By Jaycee Kemp of Running Through Water
I own 37 bras in 12 sizes. It’s complicated. I’ve grown weary of complicated. I’m 47.
When I was a little girl, I sat at my grandmother’s kitchen table and watched her float through the kitchen, preparing the foods that ultimately shaped memories of my childhood. She would skim the fat off the top of the chicken noodle soup boiling on the stove and plop it into mason jars to be saved for later to spread on rye bread. Her enormous, pendulous breasts would shimmy under her house coat, mirroring the gelatinous drippings with every shake of the spoon. There was this meat grinder she would clamp to the side of the table and feed boiled cow’s liver through the top and then furiously wind the crank to create play-doh-fun-factory snakes that oozed out of the front of the contraption in a big wooden bowl. I would watch the whole process incredulously as she seemed not to notice her boobs wrestling each other at her waist as if they were impish brothers pushing each other out of the way to get a turn at the crank. Grandma’s timing to get her meals on the table so everything came out hot at the same time still eludes me. If only I had paid as close attention to her process as I did those mysterious, Eastern European old lady boobs that rolled under her schmattah with a mind of their own.
It only recently occurred to me that the old lady who would shuffle quickly toward me with open arms and suffocate me in jugs as big as watermelons was only a few years older than I am today. Years ago, I decided I would put down the rye bread and schmaltz and I would never, ever spend my days roaming my home in front of my family braless. Yet…here we are.
I come from a long line of ethnic women with massive and unruly tits. When I started developing in the 4th grade, a mean girl gasped and told me, “You need to cover up! I can see your boobs through your blouse!” For the remainder of that primary school year, I wore baggy layers in hopes that people would just go on noticing I was the shortest kid in the class by six inches and continue making fun of that instead. By the time I was in 8th grade, I was a full B-cup on a 4’10” 80 pound prepubescent frame and earned the nickname “Muscles” by a kid who pinched either side of the front of his shirt, pulling it away from his body when he said it. I hear he is now halfway through a 20-year sentence for money laundering. Good for him. From that point forward, though, whenever an adult would leave the classroom, all the boys would mercilessly start harassing me about my huge “muscles.” The girls sat silently, facing forward for fear of being next, though my mother tried to tell me it was because they were jealous of all the attention I was getting. She told me the boys called her “Marlene Knockers” in junior high, which to this day makes me do a spit take even seeing it in writing.
“Will they ever NOT make fun of me?” I asked her.
“Oh, honey,” she said, wiping my 13-year-old tears. “No…but instead of saying it to your face, they will be off in the corner, whispering to each other and pointing and will buy you drinks….”
And whenever I question my parenting judgment just in general, I remember her words. Though it did turn out to be true and solid words of wisdom.
In a time before the internet and silicone but immediately after disco boobies, I believed that big boobs equaled fat. A girl in college told me if I put a pencil underneath them and it stayed there on its own, I was fine. Even if it didn’t mean I was fat, the twins once almost broke up a relationship when my friend’s boyfriend drunkenly pulled me aside to let me know I had “beautiful breasts and we should talk more.” The girls were obviously nothing but trouble. Big, beautiful trouble coupled with a 24-inch waist. It is with great feminist conflict and retrospect I report this issue.
Since my 30s, those mams have lived through the births and feedings of two babies. They have been squished through a mammogram machine 8 times. At one point, I thought my right lady pillow might be trying to kill me, so I had to call an attorney for a special needs trust because my beautiful little boy will need care the rest of his life but might not have a mom to do it. I have watched a beautiful friend grow weak and bald and worried when her tests didn’t go nearly as well. I have spent thousands of dollars on bras since turning 40 because the secret boob committee meets regularly regarding the redistribution of wealth to decide what size bra we will be wearing this month. Today, when men stare at my chest when talking to me, I am thinking they are searching for balanced nipples much in the way we all decide where we are trying to look when we talk to someone with a wonky eye. I wear sports bras so tight that I have believed I have more serious cardiac issues than I really do just to keep the girls from wandering off on their own and possibly engineering their own start up or Banana Republic or whatever it is jugs do when they grow up and move out.
In my childhood, breasts served as cartoonish comfort. In my adolescence, their purpose seemed to be humiliation and confusion. In early adulthood, they betrayed more than just me. In mothering years, they were a barometer of all things private and served as reluctant nourishment to my autistic kid. Now in perimenopause, as my nips and hips meet and sway in solidarity, they serve no other purpose than to be an embarrassment under a house coat. Containing them publicly means nothing less than a restraining order. I consider taking control before that quiet little golf ball hiding under layers of adipose tissue decides I should write my next quippy, heartfelt article about the ins and outs of chemo. I’m weary of women who speak of the feminism of surgically putting their rack back where it belongs or how the melons that once defined their sexuality now serve as comforting shelves to the sleepy heads of grandchildren. I’m tired of neck pain and the reasonable excuses to avoid not getting dressed to be a part of the world outside of my kitchen while managing my wilting and existential estrogen. After 47 years, I feel ready to bid that very inconvenient, expensive part of me a fair ta-ta.
About the Author
Jaycee Kemp is a social worker raising two perfect kids on the spectrum in an imperfect world. When she is not busy being educated about life by them, she likes to take what she has learned and tell people all about it through time consuming things like TEDx talks, book-writing and blogging. Jaycee been featured on The Mighty, Break The Parenting Mold, Birdhouse for Autism and her own corner of the internet at www.runningthroughwater.com. You can also find her way more than you should on social media on Facebook and on Twitter.