Monthly Archives: July 2015
I’m 22, 23, 24. He tells me he doesn’t care about sexy underwear, and for a while I find it refreshing that I don’t have to try so hard anymore, since I’m no longer promiscuous. I settle into simple cotton underpants with funny slogans and comic book logos. My top half takes on neutral bra tones, with the occasional pattern here and there to break up the monotony. He doesn’t really notice, anyway.
At 25, underneath my ivory strapless wedding dress, I wear a white corset with soft cups that lifts up my breasts, sucks me in and gives me the illusion of a waist. He may not find regular bras sexy, but I’m hoping he’ll find this corset so after finally finishing with all the wedding insanity.
We return to my parents’ house after the reception to change and head to our hotel, passing the dog as we run through the halls. I slip off my dress and turn around, hoping he’ll notice how sexy I am in my bridal lingerie. I stand there, waiting, as he walks right past me looking for his jeans to slip on over his boxers. The dog stares at me mournfully from the door, and in her eyes somehow she recognizes my pain.
The years pass. 26, 27, 28. He calls my breasts “fun bags,” “toys for boys,” and “titties” with a high-pitched screech that pierces my eardrums and makes me feel the opposite of sexy. Other times after he looks at them he will press his hands against his face awkwardly, his mouth going slack like a stupid dead fish and his wide, hollow eyes revealing no love, emotion or affection. He’ll shake the deposits of fat like they’re rattles, ready to make a noise that never comes. The only time he is ever gentle with them is if we have sex, and it takes so long to convince him to do it that after a while I give up trying.
He never tells me I’m beautiful or smart. Instead, he tells me regularly I can never live without him. Tells me how I live in a fantasy world, that I’m crazy. It gets worse when we find out that I might never be able to be pregnant due to my medical condition. He says I lied to him. The sex becomes even less frequent.
I can’t get angry or else he explodes, so instead my mind begins to believe it all. I develop stomach problems. Gain weight. My wardrobe now consists of a variety of low-cut tops and dresses that show off my breasts. This is the only way in the world that I’m able to feel truly sexy, because he never has made me feel this way.
For a week, I go away with a guy friend to journey with him cross country as he heads to law school in Ithaca, New York. After the trip, I joke around that he’s one of my closest friends because he’s one of the few people in the world to have seen me without a bra. But without the wires blocking my heart, he tears down the walls I’ve put up and begins to stir my soul awake. The events that followed that trip made me open my eyes to see how dead my mind, soul and body had become living with someone like my husband.
My 29th birthday arrives with joy and music, and the later months come with mournful songs of freedom playing in the background as I leave my home and now ex-husband behind forever. However, in shedding off the past I learn how to be myself again. I start eating better. My dresses become more classy. My weight drops significantly, although my breasts somehow still retain their large size.
I start sleeping around again, letting boys run their hands along my breasts, as if trying to rub off the years where my ex made me feel more like a play toy in a kid’s room and less like a sexual human being. Yet with every boy that touches my breasts and body after my divorce, my Ithaca falls further and further away as I realize I’m falling harder and harder for him. That is, until I turn 30 and he disappears from my life, leaving me incapable of telling another guy that I love him in the romantic sense for years.
* * *
I slip back on the black bra I was wearing when I walked into the shop. The owner sees me and she offers her critique.
“I mean, it’s convertible and is a standard color,” she says. “But don’t you feel it cutting into your breast tissue right here?” she says, pushing at the sides.
“No,” I said.
The owner frowns, then slips me into a romantic navy blue bra that is as dark as the night sky and might as well be twinkling with stars. She is trying to get me to move everything forward, but my body isn’t cooperating.
I then switch back out to the black bra and she looks at it again, nodding as she walks around my body.
“You need to retrain your body, teach it where things need to go,” she said, pushing at the sides where the wire hits the side of my breast. “All that junk in the back and on the sides collects.” She points to my underarm fat and the fat on my back that has made me self-conscious over the years, where all my insecurities have deposited themselves. My arms slightly crossed, and this gesture seemed to soften her. She needed to stop being bra nazi for one second.
