I had a breast reduction when I was sixteen. It was definitely the move. I’m only five foot two and not all that big in circumference, and I was just a friggin’ kid when my boobs decided to become large enough to leave even a woman twice my scale generously endowed. My mom confided in me that she thought it was the Oven Stuffer Roasters that did it. The ones with the little golf tees embedded in them that would pop out when the chicken’s time had come. The ones with all that juicy breast meat. “The hormones,” she’d whisper, as if someone from the national chicken council might be listening to us in our kitchen, and they mustn’t know we were on to them. Shhh, the hormones.
I mean, it was definitely the hormones. Namely the estrogen that my body was pumping out like some kind of titty factory. They’re also the very same chemicals that have endowed me with soft skin, a sultry voice, and curves that’ll put your eye out (if I do say so myself). I’m capable of saying all this self-aggrandizing shit about myself now, but back then I was convinced that no one would ever really see me and my soft, fiery, naked little heart, protected as it was with all my ample padding. I developed the unconscious habit of slumping my shoulders forward to deemphasize my breasts, which left my posture in the shape of a collapsing star. I know that’s a dramatic way to put it, but I’m a dramatic sort of person.
I once wrote the droll little simile “breasts like albatrosses” somewhere in my notebook, when my English class read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” because I WAS PROBABLY BORED OUT OF MY FUCKING MIND and composing marginalia to survive. (I reread the poem for the purpose of writing this essay, and I have to say, Coleridge had bars. Sorry I misjudged you, Samuel!) But true to “Rime,” I felt at the time that my tremendous breasts were a cosmic consequence I’d carry around my neck forever as I floated alone on an eternally becalmed sea, surrounded by water, dying of thirst. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to deserve what felt like punishment, but I knew enough to suspect that it was just the kind of quotidian betrayal that the pubescent body specializes in — like a caricature artist at a bar mitzvah, it takes that one thing about you and inflates it to a comic proportion that you’re supposed to just accept with a penciled-on grin, a party favor.
I would take baths that lasted for an eternity. You know those statues of the Virgin Mary in her little blue grotto, all melancholy and serene? If you were to lay one of those statues on its back — that’s how I felt (and still feel) when I’m in the bath. I took refuge there. Floating for hours was my small act of protest against the gravity of my body. I basically lived in the tub, soaking and dreaming and writing little poems and magic symbols in the steam on the glass. It became a sort of temple, and I its prune-fingered priestess.
The bath was the one place where I felt like my true self and not someone trapped inside a cartoon drawing of a “sexy lady,” a figure I wasn’t sure I wanted to be. It was the one place I didn’t need to censor my body by covering it in giant sweatshirts. It was the one place where I was safe to be just as hot, naked, and soft as I actually am, without getting dragged into whatever fantasy people have when they see large breasts on a small girl. In the bath, my thoughts would float into the steam and sink underwater into deafness.