Growing Up Like Skipper: On Breasts & Objectification

My first Barbie was a Growing Up Skipper doll. Skipper is Barbie’s younger sister.

A gift from one of my aunts during the 1970’s, my Skipper doll wasn’t an ordinary doll. Living up to her name, she could “grow” from girl to young woman in an instant. All you had to do was take her arms and wind them forward in a circular motion. Not only would she grow taller but her bust would get bigger. Wind her arms in the opposite direction and all of her would shrink back to original size.

At age 6, all I knew was that I had a “2-for-1” doll. Growing Up Skipper even came with an extra outfit for her older self to wear, and she had a tank top that doubled as a bathing suit.  Now, when I look back I am able to see how this doll was sexualized—just like when people prematurely endow girls with certain attributes and qualities so that they seem sexier and more mature.

My own boobs grew pretty quickly when I turned 13. It seemed like one moment my chest was flat and then within the year my mom and I were making multiple trips to Mervyn’s so we could replace the bras I rapidly outgrew.

My relatives were bemused at my physical transformation. While my boy cousins teased me mercilessly— “Hi Boobsie Queen!”— my titas (Filipina aunts) would talk about my breasts. “I don’t remember my boobs growing that fast,” said Tita X, as she and my other titas sat around shuffling mah-jongg tiles back and forth over a card table.

In middle school, CR and BW, two of the most popular boys, would comment on my breasts every chance they got. “Watch those boobs bounce!” CR once yelled out, as I ran from recess back to the classroom. I stopped, then slowed my pace to a walk—unsure whether I’d done something to elicit this attention and feeling like it was in part my chest’s fault.

I also blamed my breasts for adding weight to my body—I so wanted to be skinny, not curvy. I even tried weighing my boobs once when I was 14, lifting the scale onto the bathroom counter and attempting to pile them on as if they were melons. For a while after that, I decided that my “breast weight” shouldn’t count, and I’d knock off several pounds whenever I told anyone what I weighed.

When you have breasts that are larger than “average” (whatever that really means) even people you don’t know—males, in particular—automatically assume they have permission to comment on your boobs—“Nice tits! BIG BREASTED! Playboy-like, even”—and can touch them just because they feel like it.

There are the sporadic “feel-ups” that can happen anywhere—like at the video arcade during the 80’s when the guy playing Pac-Man next to me suddenly got too close, his hand brushing against the side of my chest in such a way that I couldn’t exactly call him on it. What if he tells me it was just an accident?

Then, there was that “checkup” by my doctor when the nurse stepped out of the room for just a few moments.  Rather than slightly lifting up my medical gown to feel my abdominal area, he pulled it up over my bare chest, his eyes grazing over my upper body while he told me to breathe.  He may not have physically touched my breasts but I walked away from that visit feeling violated.

Because of the way my body looked, some of my classmates thought I was sexually experienced even though I’d never been kissed yet. My date, whom I’d asked to a Sadie Hawkins Dance, stayed a polite arm’s length away from me all night, later explaining, “Girls like you probably want more than I’m ready to give.” I’d just been hoping that maybe he would hold my hand.

At a party during my twenties, I ended up being one of a few people to lose a card game. Our penalty was that we had to jump into the pool in our underwear. I figured that this really wasn’t any different from wearing a bikini, so I was surprised when, as I took off my clothes and stood there in bra and underwear, the guys around me started cheering, the sound of their beer bottles clinking together to toast me… or, rather, the sight of my breasts.

Not sure what to do, I just laughed and said, “Thank you!?” I mean, applause is always a compliment, right? Right?  Later, when one of the guys that I hardly knew came over to say goodbye, he hugged me, his chest lingering too long and tight against my own even as he kept one arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders.  

Unlike Growing Up Skipper dolls, real women don’t have arms that turn back the aging process, and their boobs, like the rest of their bodies, change as they grow older.  At some point naturally bigger breasts lose their “perkiness” and whatever perceived social advantages having big boobs supposedly come with get taken away. Instead, you are the recipient of comments like, “Ever thought of a breast lift?” Or, “You must be wearing a push-up bra!” And then you feel bad for feeling bad that your breasts, like the rest of you, are getting older.

