I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant eating chips and salsa across the table from my former boyfriend, who, for the sake of brevity, we will call Dipshit. I reached over to grab another chip when I caught Dipshit staring at me with a look of critical affection, the way a hairstylist might survey an up-do before applying finishing spray.
“You know… you’d be perfect if you had big boobs,” he said, while reflexively opening and closing his hands. As if by grabbing the air, he thought maybe my elusive knockers might magically manifest in them.
When I snapped back, Dipshit defended his comment by saying that it was simply a fact. Not the ‘almost perfect’ part—that was his own ‘sweet’ addition—but the desire for big boobs, he said, was universal, much like food or water.
What hurt most about Dipshit’s comment was that I believed him. I, too, felt that my B cups were inadequate on my petite frame. Of course, I was too smart and saucy to admit that I felt that way. In fact, I was ashamed to confess that to a large degree all of the magazines, music videos, and movies had shaped my perception of beauty, much as it had my ex-boyfriend’s. It was so frustrating. I had zero respect for commoditized sexuality and canned desire. Even though I was well aware that I was being manipulated by the cult of commercial aesthetics, underneath my bravado, I still felt less-than.
Meanwhile, many of my friends were getting implants.
To me, this seemed an admission of weakness—or even betrayal—as if by getting fake boobs my friends were agreeing that natural boobs weren’t good enough. But, of course, they didn’t care what I thought. They happily went shopping for new bras, skimpy bikinis, and dresses that accentuated their plunging cleavage—joining rank and file with the purveyors of impossible standards, as far as I was concerned.
But the truth was that I envied their choice and wished that I could turn off the annoying voice in my head that makes such a big deal out of this kind of shit. I mean, they’re just boobs, right? Why do I have to make the personal so goddamn political? What’s a 10k surgery and a week of recovery for a permanent boost of confidence? Confidence comes from within, I’d sternly remind myself, but I couldn’t help but notice the Dcup surge of self-esteem my friends acquired as soon as the bandages came off.
And, yet, despite my insecurity, I couldn’t bring myself to go under the knife for a host of reasons.
For one, I’m the kind of person who feels like if I’m being operated on, something has gone terribly awry. I don’t elect surgery on a whim. In fact, I avoid it at all costs.
Two, I believed that I didn’t really need a boob job because I projected big boobs, as if they were an aura. In the way I walked, talked and carried my head held high and shoulders back, I gave the essence of very large breasts. I was weirdly sure of this.
Thirdly, I had to lead by example and champion the cause:
I was so enthusiastic—even evangelical—that another ex-boyfriend, who we will call The Artist, joked that he was proud to be dating the Captain of the Little Tittie Committee.
“Go fight win!” he’d cheer, as I marched around his art studio in my panties, ranting about the virtues of natural breasts.
As a fine artist, he had a very personal relationship with beauty, and as far as I could tell, he appreciated all different shapes and sizes of the female figure. To the point, one time when he was visiting a friend in Prague, he and his buddy went to a girly bar. When the bar manager asked them what kind of ladies they would like to sit at their table—blond? Brunette? Tall? The Artist said, “Do you have any girls with puffy nipples?” Apparently, this really threw the guy for a loop. In a thick, eastern bloc accent, the manager said, “POFF-Y nipples? You vaaant POFF-Y nipples?” As if in all his years of being in the sex industry, he’d never heard of such a strange request.
I, on the other hand, felt oddly relieved by this story. Not because my nipples are super puffy, but because if they were, that would be a good thing. There was an erotic space in The Artist’s mind for more than cookie-cutter cantaloupes, and I was sure I fit in there somewhere.
Fourthly, even though I occasionally wanted the kind of cannons that make men go stupid, I wasn’t willing to give up the champagne saucers I had. I genuinely liked my breasts. In the words of Lula in Wild at Heart,
“I got the kind of breasts that stand up and say hello.”
