I’m a stick figure. There, I said it. In case anyone is making assumptions, I’m not dangerously underweight. I’m not even underweight. I just don’t have any curves.
Let me define what I mean by “curves” for a second. The word gets used to mean different things. I use it to mean the deposits of fat and tissue that usually come about as women reach sexual maturity. Specifically, breasts, butt, and hips. I don’t got ’em.
The butt and hip thing doesn’t bother me too much. But the breasts? I waited for my breasts for years. In fourth grade, I began eyeing breasts. All women’s breasts. They looked so… good. I couldn’t wait to get mine. I dreamed about how big they’d be, how attractive I’d look with them. I looked at my older sister’s set, to try to see if I could gauge how mine would turn out. Hers were shaping up to be a respectable size. I felt encouraged.
As the years went by, my breasts were nowhere to be found. In sixth grade, I wore one red shirt as often as possible, because I fancied it made my chest look somewhat developed (even if only marginally). I was starting to worry, but still felt optimistic.
By eighth grade my period arrived, but it forgot to bring my breasts along. It didn’t seem fair. I was getting the pain and annoyance associated with being a “woman,” but not the fun perks! I was confused, but kept on waiting. I was in denial. It felt okay.
Once in high school, the realization began to glow brighter that this was my lot. It might not happen for me. I found styles of clothing that flattered me. I shunned tops that made me feel bad about my chest, because I already felt badly enough on my own. Darts were my enemy. I learned I would never be able to shop in Victoria’s Secret, because their 32As gaped away from my torso and mocked me for my inferiority as a woman.
In college, I knew this was it, but I held out a tiny, bizarre hope, based on some urban-legend I heard from god-knows-where about a girl who got her breasts at the ripe age of twenty-two. Twenty-two came. Without breasts. Denial was no longer an option, and it left depression in its wake.
I wondered if I had done anything to create the situation. I was the only female in my family who was so. Flat. My mom tried to convince me my aunt was similarly not-well-endowed, but I knew what my aunt looked like and was not convinced I remembered how once my rambunctious little cousin ran straight into my chest when I was eleven. Had that stunted them? Did I not eat right? Should I not have worn a training bra so early? Did it stifle them? I bargained away.
The reality was sinking in. This was truly it. What I had wasn’t going to get any bigger. I’d never have a curvy form. I’d see hurtful comments on the Internet about “real women having curves.” I fumed inside. Why were these women demeaning my body? Don’t they know how much our society values breasts on women? That they have what everyone wants, and they’re putting me down for something totally outside of my control? Don’t they know I’ve been longing for breasts for over ten years? Why does validating their bodies involve invalidating mine? How about trans women? Are they denying those women entrance into the sisterhood as well? Anger.
But of course, you probably know how this story ends: turning outward for acceptance was never going to work. It was going to have to come from inside me. I felt that my body let me down. So instead, I forced myself to think about the ways my body doesn’t let me down, every day. It sleeps to repair itself and cement new information learned the previous day. Then it wakes up and walks me to work. It allows me to enjoy coffee, and bagels, and sex. It tells me when it’s hungry, thirsty, and tired. It knows when I’m getting a virus and sends out signals so I can take extra care of it. It’s going to keep me on this planet for as long as it can. Sure, my tiny boobs will sag less than they would if they were bigger, and I can go without a bra if I want to, but those are minimal positives compared to the realities of what my body does for me every day.
By the time I was ready to pick out a wedding dress, I had already run myself through the wringer of accepting my flat body. I had decided that on our wedding day, I wanted to look as true to myself as I could. Maybe a fancier version of myself, but myself. And this self has no boobs. My partner knows it, my family knows it, my friends know it. Covered by only a few layers of fabric, my breasts are out there (or not, as the case may be) for all the world to see.
As I tried on the sample of the dress that I knew would be mine, I twirled a bit awkwardly while my dearest friend looked on and smiled. In that moment, I had dim memories of the younger versions of myself, who worried about how I would “enhance” my décolletage on my future wedding day. Ruffles, ruching, I know all the tricks to “add volume,” as the magazines so helpfully suggest. But all those iterations of me, the younger ones, the ones longing for something I wasn’t, were quietly muffled. I heard my new voice, ringing clear and reflected in my friend’s crinkling eyes. The designer walked over to me, reassuringly discussing how he’d make my dress exactly to my specifications. We chatted about options: lowering the back line, crossing the straps in the back, no train behind. “And how do we feel about the chest, do you want any pads sewn in, or are you happy with this?”
“Happy,” I said.