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home : readerswrite : onyourmind April 28, 2016

My breasts
"My breasts are mine. Not for doctors, pervy photographers,
lechers, deranged in-laws, surgeons or assertions from a shopkeep."
-Elizabeth Burns

by Elizabeth Burns

I explained to the saleswoman that I didn't want to try on a shirt in her (overpriced) boutique because, "I'm wearing the wrong bra to try on any clothes today."

She nodded, smirked and said: "Breast reduction surgery."

"Really?" I said.

Where was the grown-up 52-year-old woman in me, who at age 12 had been shyly fitted with a 36C and is now proudly gathered in the lace and satin of a 44E?

This woman, ostensibly there to please and accommodate customers, considered anatomical advising as part of her retail hospitality.

"It's the best surgery I ever did," she said. "And my husband loved it."

"Really?" I said.

"I can give you the name of my surgeon. I think I have his card."

Was my face registering nothing? Was I overcompensating with politesse because of years of good manners, or years of shame instilled by nasty boys, jealous girls and abusive relatives?

I related the exchange to my dear friend, who is well endowed-with rich, lustrous, auburn curls. She is often a subject of envy, but she endures slighting comments, too. We recognized that a parallel to my situation would be someone saying to her, "I know a great way for you to straighten your hair."

Altering a woman's size and shape has been this culture's Russian roulette: anorexia, bulimia, hair relaxers, rhinoplasty, implants, Botox, waxing, lye and dye treatments ...

I don't mind that breasts are admired. A lover recently expressed satisfaction at encountering a pair of "real" breasts (highlighting an age difference that caught me off guard), and I felt both admired and shocked.

The story of my breasts can be encapsulated by the saleswoman and the lover, but the 40 years since that 12-year-old in the 36C include waking to a brother-in-law's hands on my breasts while he masturbated in the darkness (I was 15), a doctor "arranging" my naked breasts against a cold X-ray screen (I was 16-in a different country-and didn't discover that this was not typical practice until another student had the same exam), stalkings, grabs, yanks, pokes, and numerous nicknames at school-from students and teachers.


This is an era crowded with breast references, iconography and obsession: Internet porn, implants, pink ribbons lighting up entire skyscrapers, "I love boobies" bracelets, radio lyrics shouting out "titties" and an overabundance of hormones in the milk linked to earlier onset of puberty.

My breasts have been useful: They have nursed and nourished two astounding babies, and they provided aesthetic inspiration when I was an artist's model.

But today, right this minute, I am going to affirm that my breasts are mine. Not for doctors, pervy photographers, lechers, deranged in-laws, surgeons or assertions from a shopkeep.

Breasts are, of course, natural. And these ones are naturally mine.

Elizabeth Burns is a poet and the author of "TILT: Every Family Spins on Its Own Axis." She lives in St. Louis Park.

Editor's note: This essay was published previously online at thefeministwire.com

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