They’re pink and perky, and have always been good to me. It just didn’t seem right to cut them up and stuff ’em full of silicone or saline, especially at the risk of losing nipple sensitivity (which, for those who share my good fortune, know is like having two turbo buttons on the dashboard. Vroom vrooooom!).
Besides, what I really wanted were boobs that were inflatable–ones that I could pump up before slinking into a low-cut dress or deflate before practicing yoga. If they ever came up with those, I thought, I might just get a pair.
And well, wouldn’t you know it….
About three days after Soleil was born, I walked into the living room and said,
“Holy crap! Look at my boobs!”
They were amazing D cups sticking straight out of my chest. Sometime in the early morning the boob fairy had come and answered decades of heartfelt prayer. (Or maybe my milk just came in). Granted, my new breasts looked a bit angry—hard and shiny like all boobs freshly after rapid augmentation—but I was stoked.
“What do you think babe? Amazing, right!!” I said, whilst fighting the urge to crawl into the freezer. My new milk-jugs were hot to the touch and hurt like hell.
A look of consternation swept across Tree’s face, as he painfully calculated how to respond. It was like the final question in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. No life lines. Clock ticking. 10, 9, 8, 7…
“I love your normal boobs,” he said. Final answer.
“Awww, that’s so sweet,” I mumbled as I turned left, right, and then did a little jiggle in the mirror.
I was hooked. I loved my big boobs and immediately wondered for how long I could breastfeed before it got creepy. Three years, four years…five? What if I were to wean Sol but still pump? I could donate my milk to orphan babies in developing countries.
That wouldn’t be weird, right?
I’ve been breast-feeding Sol now for a little over a year. I’ve nursed her in five different countries; atop Machu Picchu; on both La Isla del Sol and Easter Island; around a campfire in Sajama National Park, Bolivia; in airplanes, boats, cars, restaurants, fancy hotels and backpacker hostels.
Today I’ll do it anywhere at any given time without the slightest hint of self-consciousness—but this wasn’t always the case. At first, I was embarrassed to nurse in public and would cover up, but after a couple of months of experience (thankfully in Peru), my American modesty gave way to Latin American pragmatism: Babies need to eat, and boobs have milk—end of discussion. The stigma of a naked boob, at least if it’s attached to a baby’s mouth, just doesn’t exist down here.
Not so in North America. When we were back home in August, I could feel other people’s embarrassment when I nursed Sol, and this saddened me in ways that I am only now beginning to understand. For one, discomfort is contagious. I felt weird because they felt weird, and the weirdness tainted something that has become so sweet, beautiful and soul-quenching to me.
You see, from puberty onwards, my breasts were something on the outside, protruding from my core, begging for approval. They have been a source of anxiety, their smallness making me feel insecure and uneasy. I have looked at them and always thought, “GROW,” because I secretly (and sadly) thought their size was directly proportional to my hotness, which was tantamount to being loved in our visually obsessed culture.
But, today, when I look down at my breasts, and I see my sweet baby nursing, making her soft grunting sounds with eyes softly gazing up at me, I think, my breasts are perfect. And they are. They are perfect for Sol and me. I feel whole and complete, and so does she. With milk spilling out the sides of her mouth, she is rapt with pleasure, drunk off my love. I’ve never been so incredibly grateful to my body for providing in a real, quantifiable way the love I feel in my heart. Aside from some of the most intimate moments that I have shared with Tree, I have never felt this intensely connected to another being.
I’m pretty sure Sol feels the same way. Interestingly, infants do not have a distinct sense of self. A baby’s ego is yet to fully form, so where you start and baby begins is blurry (or, intensely clear and enlightened, depending on how you look at it). I’m no baby specialist, but I believe this based on my own experience. I too felt (and still feel) a blurring of egos and a blending of souls when our bodies are pressed together, as if Sol and I are a part of something bigger than our separate selves.
And we are. We’re a part of nature. We are interconnected, in both the physical and spiritual sense of the word.
