On boobs

Let’s talk about boobs, shall we?

Last week, I became hyper aware of mine, and it surprised me. I’ve always been very comfortable with my body—with nudity in general. I’m French and Brazilian and grew up around naked bathers in the South of France, thongs in Copacabana and exposed breasts on every patch of white sand from Spain to Miami. My parents bought me my first bathing suit top when I was 9 or 10 years old — while on a family trip to the US the hotel staff at a Disney World hotel told them: “children without full bathing suits were not allowed by the pool.” So when I was in Spain this week, surrounded by topless women of all ages, shapes and sizes, I thought it would be natural for me to take my own top off. I pulled the string and it came undone effortlessly. But suddenly, my stomach tightened. I stared at the ocean for a while as my kids played in the sand in front of me. My husband looked over and smiled: “You look beautiful,” he said, but I didn’t believe him. He’s said those words when I was swollen and in labor, so he’s lost all credibility. Still, I wanted to conquer the moment. I stood up and walked into the calm sea. I stayed for a while, looking at the people around me. I felt accomplished. As if I had somehow conquered a fear I didn’t know existed. I walked back to my towel, wet and topless, and still self-conscious. As women, we’re often told that it’s okay not be perfect, and I couldn’t agree more with that — but perfection isn’t a notion I’ve ever strived for. And when I look at magazine covers of retouched models with their long legs and shiny jawlines, they don’t make me envious. What happened? Where were these feelings of discomfort stemming from? I took a deep breath and buried my feet in the sand – I looked down at my breasts and for a moment I didn’t recognize them. The breasts I know are small and perky and firm. But these breasts were fuller, droopier than I remembered. That’s when I realized that this body of mine — the one I run in, laugh with and travel in — this body is new. It’s had two babies; it’s nursed one for 16 months and is now nursing another. It’s gained pregnancy weight, a whole 65 pounds, and then lost it quickly. It’s gone up three bra sizes and down two. It’s had breasts so big and so engorged with milk that it’s hurt to breathe. It’s had not one, but two c-sections. It’s had hips that have widened and shrank and then widened again, unable to fit back into old jeans. It’s gone up in shoe size. It’s had a belly button go from an innie to an outie and then to a hernia that’s had to be fixed. And all this in the past four years. And there it was. The reason why I felt out of sorts, practically naked on this family beach. It’s not that I wanted a perfect body, but in that moment, I mourned my old one. I mourned the body that ran track and swam laps every day. I mourned the breasts that were small and perky and free of stretch marks. I mourned freckles and stillness and summers by the lake. My body has never been perfect, but it’s a body I knew well, and in this moment, I missed it. And this isn’t particular to motherhood. Age brings lines and softer skin that jiggles just a little more than we’re used to. It brings gray hair and smiles that don’t fade. Stress and sadness make us eat too much or too little, and our bodies are the first to mark the time. Surgery or kids get in the way of workouts or clean eating or both. Change is inevitable. Aging is inevitable. Life is inevitable. “Mommy, come see this pile of sand with tunnels I built by the water,” my four-year-old shrieked. He hadn’t even noticed I was topless. The baby crawled to me and nestled himself on my lap, his belly against mine and latched on despite the salt and the sand and the sunscreen. I looked down at my new body, covered in kids and sand and salt, and I didn’t feel ashamed anymore. These are my new boobs. This is my new stomach. This is my new body. And despite the fact that they are still somewhat foreign, I know I’ll grow to love them just as much. And I might need to be reminded of it, five years, ten years, thirty years from now, because though they won’t always be familiar, they’ll be a product of so much goodness and a life well lived.

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