What would my experience of my breasts have been like if they hadn’t been objectified so much?  I will never know. Then again, why not start relating to them differently now?

I decided to sit front of my mirror and really see my breasts: Is it okay I’m even doing this? As if looking at my own chest was somehow tawdry.

Cue the voice inside my head: I’m checking myself out… no I’m not… so what if I am…  this isn’t that! Followed by the realization that despite having had breasts all my life, I’d never really seen them.

Sure, I’d looked at my boobs before—scrutinized them even, to try and figure out what everyone else was fussing about—but to actually see them for their own sake, the way you would something or someone you want to know personally—never. I didn’t even know they were slightly asymmetrical. And then, more thoughts and observations: Is that a mole right there? I wonder if my boobs resemble my grandmother’s? Thank goodness they are healthy!  I think I love them… and on and on.

It was as if by seeing them directly, rather than through the filter of someone else’s gaze or perception, I was able to have my own experience of my boobs that was outside the construct of objectification that they had been imprisoned in for so long.

These are my breasts—they are not sex objects that happen to be attached to my body. They are part of my body, part of me.

Related Blog Posts:

I Think I Found My Thigh Gap 

Me and My Belly: A Love/Hate Story 

The Power of the Period


156 Comments on “Growing Up Like Skipper: On Breasts & Objectification”

  1. jennbird77 says:

    Yes, thank you for writing this. As a mother who breastfeeds, I think about my own breasts probably more than I want to. I feel that political debates about breastfeeding in public have so much to do with how the breast has been fetishized. As a mom, this feels so unfair, that I have to worry about offending people when I feed my baby, all because they’ve been trained to see breasts as primarily sexual objects.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thanks for sharing, Jenn. I haven’t had children yet so it has been really enlightening to me hear what mothers who have commented have to say about their relationship to their breasts. That objectification is also hurting women when they want to do the natural act of feeding a child is more evidence to me that the big O is absolutely insidious.

  2. […] Diahann Reyes wrote a beautifully eloquent and poignant post on her blog (Stories from the Belly) about how, as a woman with large breasts, she has spent a […]

  3. curvygurl5 says:

    I like the bravenes of women like you. And I appreciate you humbleness and frankness(is that the same). I am glad you are not ashamed to tell what happened to you. Thank you.

  4. aqilaqamar says:

    I feel no men has commented at all in this all. Because they wouldn’t be able to stomach this realization. Boys from a young age are taught to be physically and securely abusive towards women. Yes, taught because this is not naturally ingrained in men they are taught by an aggressive society that can have patriarchal crab that this is okay. This sort if teasing and bullying is also matriarchal because I see women do it to other women. It takes courage to confess these concerns. I am waiting for guys to write on penises nd chests too. They are more insecure than women because they feel invisible without bullying.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! It is my hope that the more awareness there is about what this type of objectification does to people we’ll all become more mindful and changes will be made. Definitely would be interesting to hear the men’s perspectives on their own body parts, too.

  5. J.E.S says:

    I grew up coveting my friends’ Barbie dolls because I did not have any. My mother refused to buy them. I also grew up in the 70’s. There was no discussion as to why I could not have them. It was just understood. I would like to think she rejected the idea of the female form being so outlandishly misrepresented and objectified. We also could not have sugar cereal…..

    • diahannreyes says:

      JES, sounds like your mom may have been way more progressive than the times :) For sure if I have kids I am going to keep them away from sugar cereal, too! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  6. nicolele96 says:

    I’m rather busty for an Asian/Malaysian/Chinese girl, and I’ve been on the receiving end of such comments before. Many guys just think it’s normal, or friendly to make comments, but normally I just quip back about their size. /shrug Oh well. It hasn’t exactly made me popular with my male peers, but some older ones who know how to treat and respect a woman appreciate my replies.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Nicole, thanks for reading and commenting. Good for you for speaking out. I think for so long people have assumed its okay to comment about breast size when really it’s not.