“Once we retrain your body, we can put you into all sorts of sexy bras,” she said in a loving tone. “But first, we need to get you the standards and staples that will make it up.” She lifts up the beautiful ivory bra I wore earlier, almost as if to indicate that this was the first step on the journey.
I go behind the curtain and slip it back on and the white tank top over it. I head out with the other girl, and the owner encourages the both of us to jump up and down, shimmy, move our bodies this way and that to get a feel of the bras she has us in. We begin to giggle, as if we are new friends, laughing as the owner is ordering us around like puppets. Yet inside, I am feeling more connected to myself in every bit of the movement.
* * *
I’m 31, lying on my bed looking up at the vaulted ceilings of my room in my single girl Los Angeles apartment. My phone rings and it’s my mother on the other line. I ask her how she is.
“Not good,” she said. “I… I have breast cancer.”
My heart might as well have quit beating, the world coming to a complete stop. It was a slap in the face, particularly for the woman who has begged me almost every day for the past five years to get a mammogram due to the large size of my breasts. I shrugged it off, but now breast cancer lived in my childhood home, near the heart of the woman who breastfed me.
When cancer knocks on your door, you have no choice to answer. It is always an unwelcome guest, lounging in your chairs, eating your emotions up and staring you down. You can’t ask it to leave. It never leaves; it becomes somewhat of a permanent houseguest from that point on.
The news was so stressful it triggered a cold, which was then followed by a dose of heaping guilt. Looking down at my body, I had the reminders of my mom’s struggle pasted squarely on my chest, and began feeling ashamed that I was carrying around a reminder for her.
Her double mastectomy was two weeks after the diagnosis. I wore pink Converse, and the last thing she said to me before going under anesthesia was how dirty they were, trying to forget where we were sitting. I lounge around in the beige waiting room, feeling every inch of my breasts and their attachment on my body as my mother was having hers removed.
I couldn’t help to think of the video my father had from a week after I was born, with my mother breastfeeding me in the backyard of our North Hollywood home as my sister ran along the grass. My dad was holding the camera as he told her her in the softest, sweetest tones how much he loved her. It wasn’t because her breasts were exposed. It was because he found beauty in its most natural, human state: a mother and her child bonding. His baby girl.
Three weeks later, I boarded a plane to Israel, fulfilling a 15-year dream while my mother recovered from surgery at home. I headed to holy place after holy place, prayers on my tongue and flames from my fingers, lighting candles in the hopes that it will help somehow. Friends and strangers both embrace me as I tell them my story. About her. About me.
Despite an ill mother at home, there is an unusual source of strength building inside of me. My body lets go of past grievances from mountaintops and sacred spaces where I seek and find so much. My mouth laughs, eyes cry and heart sings. My ears are listening to the songs of my people as my feet dance, moving forward to destination after destination.
A week after I arrive, I meet a boy in old Jaffa. He is tall and skinny, with a spiral earring in his left ear and tattoos across his arms. His soft Israeli voice offers me a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from his bar and asks me out within minutes of meeting me. Despite the tattoos and earring, something in me is drawn to accept his invitation, so I do.
He and I eventually head to the Mediterranean beach with beers in hand and my favorite chocolate bar with pop rocks. After an hour of conversation, awkward American me is trying to get him to kiss me, and eventually he does. It’s soft and tastes sweet and savory all at once. He moves his fingers through my hair, holding my face at a distance and looking into my eyes before kissing me again. I feel his body moving against mine, holding me close, my chest pressed against his.
His hands move around my waist as he kisses the tops of my breasts where they meet my black tank top. He doesn’t move his hands underneath it, but nuzzles his face against the soft skin, feeling my heart beat against his ears as I sigh in contentment. My past melts away. Any pain from my mother’s mastectomy scars and all the cuts on my soul fade slightly as his lips find mine again.
Later in the night, he strips off my clothes in a nearby hotel room and touches every part of my body lovingly, breasts and all. He tells me how beautiful I am, how incredible all the parts of me are together — my words, my soul, my body, my mind. Even though I have just met this person, his actions don’t give me a reason not to believe him.
The night ends and he begs me to see him again before I leave the country. And as I head up to my room, a part of me strangely realizes that it’s not because he told me that I’m beautiful that I chose to believe him. It’s because in this moment in my life, despite every struggle and difficulty thrown in my path, I knew I was.
