A comment on Corporette in the past week has lingered in my mind enough for me to want to share it with you. I haven’t been able to locate the actual comment again (did I imagine it? was it moderated out?), but it went something like this:

At a law school reception recently, one of my male classmates told me, “You have beautiful breasts.” I was mortified and told him that I didn’t think his comment was appropriate. He said, “But I thought you were proud of them, the way you’re always showing them off.” I’m so embarrassed. My tee shirts are tight because that’s all I can find to fit. I don’t want the men I work with to be thinking that I’m that kind of girl.

How would you react to a compliment like this? Since writing this blog,  I’m much less sensitive about my large breasts than I used to be. I’m on a forum where women compliment each others’ boobs all the time. I myself have observed so many breasts since beginning this blog that I have developed a sort of breast aesthetic, and if I know a woman well enough, or if she seems open to the subject, I will give her the exact same compliment as the male classmate.

However, if I had been on the receiving end of the compliment back in law school, I would have been just as mortified (which explains the baggy shirts I always wore).  I now comprehend how much men appreciate breasts, but even so, I’m not sure how I would respond to such a compliment today. I like to think that I would laugh and say, “Why thank you!”, but it’s just as possible that my face would freeze before I mumbled something unintelligible and walked away.

Who knows this man’s intentions? Perhaps he was engaging in a power play by purposely putting the woman off balance with his compliment. Perhaps he was suggesting something sexual. Or perhaps he simply appreciated her breasts and thought she should know how great he thought they were. Whatever his intentions, she could not control them or his actions. The only thing she–and we–can control is our own attitude towards our breasts and our response to the attention they receive.

As women with large breasts, I believe we face a constant challenge to view our breasts as valuable gifts and to act accordingly. This is more difficult when we feel that an observer has reduced us to sexual objects because of them, but the fact that someone else has this perception does not make it true. It is our own special test to refuse to adopt such a perception or to allow ourselves to be shamed by it.

The commenter, like each of us, has some work ahead of her. I felt that she was allowing herself to be victimized by other peoples’ perception of her large breasts when she wrote that she does not want to be thought of as “that kind of girl.” Big breasts under a tight tee shirt do not mean a woman is easy. Big breasts under a tight tee shirt plus a lot of other social cues may indicate this, but large breasts alone mean nothing. They are simply a physical feature.

Recently, I watched a fascinating martial arts demonstration. In each scenario, the demonstrator walked us through the steps he would take to counter an attacker and bring him under his control. At the very end, he made a surprising claim: “Once you have the power to protect yourself, you don’t need to fight anymore.” I think there’s a corollary for us: once we view our bodies with acceptance, we don’t need to run away in shame or to attack others. We have the power to set boundaries on inappropriate behavior without allowing it to define us.