If I Had Breasts by Erin Lane

A friend recently sent me the following excerpt from the Los Angeles Times’ obituary for author and screenwriter Nora Ephron who died this week: In a 1972 essay called “A Few Words About Breasts,” Ephron wrote, “If I had them, I would have been a completely different person.”

I am quick to champion the underdogs of the beauty world: freckles (clumped together they make you look tan), thin hair (it takes half the time to dry), and small breasts included (you can wear deep v-necks without looking vulgar). My optimism no doubt comes from the fact that each of these attributes can be found on my own body. Make the best of what you’ve got, right?

A recent trip to the mall to buy a new bra tested the limits of my body positivity. I walked into a pre-teen store that sells underwear, along with rompers and sundresses and neon short-shorts. Moving around what felt like the inside of a boombox, I fingered the scalloped edges and squishy insides of bra cups. Too much frill. Too much padding.

There had been a time in high school when I wanted to be overtly sexy. I bought a water bra made to feel like real breasts and give them real cleavage. Anyone who touched my chest would have known that what felt like two doll-house water beds above my ribs was the stuff of make believe. The possibility of such embarrassment was enough to keep me chaste.

“Can I help you find something?” a voice interrupted the pulse of pop music. She looked like Madonna with a head-set wrapped around her ear and breasts pointing straight at me.

“Yes. You can.” I said, hopeful that her pointers could lead me out of the maze more quickly. “I love my flat chest. And I want to keep it that way.”

She started at me blankly and so I elaborated louder. “No padding. No push-ups. No fake stuff. Just me, flat as can be.”

She must have thought I was joking because the only two bras in the store she took me to were like air bags for boobs. I walked away with a highlighter-colored bra from the sale rack that gave me shape without a show.

If I had breasts, or larger ones to be precise, I might have been a different person. I certainly would have been more conventionally sexy. But I’ve never been one for conventions; they lack the resourcefulness required of underdogs who chew at the corners of custom.

Small breasts made me learn to love myself; beauty standards be damned. Small breasts made me learn to love feminism; looks aren’t everything. And small breasts made me love my husband who learned to love them, too; turns out men love a good underdog, too.

They say when life gives you lemons…

This article is crossposted at Holy Hellions
Erin Lane is a freelance communication strategist for faith-based authors and organizations. She received her Masters in Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School with a focus in gender, ministry, and theology. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about the intersection of her faith and feminism at www.holyhellions.com. She is also co-editing an upcoming anthology on the taboos experienced by young American Christian women. She lives in Durham, NC. 

Categories: Body, Feminism

Tags: , , , ,

6 replies

  1. I am quite convinced (though I could be wrong) that I would be happily married, married young, and married more than once if necessary, had I been of normal height. But had I been dating young, who knows if I would have gone to graduate school, and if not, I would never have become a thea-logian. And if I had been happily married, I would never have moved to Greece, and I certainly would not be running for office with the Green Party Greece in national elections.

    Try buying clothes when you are 6′ 1″ and skinny, then trying buying them when you have gained weight. All of my clothes are threadbare because there are very few clothes for tall women to begin with and almost none for me now, and don’t tell me to buy plus sizes, because they are designed for a shorter woman even than regular sizes. Siggghhh….


  2. Totally, second that, Carol! I’m only 5’9″ but I’ve also never been skinny. I’m quite fluffy. Shopping can be such a fracking nightmare. Only recently have I begun to genuinely fall in love with my body. It took a long time for me to stop being angry with her for not opening more doors with men for me. Or for forcing me to wear ridiculous clothes because they’re the only ones I can afford that fit. But she’s not the problem! She’s a miracle and I love her. Patriarchal fashion is the problem. Narrow understandings of beauty and sexiness are the problem. She is my roots in the world, my wings. And I’m grateful for her–cellulite and all. If there is not a man in the world who can delight in her the way I do, that’s a real crying shame. In any case, I think she’s great. :) Like you, Carol, I sometimes think about all the things I would have missed had I been married young (likely to a rising Southern Baptist preacher!). Thank Goddess I was never June Clever enough for those boys. Appreciate the post, Erin. :)


  3. I wonder if there is some kind of magical cup size out there that makes you “normal”. I have larger than average breasts and a lot of the things you say, I can ‘amen’ to in some fashion.

    Big breasts made me learn to love myself; even when they were too big for current fashion styles or awkward or in my way when I played sports. Big breasts made me learn to love feminism; I am more than my body. And, in fact, big breasts made me love my boyfriend who learned to love them, too; turns out he secretly prefers small breasts!

    Although it is easier to find bras without padding, I’ll give you that.


  4. Erin: I am a guy who appreciates women with confidence and courage enough to be proud of their breasts (and the rest of their bodies) in spite of our society’s hypocrisy and double standards. I salute you for loving what you were given, and for not feeling you have to measure up to impossibly high criteria for feminine beauty, much of them from men. Men should really take the time, as I have, to try to understand what it feels like from a woman’s perspective to be judged based on what she has on her chest instead of what is in her mind. Good article, and best wishes!



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