless her soul, was right all along as studies now show that breastfeeding appears to protect against breast cancer, probably by affecting levels of estrogen in a woman’s body.
Raising the children through their middle years, I went through an early period during the 1980s where I deliberately hid my breasts and any hint of femininity under layers of mannish styled clothing. From somewhere I got my hands on an old discarded army jacket that I wore everywhere accept to work. I was most often seen with a cap on my head. When hatless, I wore my chemically straightened hair brushed back flat against my head.
I remember now that I felt betrayed by my womanhood. At home I was wife and mother, and thus, primary manager of my young family. I look back at photographs of myself, and I am clearly depressed; although I was not yet 30, I look every bit of 40 years old. During those years there was nothing about being a woman that I wanted much to do with.
I was in my 20s, and had by then experienced a few unfortunate experiences. Incidences when my attractiveness and inexperience nearly got me raped or assaulted. Instead of welcoming the attention of men, I began looking for invisibility, corners to hide in. I spent an entire winter hidden under clothes that silenced the hecklers, and made strangers ignore me. Without raising my voice above a whisper, I silently protested the unfairness of being female in America.
The end of the ‘80s brought with it a determination to nurture myself in a way I had never done before. The children were teenagers, the marriage was over all except the walking out, and I wanted something better for myself. Four months before my 30th birthday I enrolled in college where I earned my degree in magazine journalism.
Those three years in school were so liberating! In the company of encouraging professors my intelligence was fed, and my self-confidence bloomed. After graduation, I cut my hair and began wearing it naturally again. I revamped my wardrobe, and unearthed my sassiness. Pictures taken during this season of my life show a smiling, contented woman, her silky legs unfurled under short skirts, her plump breasts bursting out of her blouses like crocuses in springtime.
Since discovering cancer in my left breast, and deciding a double mastectomy is the right thing for me to do, I find myself unconsciously massaging them. Holding them I try to burn in my memory how they feel to my touch, how they feel when they are touched. Last week I stood in the bathroom mirror and took snapshots of them with my cell phone camera. Goodness, are they ever droopy, ravished by pregnancy, age and gravity, racing one another to my lap. I attempt to cheer myself by reminding myself that thanks to implants, I’ll be 80 with the bouncy bosom of a 20-year-old.
On Tuesday, September 15, 2009, I will lie down and when I raise up again my body will be absent the breasts that have reflected so much of my life back to me. We’ve been through a lot together, me and my breasts, and while I didn’t ask for them, we’ve grown attached. Never knew how much until I had to contemplate losing them. But if nothing else, my breasts have taught me a lot about how society defines me as a woman. And they’ve helped me to grow into my womanhood as they became a reflection of both my strength and my vulnerability.
It was a wild ride, but soon we will part company. And even though no one looking from the outside in will be able to tell the difference, I will know they’re gone, and I will miss them.