One advantage of adulthood is that we can begin to understand and empathize with our mothers’ experiences growing up. And if we’re lucky, like today’s anonymous author, we also begin to discover our own beauty apart from her influence.
My mother and I have very different ideas, thoughts and beliefs. However, we look very similar. I’ve often thought that people’s amazement at my resemblance to my mother contributed to us having a lot of trouble seeing where one of us ends and the other begins. One area in which we don’t look alike is that my chest is much larger than hers. Hers isn’t particularly small, but mine has continued to grow and grow and grow! We also have really different attitudes about chests.
She no longer remembers this, but I was deeply affected by a comment she made when I was a teenager. I was changing clothes and had my bra off and my mother looked at me and said I had the chest of an 86 year old woman. Whenever my chest is not supported by a bra I feel extremely self-conscious. They are big and heavy and low hanging. Fact of nature. At least people know they’re real!
My mom bought my clothes for me almost all the way up until I went to college. For some reason she loved loose fitting shirts with horizontal stripes on me. No, I didn’t mistype that. She thought horizontal stripes looked good. Horizontal stripes on shirts with no shaping at all. She would coo about how cute I was in those shirts. After I went to college I started to discover the beauty of my chest. I have a perfect hourglass figure. I began to dress with a touch of cleavage. When my mom discovered that, she hated it. We’ve had many fights over they years about my choice to show cleavage.
I fell in love with 50s style shirt dresses that emphasized my hourglass. Mom said those were the clothes that she had been rebelling against as a teenager. She told me about how when she was coming of age in the 1970s it was bad to have a large chest. The ideal woman was willowy and thin and had no chest at all. Women went to great lengths to minimize and hide their breasts. She had a hard time understanding why I wasn’t interested in doing that, but at least she was trying to recognize that her beliefs about showing one’s figure came from a different era.
I have no memory of my chest growing. It’s really strange, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least D cup breasts. My first memory of thinking about it is in a middle school changing room, getting ready for gym class. I was there with my best friend, who at the time was an A cup and I was a D (She’s now a B and I’m a G). It seemed as though somehow we had always been destined to have these bodies, even though we couldn’t have known when we were kids who would develop a large chest and who wouldn’t. I remember ruminating about that, but I don’t remember a time before having my big breasts. I don’t remember bra shopping for the first time, or any of the other iconic memories I should have. I don’t remember any boy’s attitudes towards me changing at all (most likely because I was wearing the hideous baggy shirts).
It has been hard for me to feel beautiful when I am so different from the other women in my family. I don’t know where the huge chest came from. My mom is somewhat big, a couple of my cousins are, but I’m by far the largest. My cousins and aunts and other female relatives are so beautiful. I feel like a giant next to them. I feel too big and over grown. Comfort with my body is a slow and ongoing journey. It was not helped by my mom’s attitude towards my chest, but I don’t know what she should have done differently. I don’t know how I will talk to my daughter about these issues (should I ever be lucky enough to have one).
I ran into a situation like this just a few days ago. A friend of mine who lives a long way away from me is getting married in a few months, and I dutifully went out this past weekend to a local David's Bridal and purchased the dress that she and her other bridesmaids had picked out, thankfully aware of my body type. It actually looks pretty decent on me, and I brought it home and took some pictures to show the other girls.
When my mother, who knew that I was getting a dress, inquired about it, I sent her the photos, too. Her first reaction, upon seeing my side profile, was "OH, my. You're really sticking your chest out." Followed up later by a "But don't stick your chest out so much." Mom, who is short and heavy, but smaller-chested, always told me to stand up straight regardless of my awkward height, and to keep my shoulders back. My posture is good because of her hounding.
What mom just doesn't understand is that the opposite of "sticking my chest out" is rounding my shoulders and my back and slouching, effectively looking as though I'm ashamed of my chest. Your story sounds so very familiar…
I love both of your stories. You really highlight the complexity of our relationships with our well-meaning but only human mothers.