Girls can be divided into two categories: those who develop early and those who develop late. I cannot speak for the late developers. What I can say with some certainty (in case you happen to be a male reading this): girls who develop early wish-to-God they were developing late, and those who develop late are wondering if they will ever graduate to boobage and panic they might be boys with recessed penises. Okay, that may be exaggerating, but depending on which category you fall under, you wish you were in the other.
Back in my day, there were things called training bras and in Chilliwack, where I grew up, you could find them in the young teen section of Sears at the Cottonwood Corner Mall. How exactly your breasts can be trained is quite beyond me, but these bras were an introduction to the world of womanhood and lacy ling-er-ee (that’s how we always said it in my house), and dirty, unspeakable things that involved girls’ body parts rubbing against boys.
Though I knew I was in dire need of a bra and could no longer hide the dinner rolls sitting on my once-flat chest with sweaters or my brother’s purloined hockey jerseys, I was going to be damned and go to hell before I was going to ask my mother to accompany me to purchase a bra. Aside from getting my period, still a year or so away, there were few things more distasteful to me (other than manuring out the barn) than having any form of discussion with my mother about body parts.
It was my brother who finally broached the subject and got the ball rolling, so to speak. We had been sitting on the old shed roof, eating green apples from our tree and throwing them at the cats prowling our yard when he started saying, “You’ve got little titties; look at your little titties. They look just like these apples!" Then he shoved a few of them under his shirt and started preening precariously across the shingles of the sharply arched roof. “I’m Lee-a-lee. Look at my titty-tit-titties,” he mocked mercilessly. That’s when I pushed him. Right off the roof. And that’s when my mother’s interrogation of the incident and the subsequent visit to my room got results.
The next day I found myself in the young teen section of Sears looking at an array of brightly colored, cheerful training brassieres, some with logos, some with lace and some with cartoon characters. (It’s my conclusion that tank tops and sports bras with built-in support were a genius marketing move that helped teenage girls be rid of the stigma of getting a bra. It gets my vote for the best invention of the century, and that includes the Internet! Anything to save a gal from embarrassment…)
|If only there had been such a thing as|
sports bras (and sweat pants!)
I flayed through the rack, feigning disinterest, making the same noises of disgust I would when eating zuchini or oatmeal.
“So which one do you like?” my mother asked, her hands on a hanger of a sharply discounted purple number. Her 15% employee discount at Sears also applied to sale items.
“I don’t care,” I muttered. “Let’s just get out of here.”
My mother groaned in frustration. She was constantly trying to get closer to me as I moved into puberty, thinking this was our time to bond and be women together. My siblings and I had always tried to get clandestine looks at my mother’s “big things” over the years, laughing mercilessly at the appendages when they came out of their bondage at night. The thought that I might one day be saddled with the same atrocities had only recently occurred to me.
Trying to sweeten the deal a bit and force me into a decision, she said, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we get you a pretty blouse too? We’ll get the bra and you can pick out any shirt you want. Then we’ll go for ice cream at Baskin and Robbins.”
It was the ice cream offer that got me moving, not the offer of clothing. I picked the first training bra my hand happened to be resting on at the moment: a white number with pictures of young children flying balloons on each breast pad. In those days, I don’t think there were even sizes to quibble over. I walked to the shirt rack adjacent to the bras, and chose the first one in my line of vision: a simple long sleeved, light yellow pullover made of fortrel, the miracle fabric of the day.
“Don’t you want to at least try it on and see how it looks?” my mother cajoled. “Let’s get a look at the new you in a bra!”
I would have sooner eaten a worm infested ice cream cone covered in slugs than put on the bra and blouse for my mother in the change room.
“It’s size medium, I’m sure it will fit,” I muttered. “Let’s pay and get the ice cream before I vomit right here and now.”
My mother sighed and gave in, walking over to the nearest cashier. She perked up as she pulled out the cash and her employee discount card.
(My mother worked in the shoe department of Sears which was steps away from Young Teens.)