  7. bmdlesk says:

    As someone who grew much the way you did and is still coming to terms with being a ‘curvy’ girl rather than a ‘skinny’ one (regardless of how many sit ups, push ups and long runs I go on!) – thank you for this. Particularly the part about objectification as you grew up. I had a very similar experience and to this day, I fight against being ashamed of my body. I was told very early that, “You can’t wear that, you look like a playboy bunny!” as though wearing a moderately tight dress was for the male gaze, rather than feeling sexy for myself. I still dress extremely conservatively.

    One day, I want to be able to have an idea of the experience of having a larger chest without the shame, discomfort and assumptions that come with.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Bea, thanks for reading and sharing. It’s amazing for me to read about how so many of us have had similar experiences-including feeling like we’re responsible for other people’s reactions to us when we’re just being. Hopefully change is happening so that tomorrow’s girls will grow up with a different experience. Congrats on your new blog, btw.

  8. Lili says:

    Great post! I am so sick of how female breasts are being made into sex objects no matter what the situation. It’s OK to think my boobs look good but I don’t want to be treated differently because of it. I don’t want to be shamed if I decide to publicly breast feed, or be considered a loose woman just because my boobs happen to be big (equally I don’t want to be considered a non-woman if my boobs happen to be small). Nor do I want people to touch them without my permission.

    I get that female boobs always will be of interest to straight men but I don’t think it’s OK to base laws or stupid behavior on this. I shouldn’t have to censor my boobs just because society has decided that they’re sexual no matter what- if I want to be topless at a beach, I should be able to without being imposed a fine. If my nipples show through my top, I don’t want them to be thought of as disgusting (seriously, why would they be any more disgusting than those of men?). I don’t want to see fashion photos that have been retouched so that the see through materials don’t flash nipples- what kind of Barbiefied woman portrayal is that? And I don’t want to have a society where women must be flat chested or hide their big boobs to protect themselves from slimy hands.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Lili, thanks for touching upon so many of the layers to the subject of breast objectification, which is revealing itself to be pretty complex. Totally agree that the preconceptions about breasts of any size are so wrong and no one has the right to touch without asking or being offered permission!

  9. KP says:

    You’ve probably already seen this but, if you haven’t, I saw this on Buzzfeed yesterday: http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/this-bra-that-only-unhooks-for-true-love-is-basically-a-chas

    It is, horrifyingly, not a parody. Hope all is well with you, Diahann.

  10. bluerosegirl08 says:

    I love this! My mother d0dn’t ban Barbie from our house but she did explain that she had unrealistic body dimensions and that any girl who tried to make herself look that way would only succeed in making themselves sick. She also explained that the pictures of models that we saw in magazines had often been altered to remove scars, acne, or other “imperfections.” Because she has training as a a graphic artist she was even able to show my sister and I where the magazine pictures had been altered. It’s one of the best things she’s ever done for me. Because I use a wheelcha8r I have also had rude comments asked casually boiling down to how does sex “work” with me? It’s annoying

  11. helenjain21 says:

    Interesting post. It kind of reminds me of a conversation I had as a teen with a girl from Australia (while we were both exchange students in Japan. Go figure an American girl would meet a girl from Australia in Japan.)

    She stated in passing that she felt amazing in Japan because all of the girls were saying things like “Wow, your chest is so big! I wish I had such a great body.” And then she told me, “you know, back home I’m considered flat as a board! How great is it that here people think I’ve got great boobs?”

    For those of us who developed later, it’s easy to wish for a bigger chest. Coincidentally, I also always wished that my legs weren’t so fat. Isn’t it odd how we always want to have something different?

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi Helen, based on so many of the comments here, yours included, I’m beginning to see that always wanting to have something different seems to be the norm, unfortunately. And yes- so interesting that one culture may have a completely contrasting viewpoint than another. I’m 5’4. In America I’m short- in the Philippines, I”m considered tall. :) Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • helenjain21 says:

        I think that cultural perspectives do play a role in body image, but sometimes it can be a really negative experience. (I hated being called “skinny” when I visited India when in fact I am right at a healthy body weight for my height.)

