Everyone has a thing that people use to describe them in lieu of a last name. “You know, Jake with the lazy eye,” or “Have you met Lauren with the long hair?”, or “No, not that Sally – the Sally with the super rich uncle.” That short, three word description that sets you apart from all the other people that share your first name.
I’m not sure what my descriptor is, but if I had to guess, it would be either, “Lily, the Australian one,” or “Lily, the loud one”. Or potentially, “Lily, with the big boobs.”
It’s a fact about me that I can try to hide with shapeless t-shirts and high necklines, but it’s always going to be there – like my Australianness or my ability to make any room seem like an echo chamber. And for most of my life, I hated this fact about me. I hated it so much that I would wear bras that my breasts would pour over the top of, like doughy muffin tops, just so I could say that I fit into a smaller cup size. I hated it so much that I spent a lot of time fantasizing about getting out a knife and just chopping them off, like the boob-addled equivalent of King Henry VIII. I hated it so much that every time I went bra shopping as a teenager I inevitably ended up sitting on the floor of a changing room, weeping into a bra big enough for a child to wear as a sunhat.
I didn’t want any of this. I wanted to wear triangle bikinis. I wanted to lie on my stomach. I wanted to say, “Ops, I forgot to put on a bra this morning!” and giggle mischievously. But I am willing to bet that since the dawn of bras, when they were basically just saucepans tied together with rope, no one with big boobs has ever *forgotten* to put on a bra. In fact, I’m as confident in my ability to remember to put on a bra as I am to remember my own name.
I had a complicated relationship with my body as a teenager, and like a lot of people, I spent a lot of time believing deep down to my core, that smaller was better. Smaller hips, smaller waist, smaller boobs. Now, I know this is a lie. I know this is a lie because I have never once thought someone was a better person because they happened to possess any of those things. They are as inconsequential as the width of their iris or whether their big toe is bigger or smaller than their second toe. But obviously these truths are easier to accept in other people than they are in yourself.
That’s how I ended up in a doctor’s surgery having an appointment about a breast reduction. That’s how I ended up learning that my right boob sags half a centimetre lower than my left, but that my left nipple is half a centimetre bigger. And as this complete stranger was measuring my breasts and providing a running commentary on their failings and how they would ‘correct’ them in the surgery, I found myself become immediately defensive of them.
“You don’t know what we’ve been through together,” I wanted to shout, “you weren’t there!” And how was he to know that I had used my boobs to smuggle any number of things past watchful eyes; a camera into a Justin Timberlake concert, tampons into bathrooms, alcohol past my mother. How was he to know that while I spent the majority of my life pulling up the front of tops so that you couldn’t see any of my cleavage and that I had recently developed a niggling lower back ache that refused to budge, these things had somehow become a part of who I was, personality ticks that I couldn’t quite imagine my life without.
I walked out of the appointment surprised at my own reaction. I had wanted a breast reduction for as long as I’d had breasts. I had wanted this since that day when I was 12 and I woke up with C cup boobs, and wished for it every day since as they grew larger and larger like lumpy chest balloons. I had spent such a long time aching for my boobs to be gone, that I hadn’t really stopped to consider if I still wanted it now.
As I walked out of the doctor’s office, I patted my boobs affectionately, like an awkward character in a rom-com who realises that they’ve fallen in love with the girl who’s been driving them crazy this whole time.
After that, I stopped trying to force my boobs into triangle bikinis or bras that didn’t fit. I accepted the fact that bras that actually fit me were going to look more like feats of human engineering rather than dainty, aren’t-I-an-effortlessly-elegant-pixie sort of contraptions. I accepted that I can’t wear billowy tops without looking like I’m trying to conceal a pregnancy. I accepted that I will maybe need to wear two sports bras to go running. I accepted that there will always be crumbs in my cleavage. That my cup size will always fall closer to the middle of the alphabet than the beginning.
But most of all, I accepted my body. And I learnt to love my boobs because hey, they’re mine.
Image: Hailey Hamilton