By Emma Chow
Remember that period of early puberty when you wondered when your breasts would grow and how large they’d end up being? I don’t. One day I was a ten year old girl who was shaped like, dressed like and often mistaken for a boy. The next, I was growing a promising looking rack which jutted from my skinny frame like a shelf. By 12, I was apparently ‘tall’ as I was ever going to get and had completed the making of my already adult sized rack. For a young Asian girl, having large breasts is pretty unusual. This I know, because my female cousins loved nothing better than to prod and poke them with amazement while lamenting the fact that they needn’t even wear a bra.
Today, with two little guys of my own, the boyish frame is long gone in favour of hips that frequently get me stuck navigating between café tables, and breasts which are, if anything, significantly larger. Pregnancy and years of breastfeeding certainly do much for breast growth. They are large enough to be an obstruction for my upper arms when I’m driving, riding a bike, and especially cooking. Having worked professionally as a chef, I have singed the jutting front of my chef whites and aprons more than a handful of times. This is very funny to every male chef I have ever worked with. When I carry my 5 month old in his Baby Bjorn, he enjoys a mammary cushion should he fall asleep facing me, but is unable to turn his head as it wedges between my boobs when facing forwards.
Despite this, there is a fault in my brain where I seem to suffer a kind of amnesia about my present body shape. The increasingly rare occasions I go clothes shopping, I select simple shapes: retro shift dresses, fitted sweaters, button down shirts; largely non-flammable, cleavage covering things (I hate being ogled). For some reason, I love these clothes. The waifish models of online stores and fashion magazines beckon to me.
My 10 year old body longs to don pieces of material that cost significantly more than the sum of their parts and cost of labour to join them. I leave my partner outside the store with both little boys. I grab items that catch my eye and head to the change room with hopeless optimism. I avert my eyes from the mirror as I remove my baggy t-shirt borrowed from my partner and maternity jeans revealing my breast milk stained nursing bra and pants with sagging elastic. I have forgotten to shave my legs. I manage to don a tailored button down shirt. Sure, the spaces between the second, third and fourth buttons gape open, but I feel hopeful. The green cotton shift dress is what I really want. Sixties mod style; something my petite mum would have worn in her day. My head and shoulders fit through the skirt opening and I pull my head through the neckline. I flatten my breasts with one hand, tugging down the dress with the other. It’s tight, but I shove the girls in and get the skirt over my hips. Success! I dare to look at my reflection. It’s awful, so very awful. The fabric of the arm holes cuts into my armpits, there is visible strain and creases across the bottom, hips and inevitably, the chest. I find that I cannot move my shoulders, lift my arms, or bend down. Sighing, I reach for the bottom of the dress and pull it up over my hips. It refuses to go upwards unless inside out. It’s when I try to pull it over my breasts that I’m in trouble. The rigid fabric is caught under both girls, my arms pinned next to my head clutching the edge of the skirt, hands tugging hopelessly. Stitches pop.
“How are you doing in there?” A salesgirl calls through the curtain.
“Help me!” I think. “I’m fine!” is my muffled reply. She could pull this thing off me. Or cut it off? But my saggy pants, filthy bra, and unshaved legs! When I hear her wander off, I redouble my efforts to pull the dress off. I can’t stay in here forever; any longer and she’ll be back to investigate. My boys will wonder what’s taking me so long. I wriggle, struggle, and twist, as silently as I can. My own breath is hot in my face and I can smell my perspiration. This is great because it seems to act as a lubricant, and inch by inch the dress scrapes off. I rip it over my head, drop it to the floor. In the mirror I see my hair is a tangled, black mess and I’m red and splotchy all over. There are deep red lines in my armpits, across my chest, bra riding up over one boob. Resigned, I turn the dress right way out and slide it back on the hanger. Despite the ordeal it has put me through, it looks remarkably unharmed. Dressing myself as quick as I can, I return the clothes to a waiting rack; scuttle out red-faced to meet my family.
“How did it go?” My partner asks.
“Oh, they didn’t have anything I really liked.” I lie.
I take my bigger boy’s hand and we wander down the street, my boys, my boobs and I.