By the time a woman reaches the age of 50 in America, she has heard just about every loveable, awful, demeaning, eye-rolling, cute and hysterical term for those two globs of fat that sit on her chest.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it's a good time to take stock of how to take care of our breasts, ourselves and our sisters who are battling this insidious disease.
In honor of those brave Warriors in Pink whom I know and those I have never met, this is for you. Laughter is the best medicine and hope cannot be prescribed in CCs and IVs. No one ever has the right to take your ability to hope away. So, what's in a name? Well, I'll tell you...
BOSOMS - There is nothing sexy about this term. It's Aunt Fanny in a cotton calico dress. These are the giant pillows that little children lay their heads on at naptime. Their two-car garage, boulder holder is most likely a Double D white cotton Woolworth's bra or more complicated girdle-like pre-Spanx contraption. Bosoms are way more than a handful, no longer springy and probably covered with baby powder or enough perfume to air freshen a room.
CLEAVAGE - OK, you're right, cleavage isn't typically a term for breast, but it's a preview, a prelude to a kiss. It's the trailer to the movie. Cleavage shows a little leg, it teases and offers a suggestion and the promise of more. But I had to include it. Cleavage is often preceded by the term "ample" and one customarily "sports" it.
HOOTERS - If breasts made noises, men must imagine they would hoot like a horn with joy. Perhaps that's how this mystifying nickname came into vogue. But alas, like the giraffe on the Serengeti, breasts are silent creatures. The fact that an entire adult restaurant franchise is named Hooters (and their logo is an owl whose eyes are two boobs with nipples) lets you know just how fun AND wise-like-an-owl this slang word is. Hooters connote the sexy librarian who takes off her glasses, lets her bun down and unbuttons her shirt. You go in for chicken wings and beer and end up with a face full of hooters! This is party city baby. If you're hootin' and hollerin' around, this is the term for you. No AA cups need apply.
BREASTS - An anatomically correct term for those globs of fat that sit on our chests. It's more delicate, like a wide champagne glass. "Breast" says classy, manageable. You can say breast in public. Hell you can ORDER chicken breast in a restaurant. It's acceptable without being clinical or denigrating. Breasts are the Limoges demitasse cups of the coffee world.
TITS - This is farm animal territory. It's two steps away from teats, a word that makes me shudder. I picture a cow's udders hooked up to hoses. Tit is a rough and service oriented term. It might also apply to that stage of motherhood where nursing Moms under extreme sleep deprivation believe they may actually now BE Bessie the Cow. And for the men who are too lazy to make their women feel loved and respected, this is the term for you. Good luck getting a home-cooked meal.
BOOBS - This word says sorority girl collegial and locker room cheerful. Boob just sounds fun, bouncy, no strings attached. Boobs don't have brains; they are ninnies, all harmless window dressing. It's a word you can write and say backwards or forwards. And fun, fun -- yes, even men can have boobs too! (Increasingly known as "moobs" which is short for man-boobs) The ambiguously ambidextrous quality of the word makes it a very safe and PC term in public.
RACK - This is flat out a dude's term, most often associated with hunting or butcher's cuts of meat. I think of "rack" as in lamb, the small defenseless baby animal that gets slaughtered at springtime. This is a gun-slingers term but Rack also goes with "rack and pinion steering," making it a mechanical term too. This nickname says "I'm gonna pull out some tools and tinker under the hood to get this baby running." Be afraid. And make sure he washes his hands.
TATAs - Kind of a nice way to messa 'round. This is a breezy, rapper, sing-songy word. It should have a dance step named after it. Even a toddler can say it and no one gets hurt. Tata is white bread and white rice soothing, no roughage or fiber to digest. Moreover, the use of simple syllabic names means you can give wide berth to the more clinical and scary anatomical terms that are just plain yucky (cross reference anatomy of the male sex organ). Among men this term is often preceded by the word "bodacious" for some inexplicable reason.
KNOCKERS - Ouch. This one is physical, the kissing cousin to another painful term "Speed Bags." Not good either, think Hulk Hogan. This calls to mind those perplexing old naked granny cartoons in Playboy or Hustler with torpedo shaped mammaries. I also think nostalgically of National Geographic magazine tribeswomen (pre-internet era porn for adolescent boys.) Knockers say, "gravity has taken its toll." It's kind of a caveman term for men at work--not play. Be warned, this is not Olivia Newton John's cheeky "Let's Get Physical." Nothing warm and fuzzy lives in the land of knockers.
THE GIRLS - This term is female retaliation, a smack down at men who, quite perplexingly name their male organs. You know what I'm talking about here, it's the sheer absurdity of pet names like "Big Pete" "Little Winky," "Carlos" and "Darth Vader." This disturbing custom validates the playful "buddy" relationship many men share with their body parts. The Girls is a non-threatening term that connotes comfort with ones own body. Think of the chick flick Bridesmaids and that take-back-the-night lingo that makes us feel all Helen-Reddy-I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar. This is also BFF speak, all cup sizes are welcome here and there's no hint of creepiness or sexism. "I'm taking the girls out tonight," means "I'm going to sport some contour." This is what happens when the old college sweatshirt comes off.
In the interest of brevity, I've left out other classics and potentially denigrating favorites such as jugs, melons, hogans, cans, headlights, fun bags, yabbos and gazongas. And I encourage you to chime in with some suggestions of your own. There's no question that the names for our mammaries are as varied, descriptive and nuanced as the women who own them.
So for every friend- sister- mother- daughter- wife- lover- partner- woman who has removed a lump, gotten a scare, lost a breast, had a mastectomy, taken care of and nurtured someone who has brushed up against the evil of "The Big C" - I salute you. Stay in the race, and keep fighting.