(DISCLAIMER: I’m going to be talking about boobs a lot in this post. Yes, boobs.)
Last week Stevie Martin wrote a fantastic piece for the Vagenda about having big boobs. Read it now, it’s brilliant stuff and made me lol in the office (oops).
She’s right: the fashion industry, women’s magazines, and society at large all have massive problems with real women’s bodies. They just won’t let us be, and having tiny baps isn’t much better, either. Hold it, hold it, I know what you’re thinking, large breasted ladies – you’re hating me because you think I’m doing a Samantha Brick (obnoxious ‘waaa waaa waaa life is so hard when you’re really pretty and people give you free champagne all the time’ Daily Mail writer). Let me assure you, I’m not. As far as I see it, being pretty is an objective good (I have lots of beautiful friends, thank you very much Samantha, and no one hates them. Maybe you should try being nice? Just a thought…), having small boobs is not (in fact, in my mind having small boobs = not being pretty… but more on this in a minute).
Let me explain: when I was about 10 years old, I was a BBC Pride and Prejudice addict, and in my mind the ultimate model of perfect womanliness, of grown up femininity and essentially the epitome of everything I wanted to be was Lizzie Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle. There’s that fab bit where she sings over her beautiful bosom at Mr Darcy and they hold sizzling eye contact for, well, ages. (Thinking about it now, I suppose it’s rather unrealistic that his gaze doesn’t flicker down once or twice, but then that’s just one of his many charms.) I waited and waited for my boob growth spurt to kick in. I bought the smallest bra I could find and prayed that I would one day fill it. All around me, my friends were blossoming into young women, and I had the dispiriting feeling that I was being hopelessly left behind, a lanky, awkward straggler who would never really be admitted into life as a real adult woman. I used to hate getting changed for PE at my all girls’ school when I was 15, anxiously concealing the fact that I wasn’t really concealing anything. When I was about 16, the school nurse asked if I had an eating problem. Yes, I thought, I’m eating as much as I can but it never seems to give me boobs.
I don’t mean to belittle the fact that there are many anorexic 16 year olds, or that the process of becoming an ample breasted lady is painful in more ways than one. I just want to explain my aversion to the words ‘skinny’ (having too much skin and nothing to fill it, being all skin and bones – is this supposed to be a word with nice connotations?!) and ‘boyish’ (but I don’t want to look like a boy! I want to look like a woman!). Why, when it is so obviously rude to call someone fat, is it okay for random strangers (in shops, in the swimming pool changing rooms) to comment on my weight? Would someone tell someone else that they should eat less out of the blue and get away with it? No! Well, why do they feel they can randomly tell me to eat more? I eat plenty, as a matter of fact. ‘You’re skinny as a stick’ is often bandied around as if it’s meant to be a massive compliment, when in fact there are few other things that manage to set off my insecurities as violently as that phrase. Who the hell wants to look like a stick? I spent most of my teen years worrying about precisely that, that my limbs were too stick-like, and wishing I could be more like Jennifer Ehle in an empire line dress; thanks very much, you just reminded me that I hate my body. What was that? Oh, you were trying to say something nice? That’s just fantastic.
Yes, I admit that because of fashion’s weird obsession with making women’s clothes that are, in fact, designed for young boys, it can be easier to find clothes and bras that fit in mainstream shops. That doesn’t mean they all look good, though. More often than not I’m squinting at myself in the mirror, rejecting things that make me look too shapeless. I once read someone describe a small breasted woman in the wrong bikini as having breasts that looked like two underfed sparrows flapping around St Paul’s cathedral; this idea haunts me in all the changing rooms. What a massive, messed up case of the grass is always greener. How sad that so many women want something that I see as being so incredibly undesirable. In fact, a recent report showed that half the residents of the UK have problems relating to negative body image.
You see, the problem is that women’s magazines and society in general is always commenting on women’s weight, whether it’s to point out that they are curvy (aka rather a normal woman, if such a thing exists) or too skinny (Oh no! We can see some bones! Anorexia alert!). Here’s a thought: women come in all shapes and sizes, and most of us have grown up wishing we were different in one way or another, so why doesn’t everyone just shut up and let us be ourselves? Our own, lovely, healthy selves, whatever that means for our own personal body shape. And actually sometimes we won’t look our best, but that’s okay too. Maybe we’re just having a bad hair day. Who cares? The point is, after all, that we just want you to look at who we really are, not just at what we look like.