A Word on Titties

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

By Kimberly Poovey

Let’s talk about titties. Honkers. Tatas. Bazombas. Melons. Jugs. Breasts. Boobs. 

Starting in late elementary school (elementary school), my cis female counterparts and I began to be defined by our newly budding breasts. It was a constant talking point. Who was developing fastest? Slowest? Who had the largest bra size? Who didn’t need a bra at all? We watched each other’s chests like hawks to see who was crossing the coveted line of Womanhood, and who was left behind. 

I needed a real bra for the first time in the 4th grade. My breasts grew rapidly, which, combined with my extreme height for my age, made me seem much older than I actually was. From the age of 12, unwelcome attention from older men was a regular occurrence. I had a love-hate relationship with my body. Part of me loved being seen. Part of me wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. 

Purity & modesty culture made things even more complicated. I was taught that God made my body and that it was good, BUT, my body was not my own. My body only existed to please God and, of course, my mysterious and heteronormative “future husband.” As a young teenager with prominent DDs, I was often called out for “modesty offenses” while my tiny-tittied friends were left alone.

While wearing a simple t-shirt and jeans, an uncle pulled me aside to make sure I knew that my cross-body purse drew too much attention to my breasts and it was making the boys around me “stumble.” I was mortified.

My dance teacher sent me a detailed email about how my enormous jugs were distracting from my performances. I had to wear multiple sports bras under my leotard after that.

A boy who I thought was a friend sent out a mass email (it was the early aughts) listing my boobs as the “8th wonder of the world.” Again, mortified.

A dear friend’s mom told me I was inappropriately dressed to go take my learner’s permit test. (I was wearing a basic Gap t-shirt and jeans.) While looking at prom pictures my friends and I had taken, that same mom told me that the only reason my platonic date was smiling was because of my prominent cleavage. I was 14. 

As a starry-eyed newlywed, I was browsing Victoria’s Secret and asked an employee what cup sizes a particular lacy little set came in. Her response was to look me up and down and say “not yours, honey.”

Perhaps second only to being very tall and red-haired, my breasts were (and are) my most prominent feature. They have brought me untold amounts of attention, the good, the bad, and the ugly, for over 20 years of my life. 

When I had my son, they grew to an unprecedented size and produced about 35 ounces of milk every day for 16 months. While providing my child with breastmilk for that long is one of my proudest accomplishments, I couldn’t nurse. He was never able to transfer milk directly from my body, so exclusive pumping was the path I chose — another sore spot between me and my titties. (You ladies are going to be that huge and STILL not be able to feed a baby in the most basic way? Come on now.) 

Last year, I went to my OBGYN for severe breast pain. I was sure it was cancer. I thought “what else could cause that much sudden pain?” My anxiety was off the charts. I had a mammogram and an MRI and learned that I’m not only in the high-risk category for breast cancer, but riddled with “hopefully benign” lumps. The pain? Unrelated. The pain came from the sheer weight of my breasts pulling on my body. I recently calculated the weight of breasts my size and learned that I am carrying around 8-10 pounds of breast tissue. 8 to 10 pounds! I’m walking around with a large newborn strapped to my chest at all times. How crazy is that?

After a full year of tests, scans, and personal deliberation, I’ve decided to get a breast reduction. My insurance company has even deemed my surgery “medically necessary.” My feelings about the whole thing are…mixed. This part of my body that has been so prominent for the vast majority of my life will be dramatically changed. However, data is showing that breast reductions can result in a significant decrease in the overall risk of breast cancer over a lifetime. Some or all of those “hopefully benign” lumps will be removed. And I will quite literally have a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders. Overall, I’m confident that the results of this surgery are going to be great. But that doesn’t change the fact that my feelings are complicated.

Cis women in the US are unreasonably defined by the sacks of fat and mammary glands attached to their chests. Breasts carry the weight (pun intended) of femininity, motherhood, sexuality, and beauty arguably more than any other human body part. Without giant breasts, will I still be attractive? Will my femininity be dimmed? Will my husband still think I’m sexy? (He will, he assures me.) How will I see myself when I look in the mirror? For now, I’m sitting in the discomfort of the unknown, comforted by the fact that I finally see my body as my own.

Over and over again, women have to get reacquainted with their wildly changing bodies throughout their lifetimes. Our bodies change like tides, ebbing and flowing and swelling and shrinking. Mine is about to change again, and I’m excited to meet her.

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