I don’t usually talk about things like spirits and souls—mostly because I don’t believe in them—but I’ve caught myself using those kinds of words lately to describe the rapture and oneness I feel when I’m swept up in what is wild and natural. To be clear, when I write ‘soul’, I’m not referring to the invisible identity chip in your chest that lives on after your body dies and acts as a ticket to the afterlife (or maybe just an appearance on Crossing Over with John Edward…inexplicably, I love that show). Rather, I think of soul as stardust, life force, chi, prana—the energy that moves through us all—and when I feel aware of and sourced by this energy, I touch the sublime. Rafting down the Colorado River, diving under a wave in the ocean, hiking through the woods, running hard beneath a canopy of jungle, making sweet dirty love, even sharing exquisite food and wine with good friends can give me this soulful feeling of being humbled and exalted at the same time.
In short, soul is that which makes me grateful to be alive.
And breastfeeding is now in that group. It’s something that connects me to the wild within. And what is the wild but a perfectly balanced system where life—amazing magnificent phenomenal life!—thrives.
This is why the weirdness I felt in the States saddened me. Because somehow, the most wholesome, natural, and fulfilling things a woman can do with her breasts has been characterized as gross and indecent. And, yet, breast augmentation surgery has been the #1 cosmetic procedure in the U.S. (and the world) for over a decade. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 39% increase in implants, and the stats aren’t slowing down.
So, let me get this straight, in the culture in which I was born and raised, breastfeeding is weird, but getting surgery to make your boobs bigger is normal???
How did this happen?
Here’s an idea….
Over 80% of kids today have watched a porno before they’ve had their first sexual experience. In fact, the average age of exposure to Internet porn is 11 years old, and the largest consumer group is aged between 12 and 17 years old. That means that before kids can fumble around in the dark, exploring each other’s blossoming bodies, being led by their budding senses and bursting curiosity, they have witnessed what society says sex should be like—what we should look like, how we should treat each other—and, it’s not pretty.
I could get into the violence and overt sexism in adult film today, or rant about how the false belief that superior sexual satisfaction is attainable without having affection for one’s partner reinforces the commoditization of sex and the objectification of humans, or I could just complain that pornography makes men shitty lovers and increases rates of sexual dissatisfaction for both sexes, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about boobs.
Or is it? No, actually, it’s not about boobs. It’s not even about breastfeeding.
This post is about intimacy.
It’s not the naked boob that makes Americans feel uncomfortable when a woman breastfeeds in public. It’s the intimacy. After all, we see naked boobs all the time—kids as young as eight years old do on the Internet while they’re supposed to be doing their homework.
But it’s intimacy that is missing in pornography. It’s intimacy that’s missing in our daily lives. It doesn’t exist in our professional lives where profit and protocol are more important than personal wellbeing. It’s missing in our eating habits; 44% of Americans eat at a fast food restaurant at least once a week. It’s missing in our relationships with our community, our lovers, and the natural world (82% of Americans live in an urbanized area). Sadly, it’s even missing from our relationship with our own bodies.
And what do we get instead of intimacy? An ever-shrinking margin in which we are permitted to express ourselves–one that is dictated more by advertisements, profit margins, and corporations than by our own human nature.
Speaking of our nature, I can easily picture a lion lounging under a tree on the African savannah or a shark patrolling the ocean, but I’m not sure what the natural expression of a human should be like.
What do we look like in the wild?
What would we look like if we were living in harmony with the natural world, if we were a part of the balanced ecosystem and not exploiting it, or if we honored our biological drivers instead of sublimated them for civilization? It’s hard saying, but I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to look like this.
It’s no wonder so many of us feel frantic with anxiety and mired in loneliness. (One out of every four American adults suffers from a mental disorder in a given year; one in ten children is diagnosed with ADHD).
Society’s solution to this problem is rabid consumerism coupled with Xanax and Zoloft.
