A Little Off the Top

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She’d had it up to here with double-D’s…

So Pamela Anderson Lee had her breasts reduced. Or rather, as rumor now has it, reduced to a lesser state of enlargement. Why is this news? Why did dozens of newspapers write teaser headlines on their front pages? Why, when offered footage of Kosovo or the Yankees, did thousands of channel  surfers choose to watch Pamela offer an in-depth analysis of her decision on Entertainment Tonight?

The obvious answer is, of course, that we are a species obsessed with breasts. But why would a woman who paved her road to success with photos of her larger-than-likely ta-ta’s choose to have those very ta-ta’s reduced? Was she consciously using her breasts as a Trojan horse to gain entry into the fortified city of stardom, only to say (once she was inside), "Okay, I don’t need these anymore. Send them back"? As a former owner of a pair of DD’s myself, I think the reason runs deeper.

"Men," she sighed, hauling on her cigarette, "get really stupid around breasts."

I was one of the first girls in my sixth-grade class to develop. Early on, my friend Lynne’s mother noticed my blooming, and with no small dismay. She was the Young, Cool Mother, a saucy woman who painted her toenails red and sat in armchairs sideways, with her legs draped over the arm. She smoked Virginia Slims 100’s and balanced the ashtray on her navel. One day, when we were at the country club sitting by the pool, she looked at me bulging out of my blue-and-white Speedo and frowned. "Men," she sighed, hauling on her cigarette, "get really stupid around breasts." Lynne and I waited for her to expound on this, but then one of the fathers came over and handed her a sweaty gin-and-tonic and she turned her smile on us and said, "Why don’t you girls go for a swim?"

Her statement stayed with me for years. It seemed so ominous and, to the younger me, perplexing. What was the big deal? Breasts were breasts. Breasts were body parts. Why would the presence of body parts make a person dumb?

It would take me years to realize that you just can’t apply logic to the effect of breasts on men. But in the meantime, I was growing. And growing and growing. In high school, I was a chaste C — saved, I now realize, by a bout of anorexia — but once I started eating again, I advanced to a D. Then, to a DD when I went on the Pill. I was twenty-four by then and convinced  that if I didn’t do something drastic, my chest would keep expanding. And that the men around me would get proportionately dumber with each cup size I increased. I had already seen evidence of this and wasn’t pleased.

What Lynne’s mother said may sound like a sweeping, anti-male statement, but in my large-breasted experience, it has proved to be true. I repeat it now with love and empathy and genuine mystification: men get incredibly stupid around breasts.

In college, they "accidentally" brushed their elbows against me at parties and crowded bars. I knew it was springtime each year not because the robins came out, but because I’d hear shouts of "nice tits" from every other passing convertible. One time a man on a bicycle looked over his shoulder to tell me he wanted to lick my rock-hard nipples and proceeded to plow into a double-parked car on Commonwealth Avenue. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and I watched with some satisfaction as he sailed over the hood of the car. Why go to all the trouble for body parts, I thought. Why risk your life?

Big-breasted women are supposed to be ready, willing and hot in the sack.

With such "nice tits," I could never get boys to have actual conversations with me. Mostly, they just stammered, jiggled the keys in their pockets and tried to sneak peeks. Sometimes they’d get out full sentences, such as "I like that shirt you’re wearing," or, "Can I get you a beer?" I’m sure part of the general awkwardness came from my end — I was shy, uncertain and knew about as little of them as they knew of me — but when you had tits on your person, it seemed impossible to get boys to focus on anything else. I tried to talk about books and movies and college chit-chat staples, like Love and Religion and What You’re Going to Do With the Rest of Your Life, but I could always tell by the glazed look in their eyes that they weren’t listening. When they finally realized I wasn’t talking anymore, they’d say something like, "So, uh, where’d you get that sweater?"

There are girls who enter wet T-shirt contests and Hawaiian Tropic competitions; there are girls who dream their whole overdeveloped lives of posing for Playboy; there are girls like Pamela who make millions off their augmented assets, but this was not me. I had virtually nothing to do with what my breasts supposedly represented. Big-breasted women are supposed to be ready, willing and hot in the sack. Big breasted woman — Good God! — lick their own nipples and other womens’ nipples and say things like, Fuck my tits, baby, I love your hard cock. They wear spandex and stilettos and lift their shirts at Heavy Metal concerts. I, however, wanted to be a writer, a scholar, an Interesting Person. I wanted to be known by my peers as smart, kind, talented or at least fun to be around. Instead, I was known as the girl with the big tits. And with big tits, it’s almost impossible to define yourself as anything else.