        • diahannreyes says:

          Totally agree! It can also be very confusing for young girls who may not have yet had the time to really develop and own who they are- then they start to believe what the culture is telling them- “you’re skinny, you’re fat, your this, your that-when really, more often than not, the girl is normal and healthy.

  12. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! Look at those responses, WOW! See, I told you yours is exceptional writing.

  13. I had that doll, too. I always thought she was a bit weird, but I was obsessed with all things Barbie as a girl, so any weirdness was washed away by all the accessorizing you had to do with anything Barbie.
    I got my breasts early, too. I was in a D cup at 14. I got the same as you did: the trying-to-be-nonchalant-feel-up, the way-too-long-hug, the stares and the vulgar comments. I also got what is referred to in the South as a “Texas Titty Twister”. That’s when some boy will run up and twist your nipple so hard that it brings tears to your eyes and then run away. Then, if you tell on them, you get the proverbial “they’re just being boys” thing, which I always thought was bs.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Wow- I hope people don’t go around doing that Texas Titty Twister anymore- how violating. Thanks for sharing, Alex. It’s so amazing to know that so many of us had such similar experiences… and now that I think of it-when a person is that young how can she know that she actually has a right to say something when everyone else is behaving like what is going on is normal!

      • Yeah, it is really violating and made me feel like something was wrong with me, especially since all my friends were still flat chested and hardly any had had their periods yet. I got mine at 13. I’m hoping to teach my daughter (2) that her body is beautiful and completely fabulous and that the “boys will be boys” thing is just an excuse to justify inappropriate behavior bolstered by the party line of the patriarchy.
        Thanks for visiting and following my blog!

  14. I’d never considered how a larger bra size could also be a larger headache! I kindof always looked on people above a C with much envy. I’m still not 100% comfortable with my body but your blog makes me feel a bit more confident in the fact that beauty comes in different shapes

  15. brionyjm says:

    Amazing post! : ) I was the same when I was younger and hated my breasts for making me curvy – I just wanted to be skinny. But now I think I’ve made peace with my body and learned to love them.
    B xoxo

    http://www.feixy.wordpress.com

  16. MissFit says:

    SO true! I was a late bloomer. Went from AA to DD in a year. a year!! careful what you wish for…now I have to wear 3 sports bras when I run. .. :)

    • diahannreyes says:

      MissFit, I hear you with the sports bras- I personally don’t run because it’s too physically uncomfortable.. not that I probably would if this wasn’t the case :)– dance is more my speed. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  17. David Kenyon says:

    Hi – Unlike many blog posts, I read yours from beginning to end. Very interesting. You’re a very accomplished writer. I never saw that Growing Up Skipper doll before – very bizarre! (And also slightly alarming that it must once have been discussed at board level and considered a great idea for the marketplace). As a male, I must confess I love breasts. It seems to be hard-wired into the male psyche – not sure how or why – and therefore I make no apology for it. (To be honest – and slightly ashamed – I even find that dodgy Skipper doll a littler bit exciting). But I’ve always wondered what women think – and it was very interesting to read this article and the numerous responses. I don’t think men have any similar thoughts about their own bodies. I’m not sure we have anything essentially non-sexual about us that can be sexualised.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Hi David, I definitely agree that there is nothing wrong with men or women being attracted to the breast.. For me it’s with the objectification of it – or any other male/female body part that I have issue w/.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the piece. I especially found the idea that there was nothing non-sexual about men that could be sexualized very interesting.. I am going to definitely ponder it later. And thanks for your kind words about my writing.