But maybe we don’t have to live like this, alienated from the wild, unsure of who we are underneath all of these civilized pretenses–ergo clueless about our purpose on this planet. Maybe we can take back our lives and do what we are meant to do: connect as deeply and as often as possible with people, animals and nature. With our giant limbic brain and our protruding neocortex, we are made for intimacy. We are meant to do what feeds our souls and makes us grateful to be alive.
Mind you, I’m not arguing against implants or even pornography. I understand the desire for implants. I feel it too, but to get them I’d have to be willing to accept that by ‘enhancing’ my breasts, there would be more pressure on other moms to ‘fix’ their post-baby boobs too. Given the choice, I think I’d rather rock my mama breasts with the pride that comes from a job well-done. Likewise, the more mainstream pornography continues to become, the lonelier, suckier and more unsatisfied both men and women will be in bed. But, neither fake boobs nor pornography are responsible for the dearth of intimacy in our culture.
We are responsible. We create our culture, which also means we can change it—one mind at a time.
Let’s start with breastfeeding. Ladies, let’s get to know our bodies. Intimately. Let’s trust our bodies. Let’s LOVE our bodies. And let’s support each other in this process. Let’s consult midwives, doulas, lactation experts, friends, moms, grandmas, other people’s moms and grandmas. Let’s demand paid maternity leave (we are the only industrialized nation without it) and the right to pump-on-demand (not on assigned breaks) in the workplace. Most importantly, let’s be grateful for (rather than critical of) our bodies for being these amazing miracle machines that allow us to experience, create, and FEED life on this planet.
I know it’s hard to do when our bodies have become so commoditized, when for our entire lives we’ve thought of our breasts as primarily sexual objects, when pregnancy and birth–two natural processes–have become highly medicalized, and when we lack community support and tribal knowledge to guide and encourage us on our path. But we have to do it, for us and our children. Before our round pudgy babies have to fit into the square holed cubicles of our fast paced consumerist society, let’s give them the closeness, comfort, and nutrients that nature intended. The boob is their birthright. They deserve those first intimate moments; and, honestly, we do too.
Let’s go outside, someplace dangerous where we might get eaten by a wolf, and then let’s stay there until we’re less afraid that will happen. Let’s stay there until we know the curve of each tree like we do the arc of our lover’s spine, until the sounds of the birds are as familiar as the voices of our friends, until we hear nature’s song in our sleep.
Let’s grow our own food and kill our own meat. Let’s get blood on our hands and dirt under our nails. Let’s be conscious and accountable. Let’s live with intention.
Let’s turn off our televisions and iPads and smart phones and talk to each other. We can start a book club or a gardening group, or hell, maybe a commune. Let’s live in a traveling tribe! Or, at least let’s invite our neighbors over for dinner. And, then, when we’ve broken bread with everyone on our street, let’s invite someone into our home who lives on the street because, I guarantee, he probably needs a square meal as much as we need to break down the barriers of fear that keep us apart.
And, finally, let’s take back our erotic space. Instead of thinking, I wish your naughty parts looked like perfectly molded prefab ones…
…think, I love your naughty parts because when I pay attention to them like it’s just me and you and time left on this planet, your toes curl and your back arches and the earth stops turning for a moment, just long enough for you to say I love you and really mean it.
I know these seem like small acts of little consequence, but in fact they are subversive acts of mindfulness. No, this kind of compassion and joie de vivre won’t take the power back from corporations, redistribute wealth, fix the healthcare system, give both parents paid leave, breathe new life into public education, restore the commons or save the collective, but it will humanize the way we spend our days. These tiny intimate moments will help us remember who we are and who we are meant to be.
More than anything, they are a starting point that will lend a greater purpose to our existence.
And perhaps with a more intimate connection with our bodies, each other, other species, and the wild, we will be inspired to change the way we’ve organized ourselves on this planet to respect life and allow it to thrive.
“We will not fight to save what we do not love.” -Stephen Jay Gould