There is so much more to a woman’s relationship to her breasts than meets the naked eye. In this post, I am thrilled to have two of my favorite bloggers, KS of Kosher Adobo and Jennifer Berney of Goodnight Already, joining me as we pay homage to this most famous of feminine body parts.
I am a junior in boarding school. Behind me is a “Save Sex” poster and a perfume ad: “Femme Fatale: When the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.” It’s the night before the first day of school. I am tugging on the neck of my shirt, admiring my bra strap. Every bra I owned just a year before was white or beige, looking more like bandages for my then AA breasts. But this 36B brassiere, red and lined with lace, which I bought with my mom, was bold, and I want to show it off. In a girls’ dorm after lights out was the safest place to share my joy. Check out my new bra, I say, lifting my shirt for N., who took me to Victoria’s Secret for the first time. N. owns silky negligees and has more experience than I, but she delights with me, anyway. Having grown up with sisters, these female friendships are as natural as breathing. Beautiful, she says.
I loved the curves of my changing body. It was expanding, taking up room, and it was exciting. I wanted to make out with the world – but I didn’t want anyone to put his hand up my flannel shirt. (Or maybe I did but I hadn’t fallen in love, yet, much less kissed a boy.)
Though I couldn’t express it, then, that first red brassiere became one of my earliest lessons in femininity and self-acceptance. When I think about who I was at sixteen, I imagine a woman, who would be ready for love and men someday, but, until then, she could keep whatever it was – her breasts, her secrets – her own. She would find beauty in her own reflection and in other women’s eyes.
KS is a textbook TCK who was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has lived in New England, USA, for the last twenty years. She writes about her intercultural marriage, diversity, and reproductive health on her blog Kosher Adobo.
THE USEFUL BREAST
Once, at a crowded farmers market, an acquaintance of mine broke from our conversation to pull one of her breasts out of the top of her sundress and nurse her infant daughter. Though I tried not to react, I could not hide my alarm. I approved of public breastfeeding, but did she have to make it a spectacle?
As I prepared to welcome a baby, my own approach to public breastfeeding was to conceal as much as possible. I ordered nursing tank tops, nursing shirts, and a hand-made nursing cover—a small curtain that ties around a mother’s neck, designed to hide both her breasts and her baby. Why wouldn’t everyone use these? I wondered.
My son arrived, and our early days together included meandering walks where he would nap against me and wake up, hungry, the moment I settled down at a café. As it turned out, the nursing cover wasn’t so helpful; I actually needed to see my nipple to align it with my newborn’s mouth. And once he had latched I did not want to cover him with fabric. I wanted to see his eyes and his soft whorl of hair. The café was a friendly place, but still, I overheard strangers refer to me as “that woman over there who is breastfeeding.” It didn’t matter that my breast was hidden by my shirt—I was still a spectacle.
I wish that we could learn to recognize the utility of a breast in the same way we recognize the utility of a hand. Bared in the bedroom, or half hidden beneath lace, of course breasts hold erotic allure. But just as I must sometimes remove my gloves to find my keys or write a check, I must sometimes lift my shirt and unhook my bra to perform the serious task of feeding my child.
Jennifer Berney lives in Olympia, Washington with her partner and two sons. She blogs at Goodnight Already.
LOVING MY BREASTS
If my breasts could talk, they would tell me that they like it when I show a little cleavage. Give us a bit of sunlight, let that heat tickle our skin! I’m tenderer with my breasts than I used to be—unwilling to use them to be objectified; more eager to self-savor the sight of them, ripened and full as they peek over t-shirts or hang naked before the mirror. And underwire… my breasts love underwire!
At my last medical appointment, the doctor asked if I knew whether the breast cancer gene runs in the family—we do have a history. No, I replied. Well, maybe you should find out, she said.
My first thought was Angelina Jolie and her mastectomy, reconstruction—two procedures that, even with insurance, I cannot afford. But would I want to if I knew the odds were stacked against me? To lose my breasts, whether by choice or because I must, would be devastating. I’ll take my chances, I tell the doctor. Then again, maybe if I had children, like Angelina, I too would choose differently.
