It took me a good long while to decide that I was going to write this post. I’ll just say upfront that it was difficult. Why? Because it’s a very personal topic. I wasn’t sure what exactly to title this post and in all honesty, I wasn’t sure I would ever push the publish button on it.
I was talking to a female friend the other day and somehow our conversation turned to adolescence, puberty, breast development, and body image. My friend, who is a little younger than I am, told me she had always been flat chested (until a recent perimenopausal weight gain). She mentioned how in junior high, she endured much taunting because in her words, she was “flat as a pancake.” She told me about the endless teasing, how the boys constantly pointed to her chest and made fun of her. The boys were always telling her she was a member of the “itty bitty titty committee” and they constantly asked her how her “mosquito bites” were doing. She hated that time in her life.
I literally cringed when she described to me how she was harassed and tormented. I understood completely. Because you see, I was also teased and made fun of but for the opposite reason. I was one of the early bloomers and breast development for me seemed to happen overnight. I developed before most of the other girls did, and to say that I was full-bosomed was an understatement. I left elementary school and the sixth grade wearing a B cup bra. Summer came and with the beginning of that summer came my first period at age 11. I seemed to blossom overnight. In 1971 I entered the first day of 7th grade (junior high back then) wearing a D cup bra. By the time the 8th grade rolled around, I was a DD cup. I was not overweight in the least. I was petite and only about 5 ft. tall with a small waist which accentuated my large breasts even more. Big breasts run in my family (on both sides) and my mother often referred to it as our family curse. One of my older sisters had to have a breast reduction at the age of 16. My mother was no longer able to purchase bras for her in the store. She was told by the bra-fitting lady at Castner Knotts that she would need to start having my sister’s bras custom made. Having to get custom made bras is not only very inconvenient but also very expensive (ask me how I know this). Physically, my sister was miserable. She could barely support the weight of her heavy and dense breasts and she walked stooped over due to their weight. Her bra straps were digging raw furrows into the tops of her shoulders and she had backaches. The cosmetic surgeon who did her reduction told my parents she was the youngest patient of his to undergo a breast reduction, that he usually didn’t like to do reductions on 16 year old girls who were still developing, but in her case he saw it for what it was – a medical necessity. She came out of surgery a C cup and still to this day, she will tell you boldly that her decision to have a breast reduction was one of the best decisions she ever made in her life. I would also later undergo a breast reduction.
I’ve always had a poor body image and I think it all started back in the 7th grade from being self conscious of my breast size. It was a different time in the early 70s than it is now. Of course there was no social media, no cell phones, no texting, etc. But believe me, bullying and body shaming were alive and well in the 1970s. I still vividly remember the teasing I endured that year when I was 12. I remember the pointing, the laughing, the staring, the lewd comments, and the Dolly Parton jokes, not only from my acquaintances, but from complete strangers. I honestly think irreparable damage was done to my self esteem and it contributed to a lifelong poor self body image. I quickly tired of hearing the other girls say to me, “It must be nice!” While the boys were teasing me, the girls were expressing their envy and jealousy and telling me they would do anything to have big breasts like I did. I grew irritated every time they would tell me how “lucky” I was. They just didn’t get it. My reply was always, “NO BELIEVE ME, YOU DON’T WANT THEM!” There was nothing nice about being teased and taunted constantly.
The teasing became relentless and was non-stop. Hardly a day went by that I didn’t hear lewd comments or wasn’t made fun of. It hurt and left deep scars. I was reminded just how hurtful it was not long ago after finding my old 7th grade diary and reading the comments penned by my 12 year old hand. Being known as “that girl with the big boobs” is hurtful to a 12 year old. I always felt that people only knew me for the size of my breasts and always focused on that one physical aspect, never on my personality or who I was inside. I longed for boys to look me in the face instead of always staring at my chest. I never once dressed provocatively or wore any low cut shirts. I tried my hardest to dress in a way that wouldn’t draw attention to my breasts.
