It occurred to me that we’d come a long way from wondering if we were ever going to grow boobs. Back when we were kids we had this secret, giant rock, where we’d go to discuss life’s biggest questions. “Mr. Barbieri having sex? Your parents? Mine?!” We’d just learned the details and were screaming with laughter as we pictured the adults in our lives in that ridiculous position. Including our handsome, ex-Marine 6th-grade teacher. We decided that French kissing was disgusting, something only oversexed French people would do, in berets, smoking Gauloises while licking each other’s tongues.
Boob growth, of course, was the Big Topic. We were still in T-shirts, but some of our more mature classmates were bragging about their brand new bras. I asked my mother if I could get a few training bras. She laughed. “For what?”
I sighed and looked down at my totally flat chest. I secretly hoped that the bras trained them to grow. I was devastated when, during gym class, my best friend proudly whispered to me that she was wearing a bra. I changed my clothes in a locked bathroom stall, humiliated. I arrived home in desperate tears. My father took pity on me and encouraged my mother to get me a bra. Not one to accept defeat easily, she established strong parameters. The children’s department of Nyden’s, the specialty department store where I regularly got my Scout uniforms. Not exactly where actual grown women bought their bras. And a personal fitting by the formidable saleswoman with the tape measure. I cringed, but it was that, or t-shirts forever.
The saleswoman took on look at my chest and sneered. She had enough chest for three or more women, and made it clear I came up wanting. But a sale is a sale, so she measured. “Arms up in the air!” She brought the tape measure around my back and stopped at my nipples. I shuddered. She grinned. “Extra small!” she pronounced loudly enough to turn heads in the Men’s Department.
An extra-small consisted of tiny shoulder straps to hold up what were not so much cups as pieces of a stretchy fabric-also tiny- that would ideally expand to hold up the budding breasts. Mine did not expand. In fact, it puckered. The saleswoman snapped the back of the bra and offered the possibility that I might one day grow into it. She didn’t seem optimistic.
But I had a real bra. At 13, life doesn’t get much better.
Fast forward several decades, and our conversations have taken a decided shift. When did my arms get too short to read fine print? Why does it seem people aren’t talking loudly enough anymore? What the hell is body hair doing in places it doesn’t belong? When did colonoscopy prep become an acceptable conversation topic?
Colonoscopies, prostate exams, Botox and face lifts, rotator cuff surgery, hip and shoulder replacements.
We seem to be rusting.
My sister tells of the first time she spotted a chin hair. The sun caught it just right, glistening in the light. She remembers it as being several inches long, but I think she exaggerated. Unfortunately, she was driving at the time of her discovery. She began desperately trying to pluck it out, only to have it repeatedly slip through her fingers. She weaved in traffic. Yanked the steering wheel in one hand and the stubborn hair in the other. Somehow both survived long enough for her to get to a store to purchase tweezers and dispatch the invader. The tweezers turned out to be the first of many anti errant-body-hair products, from creams to waxes to lasers. One friend of mine finally gave up and started shaving daily after all her efforts didn’t prevent a 5 o’clock shadow.
The aging human body is a never-ending treasure trove of surprises. The shock that you feel the first time you bend down to pick something up and make “that” noise as you stand up. Your first inclination is to look around you to see when your mother came into the room, only to realize that was you. Your noise. And just the first of many new noises you will make as time passes. Or the lack of recognition of your own self when you walk by a mirror. When did an alien put on my skin? It doesn’t fit like it used to! You challenge yourself in the mirror, pulling up your cheeks to wipe out the mouth lines that make you look like Charlie McCarthy while sucking in that extra tummy spillover and throwing back your shoulders to pull up the boobs. Unfortunately it’s hard to maintain these adjustments for very long- like, say, walking around in Target- without raising concerns about your sanity.
And those boobs? Contrary to what the saleswoman thought, I finally did grow me a pair. Not as substantial as hers, but good enough. And it seems like I’ve come full circle, because the best thing in the world right now would be a good training bra. Same objective: holding up budding, well, budded breasts. Except with commercial-grade fabric. Maybe something in titanium?