I always knew I was bigger. If the training bra in third grade wasn’t enough of a hint, the ill-fitting shirts in eighth grade were blaring warning signs. And when I say ill-fitting, I mean battling-to-stay-closed-we-need-more-bobby-pins-stat type of ill-fitting. But it wasn’t until I was 17 that I finally heard the term for what I was: heavy-breasted.
It was my first appointment with a new doctor, my first “grown-up” doctor, if you will. The nurse practitioner walked me through all of these seemingly outlandish procedures, including measuring my bone density with what looked like a rubber pole. But the strangest part of the appointment was when the nurse had me get into a hospital gown and lay on the table, with the front undone. As she got me situated, another nurse entered the room wheeling a small machine, and the two instantly got to work. The first nurse grabbed a small sterilizing cloth and started wiping my breasts in very methodical movements, gently massaging different areas. She then applied a soft goo and rubbed over it with a small wand, glancing at the monitor on the machine. “We do this to check for cysts,” she said swiftly, “for all of our heavy-breasted patients.”
My heartbeat froze. Heavy-breasted? I was disgusted; the term made me feel like a giant sack of dough, pinned to the table under the gelatinous mass on my chest. I was no longer “busty,” a term often considered to be a compliment. No, with this term, I had become nothing more than a medical case, surrounded by beeping monitors, wires, tubes, and suction cups. But what scared me the most was what the nurses were looking for: the cysts I was susceptible to because of my large breasts. Apparently, my big chest was responsible for more than just unintentionally inappropriate clothing and low self-esteem – it was now affecting my health. All I wanted to do was run as far from that doctor’s office as possible. I knew the nurses were just taking care of my health, but it felt as if all they did was point out my abnormality. I had to be too young to be thinking about cysts, right? I mean, there was no way they had to do this for their other 17-year old patients. I was embarrassed. I wasn’t just another “heavy-breasted” patient. No, I was a heavy-breasted girl.
Not only was I always bustier than my peers, but I also developed far earlier than they did. That meant that when all the other girls could keep wearing cute bikinis, I had to watch what I wore. Even at that young age, my size changed a simple bathing suit into something potentially sexual. I had to be more careful, or be willing to deal with the consequences. For years, I had to look for loopholes to make an outfit more “appropriate.” At 12, I invested in multiple tank tops to wear under dresses with plunging necklines, the only fancy attire I could find and fit into. I have been stuck in limbo since I was 8: too busty to fit into age-appropriate clothing, and too young to get away with the clothing I could wear. This constant struggle became so second nature that when I was finally old enough to pull off showing some cleavage, I was too ashamed. It felt wrong, and I felt dirty. And there I was, at age 17, at a doctor’s check-up, still hung up on how unsuited my body felt for my age. I didn’t see how I could ever get over this feeling of disharmony.
Then, I was introduced to the world of Shakespeare. Surrounded by intricate lines of text and unabashedly comedic blunders, I finally felt at home. I could be goofy and dramatic, slapstick and majestic. But even there, when it was time for costuming, I was gripped with fear. What if they didn’t have a dress in my size? The company I was working with did only have a select number of costumes on hand. The costuming director, however, quickly put my mind at ease. She assured me that they had costumes that could accommodate any size, slipping a green gown over my head. I was afraid to look at myself, scared that my chest would prove her wrong. As the costuming director continued to fiddle with the dress, she mused, “You’re Lady Capulet. Mama can have a bit of cleavage.” At that, I quickly looked down. I was stunned – I looked gorgeous. I was no longer confined to dowdy clothes to hide my female figure. I was allowed to look mature, I had been given permission to show off my curves. Finally, my size had been deemed appropriate; my body fit the role I was playing. I was no longer out of place. And I loved how I looked.
Looking back on my early teen years, I know how lonely I felt. Weighed down and abnormal. A heavy-breasted girl. But now I know that was part of my journey, part of the role I had to play. Just like in the world of Shakespeare, seemingly opposite things in my life could live in harmony. I could be youthful and grounded, light and heavy, upbeat and serious. These opposites within me weren’t necessarily contradictions, but aspects of a well-rounded character. I could be the audacious Lady Capulet and still be my introspective self. And that’s what the nurses were doing – they weren’t shaming me, but taking care of all aspects of myself. With the breast exam, they were showing me that as long as I looked after my health, I could be all of me. A heavy-breasted girl.