One day, I got grabbed by a 7th grade male student and pushed into the boy’s bathroom where some vulgar comments were made pertaining to my breasts. I came shooting out of there like a rocket to the laughter of all his friends and my classmates. This bathroom incident was a game changer for me. This particular boy who did this to me was someone who had constantly been taunting me. I was five feet tall. He was probably six feet tall. Physically, I was no match for him. But what really got to me was that a teacher witnessed this whole ordeal and did nothing. That teacher had the attitude that boys will be boys. I remember going home and crying that day and even my 12 year old brain knew that this attitude was wrong. So wrong. Some part of me always felt that the teacher/or teachers were perhaps a little afraid of this student.
And that’s when I broke down and told my mother what had been going on. I told her everything…. about the pointing and the teasing, the lewd gestures, and the jokes. I told her about being grabbed like a rag doll and tossed into the boy’s restroom. I remember the anger in my voice when I told her. I remember yelling and crying and telling her that I was just so sick of it, that I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I angrily told her in between sobs that the next time any boy pointed to my chest and made fun of my breast size, that I was just going to point to his crotch and tell him he had a big penis! My mother gasped, her eyes grew wide, and she took me by the shoulders and said, “NO GAIL! YOU DON’T WANT TO SAY THAT!” I laugh at that now and she did too, later, when she explained to me why that was not the wisest thing to say. Oh how naive I was. But one thing I knew for sure…. I hated my budding femininity.
So… what did my mother do at hearing about her youngest daughter’s taunting? She sprung right into action and called my male band teacher. He was a giant of a man well over 6 ft. tall with a slim build. He was a nice man and a calm, no-nonsense type who demanded discipline from his students. I often wondered why she chose to call him (of all the teachers she could have called). Probably because she knew he would do something. She had talked to him on several occasions just prior to this all happening because she was in the process of buying me a new trumpet and wanted his advice. She had gotten to know him a little bit and she liked him. Also, several of the boys doing the incessant taunting were acquaintances of mine in the band. After she called the band director, she then called the principal of the school (who was also male). But she didn’t tell me about either of those phone calls. I found out the next day when that band director and that assistant principal came and got me out of my English class. I had no idea what was going on and thought I was in trouble for some reason. I stood out in the hall facing both of them and endured being asked some very embarrassing questions (for a 12 year old). At the top of their questions was if any of the boys had ever touched “my bosom.” I wanted to die. You have to understand I was an extremely shy kid. And I was 12. They told me that this was going to stop and that I was to come to them if it ever happened again. I could tell they were taking this matter very seriously. And then, they had me nonchalantly walk by various classrooms with them until I had pointed out every single boy who had been involved with the taunting. I had to give names. And then every single one of those boys were called out of class and taken to the office. I don’t exactly remember what their punishment was other than they were given a good talking to. They might have also received in-school suspension but I really don’t remember. I do remember they were very angry with me.
They were angry and unhappy that I had “told” on them. Suddenly, this was all my fault and they put the blame on me, told me they couldn’t believe I had given up their names and told on them (or that I had told my mother who told on them). They also tried to throw out the “boys will be boys” excuse and tried making me believe it was all in good fun, that this was all a “normal” way for boys to behave, and they meant nothing by it. For a short time, I did feel bad and ashamed and I somehow felt I was to blame, that I had overreacted. That is until my mother got ahold of me and straightened my thinking out on that. Looking back, I don’t remember an apology by any of them.
I was asked once if I had ever been bullied in school. I hesitated before I answered. I was tempted to say no because I had always falsely looked at bullying as a physical act. I had to think long and hard at whether what I had endured was body shaming (a term that always makes me squirm a little for some reason) or bullying. I came to the conclusion that it was both. Body shaming is the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size. So yes, I was definitely body shamed for my large breasts just as my friend mentioned above was body shamed for her small breasts. According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words or more subtle actions. So bullying can be physical or emotional. I was bullied.
I won’t say the teasing/taunting stopped entirely but it sure got a lot better. And that band director? He watched out for me until he got a new position and resigned the following year.
To be continued…..