Long time followers of A Year Here/A Year There will recall the time I struggled with Portuguese vocabulary enough to call my B-cup breasts “these” while pointing to them as I spoke to a saleswoman in Shopping Iguatemi many months ago. I had been trying to tell her that in order to wear a particular shirt she was trying to sell me, I felt I would need larger breasts. “I need bigger these,” I told her again and again, smiling and pointing at myself, feeling more awkward as the seconds ticked by. It’s been a long time since then and I’ve come a long way with my vocabulary, but I’m not sure I have any words, even in my native tongue, to describe the dismay I felt today, when I found myself talking to another saleswoman, this time in Victoria’s Secret, in the Meridan Mall in Connecticut.
But first, a tangent: One of the greatest accomplishments of my life was to graduate from college and grad school with a 4.0. I was an A-student and never in my life had I been an A-student. In high school, I was so NOT an A-student I couldn’t hang in the regular Chemistry class; I had to enroll in the delightfully titled “Chemistry of the Community” which was, generally speaking, a class for kids who would never have any idea what’s in an atom. I’m not proud of those early scholastic moments, but I’ve relegated them to the very back of my mind, along with the time I got stage fright so badly during my solo in the musical “Into the Woods,” the piano player ended up singing the rest of the song for me while I remained on stage alone and staring at her. But I digress. It wasn’t until college that I learned I could think and be smart and so when I got my first semester of straight A’s, doing well in school became like a drug for me, better than any feeling I’d ever had in my life. When times were rough, I patted myself on the back and said, “Well, at least you have all A’s.” Oh, if I only knew how very, very true that was.
I knew something had to be wrong down in Brazil this past year when I found a stunning correlation between the size of avocados and the size of my breasts. The avocados were the largest things I’d ever seen and I felt a little pride comparing myself to them, even in the self-effacing way in which I said I was smaller than avocado halves, which was very true. But there was a small part of me which didn’t quite believe what I was saying, chalking it up to 80% truth, 20% embellishment.
Oh, but my friends. Today. Today while standing in Victoria’s Secret looking at all the fancy and tremendously overpriced lingerie, I wondered if I should perhaps get measured. Yesterday, while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my annual exam which included, of all things, a breast examination, I read in Jane magazine about bra fittings. Two women were critiquing photographs of women in bras and saying why and how the bra wasn’t appropriate for the breasts. It was then I realized maybe my own bra in Brazil, the one I threw away in disgust, wasn’t the “appropriate” fit for me. Sadly, I found it funny that I could fit my hand into the empty space between my skin and the cloth of the bra. Clearly denial has been working its magic for several months, if not years.
And so, all this leads me to the moment when my B-cup dreams were dashed to pieces: “Well, you could wear a 32, but the 34 is probably going to be more comfortable for you,” the saleswoman said with her tape measure wrapped around my torso. Moving the tape up a bit higher, she glanced at the numbers and confirmed, “And you’re an A.”
Normally, this proclamation would have sent me soaring. “I’m an A (student)!” I’d shout. “I’m an A (student)!” But today, the words that escaped my lips were shouted out of disbelief:
“Where’d they go?” Looking frantically around the store as if maybe I’d dropped them somewhere, or maybe someone had reached into my purse and stolen them, I asked her again. “I just had them. Where are they? I swear they were right here.”
I’ve been kind of joking all year about that song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” How I’m kind of singing a similar song: I left my boobs somewhere and can’t find them anywhere. Once I went to Brazil, they just kind of up and disappeared. Maybe they’re not into the tropical climate, or maybe when I was moving from my Wooster Square apartment they got thrown in with my winter clothes that I don’t need for Brazil. Whatever the case, I’ve been noticing a change with the girls but it wasn’t until today that I had to actually admit it. If I was going to spend a gift certificate on expensive lingerie, it would at the very least have to fit me.
The saleswoman then proceeded to tell me this, in not so many words: “Let’s find all the tiniest bras in this store and those will be the ones you can try on, shall we?” To which I responded only by following her around, my head hung low, bemoaning the fact that once I’d have been able to buy bigger bras. I asked her one question about a wireless kind of bra and she said it was kind of like wearing a jog bra. Nothing makes me feel more a-sexual than a jog bra’d uni-boob, but I soon rationalized that I don’t even have enough to squish together to make a uni-boob so what’s the difference. I sulked along behind her while she picked up pinks and tans and blacks and lacy things, leading me to the dressing room.
Yesterday I’d also read during my doctor’s office wait that women should avoid weighing themselves on scales all the time. This is really no problem for me whatsoever for two reasons: I don’t have a scale and also, I don’t want to know. But the point was, knowing a weight, or a bra size for that matter, is confirmation, however superficially, of a size. Emotionally, we might feel better about ourselves if we don’t know a specific number. In any case, as soon as I saw that number 34A on the tag in the dressing room, I became the instant president of the brand new club, “Down With Boobs.” It’s a club for women who don’t have them anymore but who were living under the guise that they were 34Bs–even pushing C’s for crying out loud– their entire lives and have had their dreams ripped out from under them without warning. Current membership: 1.
When I left the mall, three dinky bras in tow, I headed to my friend Geneva’s house to visit with her and her new little baby, Donovan. I explained to her what had happened in the mall, and she then led me on a tour of her own post-pregnancy breast experiences. It seems a woman’s breasts grow exponentially after pregnancy and need all sorts of contraptions to help deal. For instance, pregnant women can legitimately stuff their bras and do so without judgement. It’s par for the course after pregnancy. They can stuff their bras with extra cotton padding, buy super padded bras, or get these kind of plastic nipple insert things to prevent chafing against the bra itself. The plastic nipple insert things add easily an inch to what goes into a bra. Geneva showed me these things and the wheels in my head started turning. (Could I find them to add to my own breasts?) Not to mention breast pumps: two cone shaped plastic things that I could easily fit into my new bras to add shape. It has been at least a decade since stuffing my bra was a thought that crossed my mind. And now, here I am, almost thirty, and I’m seriously considering investing in pregnant women’s paraphernalia to help cope with my disappearing boobs.
When I came back to Dennis’ house, I confronted his mother immediately, showing her the numerical evidence on my three new purchases.
“Things were going along just fine, today,” I told her. “I woke up, brought Dennis to work, went to the mall, and then? Ten o’clock: ‘You’ve got small boobs.’ Not really what I was expecting.”
She laughed and comforted me. “They’ll grow, Gina. They’ll grow.”
Thinking maybe she hadn’t realized I’d already gone through puberty eighteen years ago, I looked at her with my head cocked, like a dog who isn’t quite sure what you’ve just said.
“When you have babies,” she assured me. “They’ll grow when you have babies.”
Yeah, babies: my target audience. Although if babies are any indication, baby Donovan sure enjoyed what I’ve got today seeing that he fell asleep between them (if there can even BE a “between”), so at least I know there’s one man on the planet who likes me au natural.
Ah, c’est la vie, right?. C’est la small boobs vie.