  18. Peng says:

    Thank you for your post. I didn’t have one of those skipper dolls but I did undergo adolescence under the scrutiny of Filipino relatives.
    I have larger than average breasts (which my mother repeatedly assured me were what my father prayed for aside from intelligence and beauty since she was “flat as plywood). I still walk with a little hunch to my shoulders– a result of years of trying to hide them.
    As a mother of a daughter I know now that the embarrassing talks and painful discussions about ones changing body are important. Though my parents gave me the proper books and education, I wished they had also talked to me more about what I felt, what to do when a compliment makes me feel uncomfortable, assure me that speaking out is ok.
    I came to America a little more than 10 years ago and my breasts have become a nice medium instead of larger than average. More importantly, I was able to be more comfortable with who I am and how I want to be treated.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I can definitely relate to the “reservedness” of the Filipino culture when it comes to not sharing and having such “intimate” exchanges. That said, I get the sense that your daughter is not going to have that same problem since it sounds like you are a mom who is open and willing to have such discussions. Thanks for sharing your own “breast” story!

  19. […] Disclaimer: Contains a lot of silly wordplay concerning breasts while I attempt to make light of a subject that has been truly anguishing.  To read a serious and profoundly potent post on the same subject, please go to this amazing writer’s blog right here. […]

  20. Hello! It’s me. Again. I left a ping (or a pong?) or whatever it’s called on my latest post to this amazing one of yours. I do hope that is alright?

    http://thequotegal.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/the-quests-for-smaller-breasts/

  21. […] one of my blog posts, “Growing Up Like Skipper: On Breasts and Objectification,” got Freshly Pressed on WordPress and then syndicated on BlogHer, I was deluged with comments, […]

  22. BroadBlogs says:

    Reblogged this on BroadBlogs and commented:
    When you have breasts that are larger than “average” (whatever that really means) even people you don’t know—males, in particular—automatically assume they have permission to comment on your boobs—“Nice tits! BIG BREASTED! Playboy-like, even”—and can touch them just because they feel like it…

    Because of the way my body looked, some of my classmates thought I was sexually experienced even though I’d never been kissed yet. My date, whom I’d asked to a Sadie Hawkins Dance, stayed a polite arm’s length away from me all night, later explaining, “Girls like you probably want more than I’m ready to give.” I’d just been hoping that maybe he would hold my hand.

    An excerpt from “Growing Up Like Skipper: On Breasts & Objectification”

    This post from “Stories from the Belly” might surprise both envious women and men who have mistaken notions about how larger-breasted women experience their bodies.

    Read more here:

  23. How sad that even well intentioned attempts to help girls understand and cope with their changing bodies (and that’s truly what that growing up Skipper doll was) can lead to such confusion and self hatred. It seems to me that we (women) should stop blaming the boys and men around us and look to ourselves for acceptance and the strength to demand respect. I had a boyfriend in high school who once introduced me at the beach to his male friends by snapping open my cover up and saying “look at these!” referring to my bikini-clad breasts. Please note that I HAD a boyfriend who did that. I immediately broke up with the jerk and, by my own self-respect, did not accept his idiocy as being MY fault in any way. The mothers and aunts who made their girls feel bad about their bodies are just as bad or worse than the males who do so. Puberty is an embarrassing and uncomfortable time for everyone, I think. Let’s empower ourselves and our kids to be self-assured and strong minded and they won’t feel the need to blame themselves for others’ ignorance and uncivilized behaviors.

    • diahannreyes says:

      I agree w/ you that it is important that we empower ourselves and our children. It sounds like you had a solid sense of self growing up as a girl and that’s wonderful. Hopefully that too continues to become more the norm. I think the more aware we become as a society the more we can do that.

      As a child I was more fascinated w/ the Skipper doll but it definitely impacted me even if I didn’t understand what was going on. As to Mattel’s intentions, regardless of what they were, their effect on a person is still that. (And I agree, it will depend on the girl).

      Also, I’m actually not blaming anyone in this post. I’m just naming what my experience was as a girl and why I felt the way I did.

      Simultaneously, it is also important to acknowledge a culture that causes both males and females to objectify the female body, self-objectify (if one happens to be a woman) rather than placing the onus solely on girls/women or making it just fault of men/boys. Thankfully, not all men and women objectify the feminine and those numbers are growing.


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