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boobs: i’ve got ’em. get used to it.

September 1, 2010

My daughter K recently brought an interesting book home from the library this week. In “The Body Shape Bible” British fashion problem-solvers Trinny Woodall and Susanna Constantine identify 12 body shapes that they give names such as cello, goblet and column and then detail how women, seeing as how they are stuck with it, can best dress for the shape they’ve been given. There are lots of books like this about, I know, but this one is written in such a warm, supportive, woman-to-woman way that it’s a stand out.

Trinny and Suzanna confirmed what I knew already: there’s no doubt about it – I am a textbook hourglass. I have this in common with women like Marilyn Munro and self-proclaimed kitchen goddess, Nigella Lawson (pictured above). Women with my body-shape are variously described as ‘generously proportioned’ (by our grandmothers), ‘curvaceous’ (by our friends) and sometimes ‘voluptuous’ (yes, that would be the men).  You probably don’t need me to point out that hourglasses are not generally found lacking in the boobie department. Even at my slimmest I am possessed of what might be called ‘a good set’. When pregnant, lactating or ‘cuddly’, that description scales up into something between ‘impressive’ and ‘oh, my’.

As we ate breakfast together yesterday, K read me the introduction to the Hourglass chapter in Trinny and Suzanna’s book. Here’s what it said in part:

“As a girl you could very well have bloomed early on. Your boobs will have attracted attention before you were mentally equipped to deal with the sniggering. This would have been hard and may have left a lingering shame over your buoyant figure. So rather than celebrating your iconic shape you will be left wondering how the hell to hide it from unwanted glances.”

I was surprised to discover that hearing those words made me come over a bit teary. How well I remember being the first girl in my grade to wear a bra, and how the boys would run rulers down my back in class to confirm their suspicions. Feelings of shame about my breasts started early and continued into adulthood. Those feelings may even have played a part in my willing acceptance of QF modesty standards later on.Being well-endowed causes all sorts of difficulties for the QF woman. Modesty is a highly valued virtue in QF circles and consequently boobs tend to be left to languish unobserved under multiple folds of loose, and generally floral, drapery.

When one of my dearest friends joined an Amish/Mennonite group she told me that her new ‘cape dresses’ were designed to perpetually keep not one but two layers of good thick homespun between the conscientious amishwoman’s breasts and the boob-watching world. And no doubt that did limit the visibility of errant and inconveniently erect nipples at chilly church suppers, and that appealing bobbing about breasts are wont to do – strap them down as you may. The primary reason for excessive modesty rules in the QF movement is that good submissive wives and daughters would not willingly elect to be a ‘stumbling block’ to the poor, weak-minded men-folk they encounter at home, at church or in the supermarket. Men, we are told, are ‘easily excited by visual stimuli’. Be that as it may, it is we women who bear responsibility for preventing men from sinning by keeping our girly bits well out of sight. I have a one or two problems with that.

First, while I am not planning on dressing in traditional prostitute’s garb any time soon, I refuse to accept that I am in any way responsible for what goes on in someone else’s head. I don’t believe a man’s secret sexual thoughts are my responsibility any more than a girl walking alone at night in a t-shirt and mini-skirt is responsible for the actions of the man who decides to rape her. QF fundamentalist modesty is only a tiny step away from the Muslim insistence on covering women in burqas lest the very sight of the temptresses provoke a man to imaginings that put him in danger of hellfire. None of us will ever dress modestly enough to avoid lighting the fires of some men. So they just need to take responsibility for their own thinkings and doings like the rest of us do. (See this article for an excellent rant about the illogicality of blaming women for rape.) Women need to know they have the liberty to inhabit fashion real estate between the extremes of prostitute and nun without guilt or condemnation.

Second, as my daughters will tell you, over-emphasising female modesty can make girls ashamed of their bodies, afraid to grow up and become women, and terrified of men and their apparently hair-trigger-set and unrelenting desires. It breaks my heart that this is the legacy I inadvertently handed to my own girls. I am doing everything I can to change that now.

Further, I wonder whether these prudish beliefs and practices might make our boys even more curious about the undiscovered territory that lies beneath girls’ dresses than is usual and healthy for normal, curious boys. After all, Victorian men could by all accounts be driven to unbridled lust by the unscheduled flash of just one well-turned ankle. Could it just be that QFers actually incite unhealthy obsessions in our sons by imposing our religious nudiphobia on them?