The decision was difficult, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I managed to convince my doctor, who managed to convince Harvard Community Hell Plan, that the procedure was "medically necessary," and insurance paid for it. Though I wanted just to shout out, "The patient is in critical need of respect!" I settled for telling him that they impeded my backhand, that my back hurt after I jogged, that when I ran, I had to wear three jog bras, and even then I still bounced. I showed him how my shoulders had permanent dents in them from my overstrained bra straps. I told him how I could never even put on a bra without thinking of the grammar school term "over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder." The doctor then asked me to take my shirt off. "You’re large," he said, "but you’re not that large." I held my breath until he said, "But I think we can go ahead and put you through for the procedure."

The first thing I saw when I came to after surgery was my feet. I had never had an unobstructed view before, and the sight was exhilarating. Hello, left foot! Hello, right! Hello, toes! I had a  tight, white bandage wrapped around me, and it looked like the bandeau on that skinny, flat model in the Bain De Soleil ads. My smile, the nurse told me, was huge.

The first thing I saw when I came to was my feet.

I cannot describe how new I felt after the breast reduction, how free. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to look in a mirror to fasten a belt buckle! And clothes! I could wear delicate, lacy bras and sundresses with skinny straps. I could jog in just a jog bra and not be held liable for traffic accidents. I felt more flexible and supple. I could jump up and down without embarrassment, and my backhand actually improved.

The best part was I could walk the streets and have men not leer at me! I blended into the masses! People were looking at my face! I felt like I had joined a new category of society: people with brains. For the first time, I felt I was finally in the body I was meant to inhabit, that of a small-breasted woman.

And the men? Well, the ones I started meeting were smarter, more polite and better educated. I encountered fewer sports fans, fewer baseball caps; conversations flowed better, with fewer stammers on their part and bigger vocabulary words. When I told them, for example, that I was a college  professor, they no longer responded with, "I’d like to work toward some extra credit in your class, heh heh." They would ask, with seemingly genuine interest, "What do you teach?"

Before the surgery, the doctor described the risks and side effects involved — the likelihood of scarring, the unlikelihood of being able to breast feed, the odd chance that the nipple could turn black and fall off — but none of that mattered to me at the time. All I wanted was to be able to move through the world without being preceded by presumptions, without being defined by my cup size.

I can put on a Wonderbra, strut my stuff, and, mercifully, take it off at the end of the day.

So perhaps this is what Pamela Anderson wanted. And Jenny McCarthy. And anyone else who has had a breast reduction. Until men start to wear clothes that reveal, rather than conceal, the shape and size of their cocks, they might not fully understand this. Perhaps if I had waited a few years and grown into my body (so to speak), I could have handled the attention my large breasts brought me. Perhaps I would have enjoyed them more now as a sexually confident person. And maybe I could have/should have used them, as many women do, to my financial advantage by starring in a porn flick or two, posing for centerfolds, landing a  sugar daddy. But these, at heart, are the wishes of a shy person fantasizing about being more calculating and bold. That wasn’t — and probably never will be — me.

And that’s okay. I enjoy having lived the contrast of being both small and large. Think of all those Hollywood movies about being able to inhabit someone else’s body for a day. The moral of the story always seems to be a renewed appreciation for who you were. But in my case, I have a renewed appreciation for who I am now. Sure, there are scars and sure, Jenny McCarthy sold her memoir for six figures while my first novel remains unpublished and sure, I might not be able to breast-feed (although I think I will be, because my sensitivity is still there) but I get to be the person I want to be. If I want big tits, I can put on a Wonderbra, strut my stuff, and, mercifully, take it off at the end of the day.

The two men I have slept with since the surgery (one of whom became my husband) both pretended to be appalled at how "some men" are obsessed with tits and how "terrible it was that I had to go to such an extreme to get the respect I so clearly deserved — but could I, uh, see a picture of you then?"

But there are few pictures. I’m always folding my arms across my chest, or hiding behind someone else or wearing one of those giant men’s shirts, loose and untucked. So, instead of digging out the photo albums now when my husband asks, I do what I could never have done before without embarrassment: I flash him.