* * *
I exit the dressing room, realizing that half an hour ago I placed an order at the Thai restaurant down the street for some noodles. I decide to talk to the owner privately before I left.
“It’s weird shopping for bras,” I tell her.
“Why is that?” she asks me.
“Well, it’s different now. I’m divorced, and my mother just had a double mastectomy a year ago.”
She nods, her honey blonde hair shaking with her. “My mother died last April,” she said. “Breast cancer. I remember playing catch growing up with my grandmother’s prosthesis. It runs in my family. I’m terrified to get tested. Terrified for me, terrified for my girls.”
As if trying to ward off the bad memories that come with breasts, the owner continues to march through the store and show me her wares: the black baby doll lingerie, sexy red push-up bras, and a lace-topped teal-colored nightgown with bra support that was surprisingly machine washable.
“I don’t think I’m in the market for something sexy like that,” I said, looking at the teal nightgown. “I’m single, I don’t have a guy yet, still working on it.”
“What does it matter if you have a guy or not?” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Be sexy for yourself. That’s all that matters.”
In this conversation, between the fear of cancer and the sexiness of breasts, I couldn’t help but to think of the idea behind DNA, everything from the BRCA gene to the XX chromosome. They link us together in this strangely shaped chain. No matter what genes we have, we as women are somehow all linked to each other, even through our breasts. I was connected to the girl in the dressing room next to me, the clerk behind the counter with the kohl rimmed eyes, the owner and bra nazi, and even to my mother and her mastectomy scars, which are now covered in temporary butterfly tattoos.
We share these common parts as women, and they are all different. Men try to sexualize breasts, claim them as their own through their gaze, when in truth they can only appreciate and respect from a distance. They only belong to the ones attached to them, the owners who call them their own and understand what it is like to carry the weight, for better or for worse.
I hug the owner as I leave with my ivory bra in tow, heading down the street from Aphrodite’s as the retro queens and kings passed me by, my feet pounding mightily on the sidewalk, music blaring in my ears and a smile widening across my face. Mighty Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was living now inside the bosom of a strange woman, her thundering heart beating down Main Street in Ventura.
Author’s Note: Due to the length of this piece, this is a part one of two, with the second installment to be posted on Thursday. This is dedicated to all my sisters — with breasts big, small or not at all, not to mention their over-the-shoulder boulder holders.
The retro fashion queens and their wannabe kings of the 805 area code seem to flood the streets of Main Street Ventura, seeking thrift shop finds and secret treasures two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. I love coming up here, away from the too-cool-for-school Angelinos who parade in their designer wear and teeny tiny waists. I’m in Los Angeles all the time; Ventura feels like a vacation from superficially twisted thinking.
There was a place I always wanted to stop, called Aphrodite’s. It’s a lingerie shop, said to cater to all sizes of breasts. Since I have ample ones, it seemed only fitting that I would find my way here to this tiny little storefront with its dark green awnings.
I stopped at the counter, and the girl behind it with long straight hair and kohl-rimmed eyes smiled at me.
“Do you think you can help me?” I asked. “My boobs are rather large.”
“I noticed,” she said with a cheeky smile. Being 5’11 with an ample chest, it’s pretty hard to hide them from anybody. I sheepishly pursed my lips, but her face softened.
“Don’t worry,” the clerk said reassuringly. “She’ll be able to help you.”
Just then, I saw a 5’5 woman zip by behind me with honey-colored hair and tan skin. “Hi honey, how you doing?” she said as she touched my back and headed back to the dressing room. This was the owner.
“So is she like the bra whisperer or something?” I asked.
“More like a bra nazi,” the store clerk replied.
The owner then zipped by again, grabbing my right breast along the way through my teal-colored tank top.
“I’ve been called bra whisperer, bra nazi, titty fairy, titty whisperer, boob queen,” she said, feeling around my bust line. “Fuck, I’ve gotten it all.”
She then headed into the racks of jewel-colored bras decorated with lace and I looked at her, puzzled and shocked. Most bra shop owners treated me like a delicate flower (of which I am not nor ever have been) that has to hide her large bosom under high-necked granny bras. Not one had ever grabbed my boobs, let alone used the word “fuck.”