“Erika, aren’t you working today?” Donna asked.
“No, it’s my day off, but I’m here to buy my daughter Leah her first bra. She’s becoming a young woman!”
Subjected to enough mortification for one day, I didn’t even deign to look at Donna or my mother, idly picking at loose threads in my Adidas kangaroo jacket with the red racing stripe instead. My cuticles were also a welcome target.
|My expression through much of my puberty.|
“Oh yes, I can see she certainly is developing, isn’t she?” Donna responded, as if I were some sort of test rat in a laboratory rather than a red-blooded, hormone-ridden preteen imagining myself ripping both of their heads off.
“Yes,” my mother continued calmly, completely oblivious to my embarrassment. “I think she’s bigger than most girls her age, but so was I. It’s our good German stock, I guess. Before you know it, she’ll be wearing my bras!”
The women laughed together at my expense for some time longer. I had long since left the counter, eyeing the boys flannel shirts and hockey jerseys, thinking jealously how much easier a boy’s life is than a girl's. Even though I now know about their sleeping giants coming to life at unexpected times and the agony if changing voices, I still think they have it a lot easier than we gals do.
At Baskin and Robbins, my mother tried to be all friendy-friendy, but I was having none of it. She ordered her rum and raisin, I licked my chocolate in silence, and we drove the eight miles home in uncomfortable silence.
The next morning, I donned the bra, knowing it was the beginning of a lifetime of subservience for my twin girls. Overall, though, it felt quite comfortable, and I proceeded to get dressed, deciding to avoid the mirror and too much self-scrutinization as I was feeling vulnerable about the whole event. I put on the new yellow tee shirt blouse, my Seafarer jeans that were all the rage, and went to school feeling almost cool.
Until CJ, a big boy, already years ahead of us in size and pubescence (though not intellect), spotted them.
“Hey, church girl (as the non-church going contingent always cruelly called me), what are those things under your shirt?”
At first I thought he was noticing my boobs for the first time and being his usual nasty self.
“Shut up, Fatso,” I said, walking swiftly in the direction of the bathroom, where I often spent my recess time reading on the toilet to avoid jerks like him.
“Are those balloons?” he said, squinting in the direction of my chest.
“What a jerk!” I though to myself, progressing more quickly to the bathroom.
And that’s when I caught sight of myself in the mirror of the flourescently lit bathroom. Images of children running with balloons literally danced on my chest through the what-I-now-realized was a see-through blouse. It was like watching a cartoon on tv. There they were. Boobs and balloons. In perfect harmony.
I died inside. I thought purchasing the bra with my mother was the ultimate humiliation, but this was worse. Much, much worse.
It was early spring. The days were warm. I had no sweater. No jacket. No key to go home at lunch time and change. It was just me and my boobs and the balloons for the rest of the day with the entire class twittering and hooting pretty much every chance they got.
Finally, my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Lamson, had to intervene. He was a shy man, and I am sure he had noticed my animated appendages even before my classmates had. Discreetly, though, he had ignored them and looked the other way. When the class could be contained no longer, however, he had to do something.
He cleared his throat and said in his most authoritative voice, “If anyone says one more thing about Leah’s balloons, they will be staying in for detention every day at recess for the rest of the week.” He blushed furiously and the whole class erupted in raucous laughter.
At lunch recess, everyone sat in silence with their hands underneath their bums. I was the only one allowed to go out to play. I sat on a toilet seat and read my latest Trixie Beldon book, feeling shamed, and knowing this was far, far from over. I braced myself for more onslaught in the days to come and swore that I would ALWAYS inspect myself in a full length mirror before I left the house.
|And that's why I wore overalls all through |
These days, I don’t mind showing off the twin girls here and there, exposing some cleavage, a little lace, maybe. But balloons are off the table. In fact, a few years ago, I was back in my hometown for a few days and what did I hear as I wandered through the mall, but one of my old classmates saying, “Hey Balloons, I’d recognize you anywhere!” And he wasn’t looking into my eyes, either.