Some time in high school, I suddenly grew a pair of boobs.
By year nine I was 32G.
At home or at school, I wasn’t exposed to anyone who had boobs like mine. I had the biggest boobs of anyone in my year, something that was pointed out to me in the changing rooms. Nothing inherently negative was said. Indeed, several girls expressed jealousy, but the knowledge that I was the superlative, the biggest, wormed its way into my brain. After that, I did my best to hide my breasts while changing, and I wore sports bras to make them look smaller.
I remember looking at my smaller-chested friends and celebrities like Keira Knightley, wishing I looked like them. My exposure to women with big boobs was limited to the glamour models of the noughties, who were so often presented in a negative light. I didn’t want to be like them, and always look sexy - I thought that was a bad thing, reinforced by the opinions of those around me. When I was younger I definitely harboured some unhealthy and misogynistic viewpoints around breasts and how women should behave. I don’t know how it started, but I definitely used to think less of women with bigger boobs, and by extension myself.
As I grew older, my awareness of my boobs grew too. By university I was the size I am now, 32HH. No matter what I did, I couldn’t help drawing attention to my boobs. I lost track of how many people would talk to my boobs instead of my face, and when I was at my most insecure I felt like men were interested in my boobs, but not me.
Of all the problems my bra size have caused me, the most frustrating is clothes. When your boobs are an 18 and your waist a 12, how on earth are you meant to find clothes that fit? This leaves me with two options: buy a size that fits my waist and deal with uncomfortable tightness over my bust, or buy a size that fits my chest, meaning I feel like an amorphous blob.
If the cool Scandi-chic oversized silhouette is what you’re aiming for, this isn’t as much of a problem, but if you were aiming for a nipped in waist, it’s not going to happen.
I’ve always enjoyed the Parisian aesthetic of silk slip dresses and delicate blouses. Unfortunately, slip dresses are out, and blouses problematic at best. Strapless bras are the obvious solution to slip dresses, but anyone with big boobs who’s attempted to wear one for an extended period of time knows they’re a nightmare: you spend all your time pulling it up. Meanwhile, blouses cease to look effortlessly chic when you have to keep checking your boobs haven’t Houdini'd their way out of your buttons and safety pin defence mechanism.
Instead of wearing what I wanted to, I leaned into boxy shapes, looser cuts and oversized fits. I never felt like me in them, but I felt like they were my only option.
After uni, I started working in a bra shop for bigger-breasted women, and for the first time I was surrounded by people who had boobs like mine. As one of the expert fitters, I was exposed to boobs of every size and shape, and I saw over 3,000 pairs of boobs in my time there.
One of the best lessons from my job was an awareness of what is “normal” for boobs. The only consistency was inconsistency; of all the boobs I saw and bras I fitted, I only ever came across one person with natural breasts with two almost identical ones. Everyone else I’d ever seen had one boob bigger than the other, or a slightly different shape - I’m a whole cup size bigger on the left than the right!
My job was a turning point for me in my perception of my boobs. My time working with women who were body-positive had a huge effect on me, and without even noticing it, my opinion changed. I actually liked my shape, and I began to lean towards tight-fitting tops and dresses; even if they were too small across my boobs, I felt good in them.
My body confidence has ups and downs, but I’ve come a long way. I’m also finally starting to dress how I’ve always wanted to. I’m wearing what I love, and I finally have the confidence to go with it. Not so long ago, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near a statement sleeve for fear of making myself look even more top-heavy - now half my wardrobe is voluminous puff sleeves and I love them.
Surrounding myself with positive women of a similar shape to me during my bra-fitting days benefited my mental health and self-esteem, so I’m doing the same with my social media. My Instagram feed is filled with women of all shapes and sizes, and it fills me with joy. Nicole Ocran, Jessica Rose Lambregts, Karina of Style Idealist and Sophie Edwards are my favourites, and I would happily give my right arm for any of their wardrobes.
My boobs and I will always have a complicated relationship, but now I see them as part of me; I’m learning to accept myself as I am, instead of desperately dreaming of someone else’s body.
Follow Bethany on Instagram.
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