Aged 14, sitting in a classroom waiting for the teacher to come in. Beside me, a bunch of the guys were sniggering, huddled around someone’s phone. “Eurgh,” grimaced one of the boys who I happened to be crushing on that month, “She’s another one with pancake tits."As they all laughed, my cheeks flushed red.
Aged 15 in the dorm room. Girls spoke of the guys who’d ‘topped them’ (that is, slipped their hands under the bra outside the school disco,) and I would sink down deeper beneath my duvet. In the darkness, I would take off the padded bra that, without boobs to anchor it, had been riding up and down my chest all day, and I would place my hands on my stomach. Slowly, I would draw them upwards and imagine that, like the girls sleeping in the beds beside me, I would reach a small mound of flesh that would force my small hand to curve and rise upwards, past the nipple, and then gently down again, to the collarbone. Instead, my chest was utterly and tormentingly flat.
Women’s bodies come in all shapes and sizes and I knew that then. Yet after years of internalising contemporary Western standards of femininity and female beauty, my shape felt so far away from the bodies of the girls that men treated with attention and affection. In no form of media had I ever seen a body like mine: curvy — at times slightly-overweight — with no breasts at all. Big boobs were treated as the only vindication of larger women; skinny girls with small boobs learned to equip themselves with push-up bras or accentuate their long legs in order to gain entry into the social-life-defining high school ‘f*ckable’ or ‘girlfriend material’ clubs. But they all seemed to have boobs. They all seemed to have these highly sexualised body parts that are ogled, worshipped, kissed, judged, shamed, objectified, abused, and most of all, deeply associated with femininity and sexuality.
Cue teenage years of low self esteem. Cue bad boys and the lights turned off.
Cue learning to give great blowjobs and talk dirty and play out the fantasies of boys. Cue turning my sexuality into a consolation prize for my body — a body that the world told me was not sexy and not worthy of self-love.
At the age of 18, I saw a GP to discuss my options. After proving questions about my period and my puberty, she concluded that everything was normal hormone wise. Was there a reason I hadn’t grown breasts? No. Was there a tablet I could take to promote growth? In my situation, no.
My only option was to stay the same or to go under the knife. And so, in the summer before I started university, I did it. I woke up in a fog of anesthetic with what felt like kettle bells attached to my chest. My mum recalls telling me, as I sat blubbering in the back of the car, on the drive home, “I told you it was going to hurt Eves."
The months that followed entailed a lot of sleepless nights on my back, colourful array of M&S sports bras and a velcro strap as my new breasts underwent a process known as ‘dropping and fluffing. It probably took about 8 months before I let anyone but my Mum see them. It was a year until I could invest in those black lacy wired bras I coveted, and it might take many more years before the pink scars under each breast fade to nothingness.
As my three year boob anniversary approaches, I am reflective of the path that I chose and the society that influenced my decision. I have stared at my fabulous and even still, imperfect, breasts in the mirror and wondered, am I a bad feminist? Should I have just ran with what I had? Do these boobs represent defeat in the face of patriarchal beauty ideals?”
First off, I should be honest and say that I haven’t regretted my surgery once. To those that knew me before and after, I am not so sure a marked change in my confidence would have been noticeable. Yet to me, it was a weight off my shoulders. A weight that found itself instead sitting comfortably in a bra, looking great in that top I would have never chosen. It's a weight that will one day, hopefully, feed milk to my babies and a weight that you have to grab and hold when you run up the stairs. I am more comfortable in my body with them than I could have ever felt without them.
Choice feminism empowers me to say, well, I wanted them and so I got them and don’t fucking judge me. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I know there is much more to the story than that. My choice to get implants did not exist in a vacuum. I desired boobs because a life without them meant a life of insecurity and feeling different and unsexy.
As a society, we define beauty so specifically and body shame so systematically, that overweight or slim, flat-chested women, transgender women, or women who have undergone a mastectomy can too easily feel like less of a woman for lack of those two lumps. Western society as a whole hasn’t yet learned to deal with a woman who does not have all the physical characteristics traditionally associated with femininity.
Meanwhile ‘tits’ have been sexualised to the extent that girls are called sluts for wearing revealing clothing. The female nipple is filed under ‘Graphic Content’ and censored out of public view. Even breast-feeding in public is controversial. So no, I don’t regret my decision; due to the internalised prejudices engrained in me since childhood, having boobs is meaningful to me. However, I do regret that I — and many girls like me — fell victim to a society that told me what my body ought to look like.
I hope now that feminism is becoming less of a dirty word and that ideas of femininity and womanhood are being increasingly questioned and redefined by wonderful feminists in the media, in entertainment — and sometimes if we’re lucky, in the classrooms — a girl like me, approaching 18, will not be so quick to see implants as the only cure for a flat chest.
I hope that she sees that there is no need for a cure, because nothing about her body is wrong at all.