This afternoon, 10 people I don’t know felt my breasts. In medical terms, they appreciated them.
I’ve had my breasts appreciated by the non-medical community since I was 11 years old (and perhaps earlier, when they started to come in at 9, but I don’t remember anyone remarking on them until later). Once, when I was in college, a friend of mine came by with his brother.
“Didn’t I tell you she was beautiful?” he asked his brother after they left.
“Yes, she has really big tits,” said his brother.
(Why do people tell this kind of story to its object?)
When I was offered the opportunity to be a model for medical students doing their first breast exams, I said yes right away. For one thing, it’s a paid gig, and for less than half a day of work I made more than I make acting in most fringe plays. I’ve never been that modest, and I like the idea of future doctors getting practice doing breast exams right.
I like the breast to be purposeful. I liked nursing babies, though I found nursing inspired a lot of people to say odd things. My son’s pediatrician (probably not trained as well as those I met today) told me I was “born to the dairy.” Have you ever seen a baby cry in the middle of nursing? My sister said mine did because they were scared of drinking from something bigger than their heads.
Still, nursing was the culmination of my mammalhood, and you could say they finally earned their keep. All the years of not being able to run (a blessing, I think, though that whole runner’s high will never be mine), of getting hit in the bullseye by stray elbows, of wondering whether reduction surgery would eliminate neck pain or merely sensation, and then they did what they were meant to do.
Years after using my breasts for food, my daughter understands that “everybody needs a bosom for a pillow,” as I’ve been singing to her all her life. She is one of the few people who can innocently and wholeheartedly dive in for a deep and noisily appreciative cuddle.
I feel like I should make some kind of political statement about sexuality and breasts and the male gaze and my ambivalence about exposure and concealment and my thoughts about feminine sexual desire and bras or the incidence of cancers and prevention and cures, but I know others have written great things about these topics, and I just wanted to focus on today.
Tomorrow, the student pelvic exams begin.