may day retrospective, part ii. porn star

Wow, I didn’t realize your tits were so huge!

Those words were spoken in an office.
Of an elementary school.
By a teaching colleague, a friend.
We’d run into each other over the weekend.
At the beach.
I was on my way to the water. He was passing by in the lifeguard jeep.
There wasn’t a chance to cover up. I always covered up.

That was back in the 80s when cup-sized swimwear was practically non-existent, and so I had to wear whatever I could find to accommodate an outlandish figure: a petite, size-4-frame with a triple D bust. My swim top was bright and floral and barely contained me.

As a girl, I had longed for breasts; had been mocked in junior high by my best friend’s mother for how flat chested I would be. I suppose I had longed too hard.

“Just pray your boobs don’t grow as big as your sister’s,” my cousin whispered to my younger siblings.

“Sexpot,” my suite-mates called me at our Catholic University where their cocktail dresses had chastity-high necklines. “We know you can’t help it.”

My mother assured me that if I lost some weight my breasts would shrink too.

30 pounds lighter only accentuated my breasts; and so, as I entered the workforce, I did the best I could, carefully selecting clothing that detracted, while underneath, confining my chest, my breath, day in and day out, with special-ordered “minimizers.”

“Mr. D. is talking to the boys about your body,” my sixth-grade social studies students told me about my colleague in the classroom next door. “He likes your butt.”

“What’s wrong with these pants?” I asked my husband when I got home. “Are they too fitting?”

“The women think you’re a snob,” a colleague down the hall confided. “Try being less focused, more social.”

“I just want to do a good job,” I told my husband. “Why don’t they like me?”

“Do you want to file a sexual harassment claim?” another colleague asked me in the hallway. He had apparently overheard the: “I didn’t realize your tits were so huge,” comment.

“It’s okay,” I said, mortified.

“Once you become a mother, they’ll shrink,” my sisters promised, “Especially if you nurse.” But two babies later, this wasn’t true either.

“She’s got the body of a porn star.”

This was spoken by the husband of a friend, whose daughter was in preschool with my son; I was their teacher.

“MILF,” my baby sister’s boyfriend whispered at my son’s Christmas Concert.

I had to look that one up.

These were comp liments, right? They had to be. I was over 20, over 30, over 40. Why then did they feel so confusing inside? Why did I feel so much shame?Why do I still?

Why does “Porn star,” still reverberate in my mind every time I look in the mirror at a figure accentuated instead of minimized, even over 50.

I think of my husband’s great aunt whose healthy body continued into her nineties outstripping her mind riddled by dementia. More and more I worry that my body is outstripping my age in a different way, like the way my nephew noted when he took in the beautiful form of a woman, only to have her turn around, and reveal, to his emphatic horror: “She was old!” (Like 40, he said.)

Maybe I should let myself go. My hair is silver, my breasts sagging, some extra weight would be appropriate. Distracting. Less attracting; less revolting.

I remember how sad I was when Farrah Fawcett died before she could soften into an age safely beyond sex symbol. When is that now?

Menopause. As it approached, I found myself less and less able to bear the wire-framed contraptions that had so long protected me, which all climaxed this past winter when the only bras I could tolerate were the ones that neither minimized nor lifted, let alone complemented my petite form. But sweaters and scarves hide a multitude of sins.

The sin of a shapely body. The sin of being white, middle-class, educated and large-breasted. The sin of being female. The sin of wanting to be comfortable.

Finally! The first warm day. I pull on a new t-shirt, only to discover that the absence of layers reveals my secret. These soft, stretchy bras won’t work without layers.

“The body of a porn star,” reverberates from the mirror.

I return to my bra drawer, hands hovering over neglected minimizers. “Fuck it.”

I leave the stretchy bra on but not because I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to be so busty, but because last week on Twitter, after stepping into a hornets’ nest around something called #SESTA, I actually talked with some porn stars, and it turns out that they’re just working women too, with inalienable rights to their own bodies. To be ashamed to look like them is to be ashamed to be female.

I don’t want to pass that onto another generation, but when a young relative posts some disturbingly provocative photos, I wrestle with my response until I realize that what she is expressing about herself is alarming if I take boys out of the picture. Out of HER picture.

How much longer will we let the male gaze define/confine us?

Undress! Cover up!

Growing up in a resort town, the holy grail for females was: Bronze, long-legged, flat-bellied & busty. “She’d be a 10 if her hair was straight,” my father once said to my mother when I arrived home from the beach. I was 17. But he was wrong. I was too petite and too curvy and my towhead too faded. “You should dye it back like it used to be,” my dark-haired, dark-eyed mother said. “At least get some blonde highlights.”

I never cared quite enough about appearance, which doesn’t mean that I was  immune to suffering on account of it, even at this age, even today in a stretchy bra that weighs down my petite form; but I never was willing to devote enough time to it and so, I never looked as good as I could or as I was supposed to look. I wore glasses. I hated shopping. I didn’t wax.

“You’re different,” my father said, when I told him that women, like men, had ambitions, beyond being attractive, and that the election of #45 set a tone for the nation that was dangerous.

“What are you talking about?” he said.

“I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t been sexually assaulted in her lifetime,” I said.

“Who are hanging with!” he asked.

“Even your own daughters,” I said.

“What do you mean?” he countered. “Are you talking about dating?”

It’s no wonder my mother and grandmothers and aunties were alcoholics.

And now there are more whispers.

Two with breast cancer.

We have hated our bodies/our selves for too long.

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