The first hint that all will bloody not be well is when it is time to talk about boobs. Boobs separate the newly-woman from the boys. The cup-sized distance between the genders is a line we must learn to toe between being fetishised and stigmatised.
Don’t worry about accidentally missing the call to talk about boobs. You can rely on the topic being brought up for us lucky lady-folk by random male passers-by. It begins while we’re still legally, technically and emotionally children. Male strangers best the Urban Dictionary, yelling synonyms for breasts at us, in public. “Boobs! Bosom! Tatas! Bombs (yes, bombs), balls (yes, even balls!), mammaries, knockers, puppies, bazookas, nunganungas…” The full frontal attack will include coarse dialect and comparisons to fruit, vegetables and geological things like boulders and mountains.
I used to think the worst hit were the early developers – the height of 12-year-olds with the cleavage of 18-year-olds, quickly picking up the “Indian-girl shoulder-forward hunch” – confused, horrified and frankly disgusted by our first experiences with roadside sexualised attention. But the flip isn’t easier. Jealous of a classmate who at 15 was tall, still rangy and flat-chested as a boy, I repeated a taunt I had heard in one of the usual ribald convent school teasing sessions. Later she explained how I had hurt her feelings. I was shocked. Here I was thinking she was ‘The have’ by being a have-not, but in fact, boobs had destroyed both our lives.
Whether you are up at night, mentally devising garments of elastic and rope to push you back into flat-chested gender-neutrality or you are praying (weirdly) to God to “get them”, boobs will be the first sign that it’s over. What’s over, ladies? Any possible chance that you were going to get away with remaining uninfected by The Woman Condition.
Does size matter?
Because the Woman Condition is exacerbated by the inordinate amount of attention our breasts receive. The jury’s still out about why men love breasts and research has shown that there are actually more tribes and cultures that find the sexualisation of breasts perverse than not. These, of course, are not to be confused with our so-called modern, evolved cultures in which Instagram has to apologetically claim that big brother Apple doesn’t approve of nipples unless they’re on a man. (Find out why men even have nipples. It’s not just so they can complain about marathon chafing.) And even among cultures that find breasts sexy, size is rarely a consideration.
However, a pair of psychologists, Viren Swami and Martin Tovee, found a revealing pattern amongst men who liked large breasts. The first revelation: “Men pursuing low-commitment, transient sexual relationships and holding stronger sexist attitudes.” The second: Cross cultural research found men in environments with relative resource insecurity expressing stronger preferences for larger breasts than their counterparts with relative resource security.
My personal analysis of this is, simply put, every time some fellow feels you up in the male-dominated crowds, you should know he’s just a poor bloke unable to resist his instinct to check on your fat reserves as a primal indication of access to food and resources. Maybe you should stymie your own instincts and offer him a sandwich, or a job?
It’s easy to understand the women who are ready to acquiesce to the fact that breasts can be currency. In a 2010 survey, India was ranked fourth in the world for the most number of cosmetic surgeries performed. That year, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery estimated the 51,000 breast augmentations performed in the country at a value of nearly Rs 700 crore. Breast augmentation is supposed to be a feel-good operation in our you’re worth it milieu.
Maybe the added social advantages are worth the side-effects of implants which include necrosis (tissue death), mould and bacteria in the implants themselves and the chance of interfering with cancer screening. And for the “but I feel so sexy” crew, other side-effects include loss of breast sensation and… wait for it, a “sloshing sound” as you move. Sexy. More alarmingly, a recent study exploring obvious links between women with low self-esteem and plastic surgery found that “implant patients specifically were consistently more likely to commit suicide than other cosmetic surgery patients”.
Naturally occurring, very large breasts can also cause psychological distress and depression. You may know or have seen at least one person with bra sizes in the FFs cup for example – breasts so large they could be considered a disability not just for the kind of crude attention they garner. Very large breasts present a series of practical problems acknowledged as serious enough for Britain’s National Health Service to offer non-cosmetic breast reduction operations.
Here’s a fact. While boobjectification focuses mostly on size, up to 25% of women have visibly asymmetrical breasts. The more symmetrical 75% however still suffer changes in shape, size and sensitivity not just over the years and with weight loss, pregnancy, breast feeding etc. but even every month around their menstrual cycles. This is something you learn around the time you buy your second or third bra.
Buying your first bra comes with its own learning curve. Bras are not regarded as practical support gear, like say, a jockstrap. Gentlemen, imagine going into the men’s underwear section of a big department store and being forced to wonder, “Oooh, do I want a balcony that accentuates my testicle-cleavage, or maybe go with a plunge-cut that works in case I’m wearing tight, revealing trousers. Do I want a double cup or padding? What about visible seams? Front opening? What fabric are we looking at? Will I need an underwire?”
The only smidgen of justice came about in the early nineties when men were encouraged to gift their female sexual partners bras – a mostly ridiculous notion no doubt encouraged by ’80s hangover TV shows like Sex and the City (come to the bike shed, we will settle that with fisticuffs). For a delicious moment, you’d see grown men, skulking shyly on the outskirts of Bra-Town, stammering at a sales girl who, if she was having fun, would stick her chest out and say, “Is she my size?” And he wouldn’t look at all. Just mumble. And buy something too big or too small (almost always too close to the costumery of the onscreen sex-worker) with an apologetic, “you can get it exchanged for something you like”.
Ladies, nay girls, learn early that bras are not just bras. Women’s chesticles apparently need specific bras for t-shirts, for seduction, for running, for see-through shirts, strapless, racer back, cross back, balcony, padded, reducing, broad strap, fine strap, lace, satin, double-cup, push-up… Maybe it was meant to keep you so busy you have no time to ponder over whether anyone ever broke a glass ceiling with Gaultier cones.
I wrote a series of tweets recently about a young pregnant woman protecting herself as a train went past, scores of men with their hands out trying to cop a quick grab on the go. There was mostly commiseration but a young gentleman, referencing my DP and no doubt using his Indian-male skill at the visual appraisal, reassured me that I would not have to worry and could travel safely by train. Perhaps he intended it as an insult more than a reassurance. I for one was preoccupied with wondering if he maybe he needed a sandwich. And a job.