I’m scrolling through my seemingly endless Facebook feed, looking at pictures from this past week, wishing a “Happy Birthday” to a friend, watching whatever video catches my eye.
And as I’m scrolling, I come across a post: “What Ever Happened to Cleavage?” I’m intrigued. So I click.
In a couple hundred words, Vogue UK quickly sums up author Kathleen Baird-Murray’s full-length article in the December issue, “Desperately Seeking Cleavage.” Baird-Murray, says the Vogue editors, notes the “distinct lack of pertinently pushed-up breasts everywhere from runway to red carpet.”
“‘The tits will not be out for the lads. Or for anyone else, for that matter,’” the post quotes.
If you’re anything like me, someone who has seriously struggled with body image, particularly with breast size, this post is rage-inducing.
Not because cleavage-season is over—I wish I could wear my oversized sweaters and leggings for the rest of my life—but because some women just have it, and they can’t control their body. Cue gasps.
When I was in middle school I wore a size C bra, slightly above average for an eighth grader. By the time I was 18, I wore a G, growing almost one size every year.
No matter the shirt, I always seemed to be showing cleavage. My teachers constantly asked me to zip up my coat. I can remember my middle school English teacher telling me I was showing too much skin—I was wearing a zip-up sweatshirt and white camisole.
I’d be sitting at dinner and notice my mother slyly, or so she thought, looking at me and tugging at the neck of her shirt, indicating I needed to pull up mine.
I always felt uncomfortable, like I was trapped behind my chest, feeling like people stared or thought I was purposely showing off my breasts for attention, from both men and women. But in reality, I just couldn’t find clothes that fit right. All of the small adolescent sized clothing stuck to my developing curves, which isn’t exactly something I was proud of.
And when I didn’t show off my chest, I felt like friends thought it was weird. Even as I grew older my friends would wish they had breasts like mine, they’d show their cleavage all the time, they’d say. But I was embarrassed and always wanted to cover up, so much so people never knew the actual size of my breasts.
My back hurt from the weight of my chest; I had permanent divots in my shoulders from my bra straps; I couldn’t wear a bathing suit without feeling like a sausage; I couldn’t wear a strapless dress without yanking it up every five minutes.
When I wore low-cut shirts (heaven forbid I embrace my body as is), I was met with wide-eyes. My girlfriends would raise their eyebrows, suggesting I was trying to catch someone’s attention (spoiler: I wasn’t), and my guy friend’s eyes would wander (spoiler: it was uncomfortable). My mom would stare at me, never saying I should go change but always thinking it. You know, that look.
It was hard. And suggesting, even for a second, that my “tits” were ever “out for the lads” or that my body shape is a fashion trend makes me want to scream.
I remember walking through the middle school halls, boys running by me, shouting, “Nice tits!” I was 13, just 13 and was already being overly-sexualized because of my breast size. And half of the time I wasn’t wearing low-cut shirts; I was wearing a long sleeve, high-neck graphic tee when they yelled at me. But because the letters were stretched and cracked because of my C, borderline D cups, they harassed me. I felt like I missed the joke, why was my body something to poke fun at?
When I was 17, and got drunk for only the second time in my life, people who I considered good friends touched my chest, despite never being invited to do so. Instead of sticking up for myself, afraid of being rude and not realizing what was happening, I sat quietly and eventually suggested going back to the party. My shirt was a little low; maybe next time I should wear a scarf, I said to myself.
When I was 18 and started college, girls on my floor immediately asked me what my bra size was. I paused, told them, and watched their jaws drop as they asked if they could see. Being an incredibly open person, I had no problem telling them my size, but I was always perplexed as to why they thought they could ask that question.
When we went out to parties (thankful that my fraternity phase was short-lived), guys would try to touch my breasts when we were dancing, even though I never said they could. Since when is dancing an invitation? And when I pulled away, I was the bitch, the prude with the boobs. Right, that makes sense.
When I was 21 and decided to undergo a breast reduction, hitting my rock bottom as I stood in a Marshall’s dressing room crying as I looked at my breasts spilling out of a bathing suit, multiple people asked me why I would do such a thing, you know, because my breasts were fine the way they were. My eyes almost always rolled to the back of my head. At least at this point, I had a response ready: Because I’m miserable, sore, and it’s none of your business. Though all of my friends at the time were incredibly happy to hear I was undergoing surgery, knowing how uncomfortable I was with my body, there was always that one person to ask why. Again, I’m not a private person, so I talked about surgery openly, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear their opinion.
I never asked to have a big chest; I never asked to be looked at sexually; I never asked to have people stare; I never asked for my breasts to be part of group discussions; I never asked to have back pain; I never asked for people to say crude things to me; I never asked for the embarrassment, for the shame, for the anxiety; I never asked to look at models every day and see their flat chests fitting seamlessly into their bikinis or dresses or v-necks; I never asked for the body-shaming from others and, more unfortunately, myself.
I simply wanted to blend in. I wanted to have small breasts; I wanted to tell everyone to mind their own business; I wanted people to ask about me, not about my bra; I wanted people to stop identifying me as “the girl with the big boobs”; I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin, wear the things I wanted, and be happy.
And when I underwent surgery, I got my wish. After four long months of healing and a tremendous amount of self-care and the semi-regular therapy session, I waved goodbye to that insecure little girl.
So when I read an article, deeming cleavage “dead,” that insecure girl inside me starts screaming. That girl makes me remember when I was 13; she makes me remember the sheer embarrassment on my face when I met those girls my fist year of college.
When I read that “tits won’t be out for the lads,” that girl starts beating on my chest; that girl didn’t have the option of covering up, even though she desperately wanted to. Instead, that little girl was defined by her insecurities.
Some women have large boobs and don’t have the option of hiding their cleavage, so why are we going to tell them they should, simply for style purposes? Why are we going to tell them they should hide their chest because big breasts aren’t “in” right now? Why are we going to force them to feel bad about themselves, for reasons they can’t really change? Why are we still feeding into the idea that women need to show themselves for men? For anyone?
Since undergoing my surgery in December 2015, my body is healthy, I have no pain from my chest, and I feel as if I’ve escaped the thousands of eyes that used to watch me move. I feel like my own person again, someone who isn’t trapped behind their body, someone who lives on their own. And if I choose to show my cleavage or not, that’s my decision.
When I wear a sweater zipped all the way up to my neck, I’m comfortable. When I wear a v-neck t-shirt with a push-up bra, I’m comfortable. And that took a lot of work.
So who are you to deny me of that progress? To deny women of comfort? Who are you to shame them into thinking their chests aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough? Breast-size isn’t a trend, and neither is body-shaming. Embrace the person you want to be; embrace your own style.
But don’t let someone else tell you how to live, especially a magazine.