A few weeks ago, as we were going to bed, my daughters asked me if they should get training bras. They said that their friend pointed out that you can see the outline of their breasts through their shirts, and that they needed to wear a bra. I asked them what they thought of that. They said it made them feel self-conscious.
And so it starts.
I won’t pretend that this exchange didn’t make me angry. I wanted to bat the little bugger who told them that, to ask her what it was she found so objectionable about the budding breasts of a couple of 10-year-olds. Of course, I couldn’t do that, so I asked my 10-year-olds what they thought she found so objectionable.
They didn’t know. Then, suddenly sensing a didactic moment coming on, they tried to slough it off.
“Mom,” said Delaney, “It’s not a big deal.”
Delaney needs to get better at warding off didactic mom moments.
“Y...eah it is,” I drawled, eliciting eye rolls from my children, who wanted nothing more than to cuddle me before they fell asleep.
These are the moments that I wish I was more subtle. The moments when I wish I had learned the art of communicating in a sly and underhanded way – you know, like women are supposed to do. I have always communicated straight on. Like a man. Which is why I scare people. Including, apparently, my daughters.
So, lacking subtlety, I reached for the sledge hammer.
“When you grow breasts, it means you’re starting puberty. And there’s something about girls starting puberty, and coming into their own sexuality, that scares people. And so we try to tell girls that they should be ashamed of themselves. That they should put on a bra or lose weight or not stand out too much.”
OK, I don’t know if I said it as well as that. I’m a much better writer after the fact than I am a speaker in the moment. But I did use the word sexuality. Which did make them cover their faces under their blankets. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that.
But I went on.
“If you want training bras, I would be happy to buy them. But I don’t think you need a bra until your breasts are big enough to need to be held in place. When it hurts when you run, you know you need a bra. When they get big enough that you know you can eventually do damage to your breasts or your back and that you need support, you know you need a bra. You don’t need a bra because someone can see the outline of your buds and is uncomfortable with that.
“You are not responsible for anybody else’s comfort level with your body.”
At this point, Delaney started talking about books.
Here’s the thing, I have very large breasts, and I have always hated them. I’ve analyzed this a lot over the years. Part of it is that I grew up in the Twiggy era, when the model of beauty was an negative A cup. Part of it is that I found bras to be the most uncomfortable piece of clothing ever invented. I wanted to just put on my t-shirt and go. But most of it, I think, was the reaction of people around me to the changes in my body. At 10 or 11, I still wanted to run around in fields and play football with the boys at recess. Suddenly, these THINGS started growing and I had to wear this strangling apparatus, while simultaneously coming under tremendous pressure to rein myself in. No more playing in fields. No more wearing boys t-shirts. I was too blunt. I had to be more subtle. Like a girl.
Of course, right after this exchange with my daughters, I felt torn. In trying to advocate for them being comfortable with their own bodies, I think I may have made them feel like they can’t wear a bra or mom will get mad. I don’t want them to have to suffer the comments and stares of other kids because they think I might think less of them for conforming. So I bought them bras. And now they hate to wear them because they’re uncomfortable. And I’ve decided at this point to let them sort through that without my didacticism or my own experience.