“She’s gotten further than several guys I’ve dated, and I just met her,” I said to the clerk.
“Yeah, that happens,” she replied.
“Do you think you have my size?” I asked the owner as she whizzed by again.
“Hon, I have bras up to a 46K,” she said, pulling off several bras from a rack. “You are no problem. Come with me.”
And as I followed her to the dressing rooms, I had no idea what to expect, feeling dumbfounded as if I had never shopped for a bra before. And I hadn’t. Not this way, anyway.
* * *
I’m newly 12 years old in my bunk at Jewish sleep-away camp. My mother has packed me a bra — light pink with soft cups and two hooks in the back. I have never worn a bra before, but she sent me off with one to camp. Looking at it and feeling the satiny-feeling fabric across my fingertips, I didn’t really know what to do with this new addition to my wardrobe. I just was expected to wear it while I was away. Why, I didn’t really know.
The other girls in my bunk are city girls from the San Fernando Valley — more mature, too cool for school, shaving their skinny chicken legs out on the concrete floors of the cabin while sitting on top of bright beach towels. They talk about having sex with the boys and having them sneak into our bunks, bragging about conquests when in truth they probably hadn’t even had their first kisses yet.
One of the girls has coarse black hair, an upturned nose and an emerald green satin bra from Ralph Lauren. In a snobby yet strangely helpful tone, she shows me from across the bunk how she puts it on: Instead of hooking her bra from behind her back, she turns the bra upside down and inside out, with the hooks in the front underneath her breasts. She hooks the two latches on the band and then flips it around her body, pushing herself up in them. She seems to have been doing it forever.
I follow her example with my off-brand, soft-cupped pink bra, forcing my barely existent breasts into them, yearning for the cleavage and confidence of the girl with the black hair in her body. To this day, I don’t know any other way to put on a bra.
At 13, this is the same bra I wear when a boy grabs my left breast in the hallways at school. At one point wandering the halls months later, I see him, scream and run in the other direction. I get into trouble because of my yelling, not knowing how to explain what he had done. After all, I was a teenage ADHD brat; who was going to believe me?
* * *
“Are you getting married?” the owner asks me randomly.
“No, no,” I laugh. “Been there, done that, not exactly ready to do it again. I barely even have a guy for it.”
She nods her head as she gets me into the fitting room, and I’m taking off my top in the golden dim light behind the cream-colored curtain. I unhook the four hooks on my black bra, whose cups are so large it covers both of my breasts completely. The owner comes in with a different bra — white with thin black stripes, with black lace on top of the cups.
“Bend over,” she says, as I slowly put my arms into the armholes of the bra, coughing slightly as I move my body forward. She hooks me in the back.
“Pull everything in,” she says. “All of it — we need to see the true cleavage.”
Bending over, I slightly adjust my breasts in each cup of the bra. She shakes her head, indicating to me that all of me has to go in there — pulling the tissue in from the back, the armpits, from all the different pockets of fatty areas that I never thought could move forward on my body.
“Get it all!” she yells at me. As her voice barks the orders, I can see why people have come to label her as a bra nazi. This is obviously a woman who takes breasts very, very seriously.
My head lifts and my brown hair spills over my breasts. My cleavage, my bust line is startlingly sexy. I haven’t been in a lacy bra like this in years. It’s alarming for someone like me, who has stuck to simple standards in her wardrobe that can be paired with any t-shirt that’s in my closet.
“Are you a thong girl?” she asks me. I shook my head immediately no — comfort is key in my world, and she grabs the matching pair of cheeky underwear that go with the bra.
I couldn’t remember the last time I bought a bra that had a matching panty to go with it, like a luxurious queen of the bedroom. No one had looked at me in my underwear on a regular basis in a long time. Of course, the last time that happened, it was with a person who barely even registered the lingerie I was wearing, let alone me as a sexual human being.
* * *
I’m newly 15, lying on the brown leaved ground of Idyllwild with my camp boyfriend. It’s Friday night and he is begging me to take my top off. My body barely registers this new level of physical intimacy, but my mind is racing and my heart is beating fast. Up until this point, the only people to see me in my bra are girls in the locker room and camp bunks who don’t see me as sexual, who also have breasts and don’t see mine as a big deal. Even then, I still don’t feel comfortable with them seeing me without a shirt.