Third, if anyone thinks that women wearing modest clothing prevents sexual sin I suggest they look up some statistics on the prevalence of porn use among church-attenders. Depending on which study you read, perhaps between 5 and 8 out of every 10 men sitting smiling at the pastor on a Sunday morning are likely to be spending at least as many minutes viewing lewd sexual acts performed by other women with boobs much less well concealed than yours Monday through Saturday. So where should the blame lie if one of those guys gets a wee tingle in his thingle as he stands impertinently chatting to my chest after the service? I, for one, am not owning that.

Fourth, I’ve often thought that, with respect, if God was so hung up about keeping boobs out of sight and mind, he could easily have built us more like other mammals, none of which seem to have noticable bumpy bits unless lactating. He could have, for instance, given us a couple of rows of nipples like dogs’ that swell with milk only when needed to sustain offspring. Or located breasts somewhere less visible – in our armpits for instance. But no, he made breasts bountiful, bouncy and, in my case, big, and tacked them tantalisingly in a spot just barely below the line of polite eye contact. Would he have done that if he didn’t mean for us to acknowledge they are there? Clearly if we believe God made them at all, it seems he planned breasts to be an undeniable reminder that women are not the same as men  – and that they are very, very different to dogs.

Finally,  QF modesty + big boobs = frump. When you are in possession of a curvy boob, waist and hip configuration, adhering to the QF dress code means doing it baggy and, you can ask Trinny and Suzanna, baggy doesn’t work for hourglasses. Frocking up like Demis Roussos doesn’t do a lot for a gal’s self-esteem either I can tell you. Even my legalistic zeal and belief that I was doing ‘the right thing’ and ‘setting an example for my daughters’ could not possibly compensate for how depressing mirrors became to a hourglass-shaped QFer like me.Anyway, it’s all good now. I am happy and comfortable in my skin and have no axe to grind with any other woman, whatever she chooses to wear.

In conclusion, for what it’s worth, I’d just like to say this to all the men I know and to those I have yet to meet:
I have breasts – two of them. They are big, bouncy and beautiful and they are mine. I’m not going to go out of my way to use them to terrify or titillate (heh, heh) but I’m not either going to gear up like a nun just because some of you have active imaginations. I dress to please myself. I am trying neither to entice nor repel you. Unless you are a family member, work colleague or friend, I’m just going about my business and ignoring you. They’re just boobs, mate. Women have them. Grow up and get over it. It’s up to you to control yourself and limit your imaginings and gropings to the ones that that are attached to the woman in your life.

And that’s got nothing to do with me.

Acknowledgement: Photo from http://www.askmen.com/celebs/women/models_150/160_nigella_lawson.html

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2011 8:40 am

    Wonderful post!
    I too am blessed with “childbearing hips” (how I hate that term!) and a large bust. I attended a Methodist church for about a year before leaving and the pastor’s wife did a sermon on how women need to be modest to not tempt men to look at them.
    Her example was that a person with tattoos shouldn’t get offended by staring because why else get the tattoos? I didn’t ask for a set of large Ds…but what God gave me is just as beautiful, even though it is a bit harder to find work appropriate shirts. I was shocked at hearing this at a seemingly more liberal denomination.
    I am now attending a wonderful non-denominational church where the pastor has stated “He wants the prostitute, homeless man, and millionaire to all feel at home next to one another.” And yes, that includes the immodestly dressed and large busted!

  2. July 15, 2011 10:27 am

    Me too! And then people get all weird about me breastfeeding in public. And I’m like, yes, I have books! I’m a mammal! Get used to it! In some countries, women don’t wear shirts or bras at all, and going bare chested is actually considered modest. Why? Because they don’t have the weird sexual hangups about boobs that we have! So yes, I have books, and I’m proud of them!

  3. Sharon permalink
    September 27, 2011 6:39 am

    Excellent post! Thanks for saying what so many of us could not find the right words to say!

  4. Bron permalink
    April 29, 2012 7:23 pm

    Ha! You are hilarious, Jane. I remember the horror of being the first girl in my year to ‘mature’ (read: boobs, hips and cycles) and I thought from that moment that I was fat! But looking back, I realise that my shape really did terrify boys and men, even more than it terrified me. All this without even trying!

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