My breasts aren’t that sensitive when it comes to physical sensation—at least not like what you read in romance novels where a suck, a flick, a lick can elicit moans of ecstasy. When I was younger I would pretend all that, worried about what it might say about me if I didn’t make some noise.
These days, my breasts will settle for nothing less than real pleasure even if it means sometimes feeling nothing. Because my breasts, like the rest of me, are no longer afraid to demand tenderness… a little roughness…whatever they need. My breasts know that their worth doesn’t depend on looking good or putting on a show.
My breasts, with their ability to feed a life, are their own kind of superpower.
Diahann Reyes is a freelance writer and performer. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites.
Several months ago I wrote, “Stopping the Violence,” a blog post about a verbally abusive relationship I was in. He and I were together for nine months—longer, if you count the times we got back together. While nine months might not sound like a long period, the emotional injuries I sustained from those months with him were significant. It took me years to recover.
Yes, I stayed. Even after he punched a wooden fence one night in a jealous fit because I’d said hello to an ex-boyfriend. Yes, I stayed. Even after he swung his fist at me, stopping just before making contact with my face.
I definitely have had my issues, some of which I was working out with him. For a long time, I used to think that it was all my fault. If only I had been stronger or tougher, or perhaps less broken. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him at all.
For years, I was terrified to show the world any of my own writing. I found ways to avoid professional work that would require a byline with my name attached to it. I was stymied by a number of fears: What if my writing isn’t good enough or what if it’s “too much?” Worse yet what if what I say offends, turns off, or upsets anyone, possibly everyone—rendering me undateable, unhireable, or, even, unfit to be part of society?
Stories from the Belly has been up and running for eight months. This post marks my 17th one. While the blog is fairly new, for me working as a blogger is not. I’ve been ghost blogging for eight years and written thousands of posts—only you would never know that any of them were written by me.
I’d even started other personal blogs in the past—four, to be exact (one of them I’d forgotten ever existed until I stumbled upon the URL in my bookmark folder the other day). I never made any of these sites available to the public.
Author Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, “I would venture to guess that Anonymous, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” For a long time, I might as well have been this “Anonymous.”
I grew up feeling reverent toward the Virgin Mary. When my pregnant mom still hadn’t gone into labor a few days after my due date, she prayed to the Holy Mother for help so that the doctor wouldn’t have to induce her. My mom started having contractions just hours later.
My parents gave me Mary’s name twice—Marie is my middle name and Lourdes, which is a French form of the name Mary, is my baptismal name. Every night as a child with my mom sitting bedside, I would pray aloud: “Hail Mary, full of Grace…. Blessed is the fruit of diamond Jesus…”
I would say the word “diamond” with special emphasis because I thought it was so beautiful that there was such a thing as a diamond Jesus even though I didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t until I was 10 that I figured out that the words were actually “thy womb Jesus” and understood what that even meant.
In my twenties one day, I found myself seated in a room of other women seeking support from each other. Looking around, I felt like a pretender.
As I listened to them share their stories… a husband smashing a dinner plate over the head of a wife, a brother high on heroine stabbing his sister with a knife, a mother with ribs broken apart by her son… I sank further down in my chair wondering if these women might be offended that I’d even bothered to show up.
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.
For years I didn’t give much thought to my womb. I knew it was the place in my body where babies grow, but since I wasn’t sure I even wanted kids, any information about the womb was on a “need to know later” basis.
It didn’t help that I grew up in a culture that instilled in me the fear that my life would be ruined if I ever got pregnant at the wrong time or with the wrong guy. The word “illegitimate” is still considered a huge stigma in the Philippines and there is no divorce.
I didn’t realize that by distancing myself from my body’s ability to conceive, I was disconnecting from my innate creatrix nature. Because of this I struggled to carry even “creative” babies to term—books I wanted to write, scripts I wanted to perform, plans for new business. I felt unable (and afraid) to “birth” them into the world.