By Saira Khan
One morning, when I was about 12 or 13, I woke up with breasts—large ones. In reality, the transition from awkward pre-pubescent kid to awkward pubescent teen may have been less pronounced, but to me, it felt like it happened overnight.
While the size of my breasts has changed over the years—along with my weight—the proportion of them to my body has always been, well, extreme. For context, I’m 4’11” and when I was a mere 80-lbs-weighing 16 year-old, I was a 34B. Now, many pounds heavier but still the same height, I teeter between a 34C and a 36D.
This is by no means a problem in itself. After all, the United States is a hyper-sexualized country in which breasts and butts serve as the kings and queens of the land. But along with the uneasy power bestowed upon women’s bodies (usually when it’s convenient for men), comes the shame for the sexuality they invoke—and women with large breasts are easy targets.
One merely has to look at the depiction of large-breasted women on recent TV shows to understand this dynamic. “Mad Men”’s Joan Harris (played by Christina Hendricks) was a voluptuous woman with noticeably large breasts. She was also the token “sexy” character. And who can forget that melons-through-Richard’s-window scene in “Sex and the City”? For all her progressive sexual behavior, even Samantha Jones easily returned to the most basic stereotype about women. “She has big boobs? She’ll definitely fuck your husband,” is the general tone.
It goes beyond body image though. On a more frightening level, I’ve always drawn the unwanted attention of men who take it upon themselves to comment on my body.
“You know you have great tits, right?” (Yes, asshole, I do.)
“I’m more of a tits man than an ass man,” (You know I can see you looking, right?)
“Wow, that’s a lot of cleavage for a little lady.” (Did I ask you?)
When I was younger, my body felt obscene. I never felt quite right in the clothes I wanted to wear (you know, those Abercrombie & Fitch clothes designed to fit the body of a curveless teen). I tried to hide what I had with baggy clothes and strategically placed dupattas. I was keenly aware of how much cleavage I was showing—which, when you’re a D-cup, means a lot even if you’re wearing a basic v-neck t-shirt. Plunging necklines? Nope. Strapless dresses? Too much boobage. Button-down shirt? Um, hello gaps between my buttons!
But short of taping my breasts down, there’s nothing I can do to make them look smaller. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing a crew neck t-shirt or a low-cut dress, my breasts are going to look large because, well, they are. And it took me some time to learn this valuable lesson. There was no grand epiphany, but if I had to attribute this realization to anyone, I’d say it was my best friend Mashal, who came into my life with her full closet about a year and a half after my breasts did.
Mashal played an important role in building my self-esteem. When I tried to hide my body in yet another loose fitting shirt, she encouraged me to wear something more flattering. She was one of the first people to talk about my breasts in a positive way, as something to be envied rather than ashamed of. As a full-figured teen herself, I admired how she carried herself with confidence. I looked to her for fashion advice. Over time, and with more positive reinforcement, I began to see my body as a blessing rather than a curse. It was liberating. By spending less time worrying about how I was being perceived by others, I was able to focus my mind and energy on being myself. As I started to feel more comfortable in skin (and in my breasts) I felt more confident to express my opinions and make new friends. Instead of making myself smaller and invisible, I came out of my shell. In the few years between highschool and college, I went from being a painfully shy introvert to a very loud extrovert. Those of you who know me may recognize me as the loudest voice in the room.
The journey to appreciating the way I look has been a long and sometimes exhausting one. My body is what it is. It changes and grows and shrinks in ways I sometimes cannot control but that doesn’t mean I shy away from what I want to wear and how I want to dress. I’ve had my body for 30 years now and I can either anguish over the things I cannot control or I can love it for what it is—which, to be honest, I really, truly do.