In middle school, a pack of aggressively lupine boys led by a sinewy jock named Jeremiah Cortez used to harass me between periods. Not about my oversized, hand-me-down blue glasses or the fact that I dressed like a boy. But about my breasts. Shoving me up against the lockers, grabbing at my breasts and leering as I squirmed away, terrified, it was one of their favorite school day activities.
In high school, the nickname bestowed upon me by all the popular kids — girls and boys alike — was “Shilslut.” What had I done to deserve this? Considering I’d never so much as kissed a boy until I was 16 (and even then, he was my one and only kiss until my freshman year of college) it wasn’t what you’re thinking. It was my breasts, which were — at this point — ensconced in a 34D bra.
At my second “grownup” job out of college, I worked in the human resources department of a Fortune 1000 company. I wore fairly conservative suits nearly every day. A few days before our annual meeting with all the presidents of the various companies we owned, my boss — the corporate HR director — called me into his office and told me to make sure I wore an outfit to the presidents’ dinner “where your tits aren’t hanging out.” The stories that center around my breasts are sadly endless.
Before I learned how to dress myself appropriately and dress for my body type (which, being completely retarded when it comes to fashion, took a fairly long time), even my good friends used to tease me. One year, one of them gave me scraps of fabric for my birthday. “To sew into your tops,” she said, “So that you don’t have your boobs hanging out all the time.”
It was difficult, learning what I could wear that would simultaneously cover up yet still look cute. A teenage girl doesn’t want to have to go around wearing sweatshirts and muumuus all the time just to ward off stares or inappropriate comments. And here’s the kicker: I don’t think my boobs are anything to write home about. All around me, every day, I see women with far more fabulous sweater puppies than mine ever aspired to be. In short, I don’t see the big deal about my breasts. I really don’t. Lately, I’ve taken a much more lax approach to dressing, usually wearing T-shirts and jeans or dresses with sweaters. Sometimes my breasts show; sometimes they don’t. I try not to think or care about it anymore. They’re there, and they’re not going anywhere.
That said, it’s taken me years to be comfortable with my body and the fact that it’s not a true reflection of who I really am. Thanks to middle school bullies, thanks to abusive bosses, thanks to all the horrible men (and women) over the years who have made ugly comments about me or my breasts without ever stopping to consider that two mounds of fatty flesh on my chest do not have anything at all do to with the person I am inside. I’m still self-conscious of my stupid breasts and often fantasize about getting breast reduction surgery (“I could wear sundresses!” “I wouldn’t sweat under my boobs anymore!” “My back wouldn’t hurt all the time!”). The grass is always greener…
Which brings us to today.
I threw on a blue dress and purple sweater (see the fashion retard comment above) as I left the house this morning, in a hurry to get to work and buckle down on the feature that’s consumed nearly every one of my thoughts lately. Around noon, I left the office to interview two restaurant owners at their restaurant in Memorial for the feature. The male owner was friendly enough throughout the interview, answering questions and carrying on a very normal conversation. The female owner, I could tell, disliked me from the moment we met. I can usually win people over given a little time, but this woman was a tough nut to crack. She never gave me an inch, and towards the end of the interview I had conceded defeat. She didn’t like me for whatever reason, and that was okay; you can’t win them all.
But what she did next floored me.
The male owner left the table to attend to some business outside, and the female owner — seeing her opportunity — leaned over and began to stage whisper to me: “Let me just give you a little advice,” she sneered.
“When you come to interview someone, especially a man, dressed like a hooker, you instantly lose all credibility.”
I was at a loss for words, but she continued.
“You look like a schoolmarm everywhere except your breasts.” She stopped and glared briefly at my chest. “I don’t know where to look when I look at you and it’s completely distracting. I just thought that you should know that.” She crossed her arms and stared defiantly back at me, as if daring me to say something.
What did I do? Did I set her straight? Did I tell her that my body is none of her business and certainly nothing that I can control? Did I tell her how incredibly rude and ugly she’d just been? Did I defend myself and tell her to go take her nasty attitude and shove it up her hateful ass?
I apologized. That’s right, I apologized FOR THE BODY THAT GOD GAVE ME.
As soon as the words “I’m sorry” tumbled out of my astonished mouth, I immediately regretted it. Who apologizes for the way they look? Especially for looks they have absolutely no control over? It’s not as if I have a bright green mohawk, multiple piercings and sleeves of tattoos. It’s not as if I’ve had breast enhancement surgery to purposely increase their size. I don’t even own a push-up bra; I wear the ugly old lady bras you buy from Soma, the ones with extra wide straps and full cup coverage. What in the hell do I have to apologize for?
Nothing. I have nothing to apologize for. I’m not perfect, but I’m a pretty decent human being. And I frankly fail to see what my breasts have to do with my “credibility.” So women with large breasts should just stay at home and not have jobs? We don’t count as people because we have big boobs? We’re somehow diminished as people and reduced to just a pair of tits? If horrible, nasty women like this restaurant owner had her way, apparently that’s the way it would be. In her world, I should invest in a burqa and some duct tape for my mouth, since I have no “credibility” and am inherently an unworthy person because of how God or genetics saw fit to create me.
Part of me desperately wants to go back to her restaurant tomorrow and raise holy hell. To tell her to go fuck herself for judging me and making me sit in my car and bawl with desperate, red-faced embarrassment after I left, for making me cry angry tears until all my makeup had washed off my face and my eyes were hot and raw, for making me question myself as a person.
But the smarter part of me knows that she didn’t make me do any of that. I did that to myself. I let her get to me, get to that one deep-seated, fast-rooted insecurity that all of us have inside — no matter what it is — and exploit it.
When are we going to stop apologizing for who we are? When are we going to stop letting other peoples’ opinions and nasty, hateful judgments about us dictate our lives? And, more importantly, when are we going to stop doing that to others? When will we begin seeking out the good in others instead?
I stop saying “I’m sorry” today. And my breasts? Are none of your goddamned business.