After an hour of him coaxing, I finally slip off my white tank top in the cold night air. His breath quickens as his hands run against my skin clumsily. He puts his ear against my heart, and it reassures me. I relish the idea that he is listening to the core of me. It makes me feel more alive, beautiful.
Several days later, he successfully takes off my bra, nuzzling his nose against the soft skin and putting his lips on my nipples, which I feel awkward about how tiny they are but he says are perfect. He tells me he loves me and wants to have sex with me. He doesn’t have a condom, so I say no.
These breasts are childlike compared to the one to come at 16: Huge D-cups with stretch marks from the weight gain due to the medicine my psychiatrist has prescribed me. When I point it out to him, he shrugs, pointing out that the weight gain, particularly in the breasts, is from the medicine thinking my body is pregnant. He then says to me, “Look on the bright side — at least you’re not lactating.”
On the verge of 19, my camp boyfriend and I meet again while he’s away at school, with him saying that he wants me to lose my virginity to him. During our excursion, he leaves bruises and bite marks all over the soft white skin of my now-large breasts, and the reddish blue welts take weeks to disappear. I wore high-necked shirts and prayed my mother would never see them and ask me what had happened.
A few days after that, he tells me that he won’t have sex with me, as I’m fat and unattractive now. I lose my virginity to a friend who says, “Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I’ll do it with you.” I say okay. Sex wasn’t about love anymore; it was about who wanted to take my top off.
* * *
Another girl has joined me in the fitting rooms, next door to me. She is shorter, but has ample cleavage that pushes together. I felt envious that I had a gap between each breast and wished that they could look like hers.
The owner slips me into a teal bra, the same color as the shirt I walked in with, which she points out is a great color on my skin tone. Like the other bra, it makes my breasts look sexy as she gets me to push everything forward.
Finally, after about 10 minutes of being in the shop, the owner asks me what I’m looking for. I tell her that I’m looking for a nude bra to wear under white shirts. What I didn’t tell her is that my current nude bra begins to make a creaking noise under the heavy weight of my breasts whenever I move, and it was awkward enough to have large boobs without them announcing their presence through noise.
I stand there and take off the teal bra, placing it on the striped bra and panties from earlier. In the owner walks, holding a romantic-looking ivory-colored bra with lace accents and bows. I was shocked — my nude bras were all a medical-bandage beige color, usually topped with a lace overlay to make up for the fact that they were such an unattractive color.
She helps me slip it on, encouraging me once again to scoop all my breast tissue into the cups. I stand there, looking at myself. My skin looks beautiful in this ivory color, the same color that my wedding dress once was.
“Let’s try it on with the skin-tight tank,” she said. “You need to see what it looks like under a shirt.”
She begins running around, yelling for her clerk to find the skin-tight tank top, and I keep looking at myself in the mirror. This bra makes me feel beautiful, womanly, delightfully curvy in the right places and slimmer in the rest. I feel innocent yet strangely sexy, which is not something I’m used to when I simply put on a bra.
The owner puts her hand into the dressing room give me the white skin-tight tank top, and I slip it on. As I see the other girl coming out of her dressing room, who is also wearing the same bra as me under her black shirt, I don’t feel as luxuriously sinful with the shirt on. But then, through the thin material of the tank, I see little hints of the bra through it. I have to remind myself that, underneath the surface I present to the world, something sexy is still under the surface.
To be continued…
My stuffy head from my cold seemed to be drowning in the thick Beverly Hills air. I had just left dinner with him and was holding a box with my leftover pizza. The back of my shirt was all lace, so the night atmosphere struck it like a whip.
“Could you hold my pizza box?” I asked him after we crossed the street. “I need to put on my sweater.”
He held it as I put it on, and then I went to take back my pizza box, he jerked it away.
“No,” he grinned wickedly, a twinkle of fun in his eye while his nasal voice betrayed his own stuffiness. “It’s my pizza now.”
I went to grab it, and it was pulled away. Again. And again.
