Earlier this week at the gym, I noticed an older gentleman sitting on a weight machine bobbing his head up and down. At first I turned away thinking he listened to music or perhaps might have some Parkinson’s-like disorder. When I looked back a few moments later, I noticed his head kept going up and down to the same beat, but he didn’t wear earbuds. It didn’t take but a second to realize he was bobbing his head to the bounce of my breasts as I worked out on the elliptical. My knee-jerk reaction was to crouch down until his eyes met mine so I could glare. I wasn’t working out so hard so he could watch my boobs bounce.
Growing up, I could never sit at the back of the bus with my friends. The few times I’d tried, the boys felt it their right to grab my boobs and squeeze. If you’ve ever been a developing ten-year-old, you know how painful that can be. My other busty friend and I would sit someplace in the middle, even though as fifth graders, and the oldest kids in the school, we should have been sitting in the back. It wasn’t worth the humiliation or pain.
In middle school, every boy accused me of stuffing my bra. Even though we had to strip down and take naked showers every day after gym, no one ever came to my defense and stopped the rumors. I dreaded gym class. Not only did every girl and boy make fun of how my chest jiggled and bounced with whatever sport we played, having to strip down and parade through the locker room to the shower was my daily walk of shame. Even my friends could do nothing to stop the rude comments and the crude hand gestures of my fellow female classmates. By the middle of sixth grade, I walked with my shoulders rounded trying to hide my breasts.
By the time high school arrived, I’d far surpassed Raquel Welch’s bust measurement. People stopped accusing me of stuffing, but boys still tried to cop a feel if they thought they could get away with it. I spent much of my time during passing period with books plastered to my chest dodging wayward hands. I wore baggy shirts to hide beneath, but that only brought on more torment. Now people called me fat.
At home, I was a runner. I loved that runner’s high, that endorphin rush, but found I could only run at night if I didn’t want men to catcall. Once, while finishing my four-mile loop, a car screeched to a stop and then burned rubber to back up. I didn’t wait around to see who it was whooping out the window. I high-tailed it into the neighbor’s backyard and hurdled bushes to make it safely to my house. After that, I bought an ace bandage and wrapped it tightly around my chest. It minimized movement, but it made it harder to breathe. I continued this until I broke my back at 30 and had to give up running.
Toward the end of my high school freshman year, my best friend Pam and I decided the best thing to do would be to run the streets around school. We could report anyone who might bother us and we hoped being so close to the school, people would leave us alone. While we ran, some of the track and field guys would make comments, but when they realized we could outrun them, we were left alone. I grew bold and bought a T-shirt with “Dream On” across my chest. I felt strong. I felt liberated. I laughed every time I heard one of the other runners singing like Steven Tyler. It wasn’t until years later I realized the size of my breasts had still determined my self perception.
I hoped as boys grew into men and girls into women, my breasts would no longer be an issue. For many, maturity made a difference, but then I came up against another stereotype. Because of my looks, people assumed I was dumb. Blond hair, blue eyes, big boobs, yep, I had to be dumb. A fellow teacher once told me the only reason the principal hired me to fill the Science position was because the principal liked the way I looked. It had nothing to do with the fact I earned a degree or had the credentials to teach science. In his eyes, and it was evident in the way he treated me the entire school year, the only reason I had my position was because I was pretty and had big boobs. Too bad sexual harassment wasn’t a “thing” back then.
I pumped harder on the elliptical; my walk down memory lane served only to irritate me. People assume women with large breasts have the world at their feet. Men buy us drinks, we get out of traffic tickets, and we can “dumb” our way out of any awkward situation when needed. Yeah, we have it made, if our goal is to be objectified and stereotyped.
I watched the old guy’s head bob a few more times, and then I ignored him. I couldn’t stop him, anything I said wouldn’t change him, but that didn’t mean I had to give his behavior any control over how I felt about myself or my body. I smiled to myself and increased my tempo.
I was there for me.
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