Tatas, funbags, cans, mosquito bites, melons, hotcakes, nibs, Lactoids. These are just a few "funny" nicknames for what seem to be a locus (loci) of both power and angst for women: breasts. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month winds down, I've been thinking, it's pretty un-PC to make boobie jokes in October. But come November 1st, our mothers'/sisters'/wives'/partners' breasts no longer cease to be at-risk organs or signifiers of survival and resilience, but rather fodder for frat boy humor.
Don't get me wrong; I'm all for the advocacy that BCA month does for women and those who care for them. But there's something about the limitations of the "Think Pink" mentality that rubs me the wrong way. Yes, it's characteristically American for our culture to allot a certain part of the calendar year to a particular cause -- either as celebration, retribution, or some postmodern combination of both -- but when this month has an affect on how other people view my breasts, I'm going to take it personally. Here's why: I was bullied for my breasts.
At the age of 10, when I was in the fourth grade, I -- or should I say my breasts -- were the target of the type of childhood/adolescent chicanery that tends to stick in those recesses of the mind that taunt you forever. At 10 years old, and quite without my consent, my body decided to fill out in the upper chest region. I love how (falsely) people write about breasts budding like roses. I had no such experience. All of a sudden, I was a 34-B. "B" as in baffled as to what to do about these new mounds of adipose hanging from my petite 10-year-old self. I was at once excited by them (and the surge of hormones that accompany the onset of puberty) but also shamed by them (mom and dad told me to wear looser shirts, lest I look like a tart).
Through this confusion, I had to navigate middle and junior-high in an elite private school (Zac Posen, Lena Dunham, Emma Straub and Jennifer Connelly are alumni) where the majority of girls dressed head-to-toe in Benetton. Later, I came to learn that even preppy girls were early developers; they were just better at hiding their, er, developments, than I was. But that's the thing; part of me wanted to hide them yes, yet another part wanted to show them off.
Until one fateful homeroom, when I endured 45 minutes of torture. One of the preppy boys decided to announce to the class, "Look, Jill has boobs! See them!" The boys roared with laughter and pointed, while the girls turned their backs to me. My homeroom teacher for that period was my brilliant, beautiful, history teacher who was demanding of her students and didn't coddle us private school brats like some of our more nurturing teachers. In short, she was my idol. I remember looking at her for some kind of rescue while my breasts were being ogled. She averted my gaze and went about her business of grading papers. Sitting in silence, I burned with hatred for my breasts and the betrayal I felt from my history teacher and women in general for having mammary glands. How could they let this happen? Why was this happening to me? Did this mean I was now a woman?
To this day, I wonder about my history teacher's lack of response to my affront. Did she think coming to my breasts' defense would diminish her authority? Call attention to her own buxom body? Or was she trying to deflate the power of public teasing by refusing to acknowledge it? Most likely, as a young teacher, she just didn't know what to do.
As breast augmentations continue to become a growing industry, celebrity nip-slips continue to make headlines and public breastfeeding continues to be controversial, it's sad to me that only when our health is threatened by cancer -- a socially-acceptable modern plague everyone can agree to stand up against -- that breast awareness lasts a mere 31 days.