“C’mon!” I yelled. He began to run, giggling. My feet began to hurt as my nasal voice began calling out his name, and it almost seemed to egg him on. Being taller than me, he held it out of my reach, laughing as I began climbing all over his nice work clothes to get it, holding him desperately by the waist as he tried to walk away with it. It wasn’t malicious; rather, I joined in on the game, becoming winded in my sickness but still wanting to play as the pizza box was out of my reach.
That pizza box might as well have been the two of us. It seemed like this had been going on for months. We had been friends for a long time, but since the moment we started hanging out just the two of us, we were grasping and stumbling, tripping over our different hindrances as we opened up to one another. At first, I was scared of him messaging me every day and sending me articles and being around all the time, as I didn’t know if I wanted him that close. But then, it just became so natural that when he wasn’t around it frightened me.
Together, we could be anything we wanted. We could be silly — balancing macaroni boxes on our heads while taking pictures, singing songs, making each other laugh during the day through endless conversations. We could be serious — talking about our past relationships, our families, stories that we would never share with anyone else, revealing our deepest secrets. He had shown he how much he cared through so many methods, I had no idea that there were so many ways to do it. He was kind, warm and the person who I felt I could say anything to. And before I knew it, I was falling for Mr. Pizza Box. The one thing I couldn’t say to him.
The last time I fell like this it hurt. I fell in love with one of my best guy friends after my divorce, but the timing was off and it didn’t work. The promise of a relationship was there, complete with games and guesses, but every time I tried to go for it, it faltered — until eventually it was destroyed. I lost the friendship, lost him, and three years down the line, it still takes a lot of effort to look at any pictures of him and not feel stabbing pains in my stomach.
Mr. Pizza Box knows about that guy. He nicknamed him “Baldie” after I told him his name and he looked up his picture on Facebook. What he didn’t know is that we were experiencing the same exact M.O. that I was back them: Close friend who knew me better than most people, who would always answer when I called and would do almost anything for me. This “Baldie” would have, could have just as easily been my next husband. Yet when the time came to make it real, when all I asked was for him to grab a cup of coffee with me, which would lead to the discussion, it was time to run. To this day he is out of reach, like that pizza box that I was trying to grab while winded from a cold.
It was moments like these that made me wonder how I ever ended up married in the first place. But in my mind I went back to that night 10 years ago, back when my ex-husband first came to my apartment and we watched the sun come up while we were both naked in my bed. My ex was a simpleminded fool, but that made it easy for him: He wanted something. He went to go get it. He got it.
Despite everything wrong with him (and there was a lot), this was the one thing he could do correctly that leaves other guys stumped. Meanwhile, I watch myself dating, with other guys shying away from me, fearful of rejection and not making moves unless they know with 100 percent certainly that I’m into them. And they usually don’t — I’m not particularly forthcoming in that respect.
He eventually handed the pizza box back to me as we sat on the nearby steps, holding hands. I kept looking at him, hoping he would look at me so we could finally have the kiss, the only thing that would let me know without a shadow of a doubt that he was into me, but it never came. As we continued walking, my lips felt like was going to say something, but I felt my words slip out from under me, the fear constantly consuming me as I kept trying to say it, then dismissing it by peppering in the words, ”It’s stupid,” multiple times before I walked out of his car.
Driving home along the canyon, I thought of my world three years ago, and how I lost one of my best friends and could today barely look at a picture of him without thinking about how there was a grin for everyone else, and then there was that soft smile he used exclusively for me. How today, when I would sit next to Mr. Pizza Box during certain things and would notice out of the corner of my eye how he kept looking at me, how he told me he loves my smile, how he kept doing all these wonderful things to me. How now, in addition to the Baldie, there was another boy on this planet who would have my heart, who I would love always no matter what happened to us.
Yet the next morning, as I ate the contents of my pizza box, I realized something: It was my choice. My relationship life didn’t have to be a series of games and guesses, where I would fall for boys who would rather play games than make moves. My love life no longer had to be founded on deception rather than honest, emotional feeling and communications. I could either claw and climb desperately over something that would never come down, or wait patiently on the sidelines until it was returned to me, brought to me because that person was done seeing me struggle and ready to compromise.
I didn’t have an answer one way or another of how this could be done. But at least the pizza was tasty.