Ask Polly: Should I Get a Boob Job?

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Polly,

Can I get a boob job to show that I'm fully recovered from the sexual guilt of my fundamentalist Evangelical upbringing? I Googled "Can a boob job be a feminist act?" and hoo, boy! The search hits were about equally divided in the pro and con camps, but everyone was passionately taking sides.

I don't feel that passion. In fact, I read most of those articles and went, Meh, don't really care. But you know what I do care about? Sexual freedom.

I was raised in fundamentalist circles where the patriarchy still rules with the iron hand of "complementarian roles" for men and women. Where you find yourself in serious debates IN COLLEGE with your peers and WITH YOUR PROFESSORS that, yes, in fact, it IS worthwhile for a woman to get a college degree, even if she's going to be a homemaker for the rest of her life. Where all the popular/rich girls in your fundamentalist high school proudly displayed their purity rings, having gone through a cotillionlike ceremony entirely centered around their absolute virginity until (heteronormative) marriage. 

But even though I escaped the purity-ring phenomenon, I did not escape the consequences of this culture. Nope, I paid full price. After a semi-consensual sexual encounter at age 18 (my first), I decided that this event must have been God's way of speaking to me, saying, "This is the man you are meant to marry," and then I set about marrying him a year later. Also, how can I explain the unique mind-fuck that is internalizing the message of "Label all sexual feelings as sinful, be very modest and submissive, AND say no say no say no UNTIL your wedding night, where you will suddenly be absolutely wild with desire and it will all work out beautifully." The Evangelical church really does a lot of harm to young women with this wedding-night mythology that you can flip a switch and boom! Instant healthy sexuality! I call bullshit. 

I left the church and my awful marriage by age 24, with perky 34AAs. One decade later I am single again, but on much different terms. For one, my tiny boobs, they are a-saggin' (yay, breast-feeding for six months over six years ago!). A natural-looking full-B-cup would be fun. For two, I've now had my fair share of bedroom experience. I love lingerie. I enjoy soft porn featuring busty ladies. And I'd like to be able to send the message that sex is a high priority by featuring a bit of cleavage from time to time. No more demure, flat-chested tiptoeing around these topics. I want to be unashamedly sexual. 

And that goal feels almost feminist to me. But maybe my starting line in the feminist battles of yesteryear are so far behind the mainstream culture that my getting a boob job is still just a regressive act of internalizing the male gaze. Help me out here, Polly. I've read up on my feminist writers to some extent (huge hooray for Ellen Willis and Grace Paley), but I can't say I've gone back to a "real" college for a women's-studies degree or anything. 

And also, I'm really tired of judgment from groups. Maybe judgy feminists are just going to be my new cross to bear. At least I've developed my don't-give-a-fuck muscles after years of tolerating the judgy Evangelicals. 

All that said, I've come to forgive my huge life mistakes of my 20s. After much therapy, I've learned to have a lot of compassion for myself, past and present. A boob job isn't an act of self-hatred or low self-esteem. I've learned to like myself just fine. Instead, I see new boobs as a fun aid in celebrating my freedom and my newfound love of sex and pleasure. 

So what do you think, Polly? Money and medical concerns aside (as those are both real and practical concerns, but not my big hang-ups at the moment). 

Finally Doing What I Want

 

Dear FDWIW,

I love that complementarian is a term embraced by fundamentalists. It's fitting that men would come up with a word to mean that men should be in charge, and that they would use an ancient book written by men to reaffirm the fact that men should be the bosses of everything and women should be their half-human non-person handmaidens. "Should women be equal and independent? Hmmm, let's turn to the word of God (a man!) and his disciples (men!) for the answers. Oh gosh, look! These writings by ancient men clearly dictate that men should always and forever be the bosses of everyone else, whether bird or beast or inadequate half-human lady sex slave!"

Similarly, let’s ask ourselves: If we want to know how women should look, does it make sense to turn to modern filmmakers (mostly men) catering to a vast and enthusiastic audience (of mostly men)? And if these male-created works strongly suggested that women should have impractically large, painfully swollen-looking mammary glands and should be devoid of body hair and should walk around in butt floss and satin robes and teetering cherry-red stilettos, would we take this as the word of law? If these (male-authored) sexual masterworks also hinted that men should be the bosses of these teetering, heavy-chested, prepubescently pubeless females, should that be our guide henceforth? Should we consider injecting our breasts with silicon and ripping the hair off every inch of our bodies and saying to every cop and fireman and plumber and random stranger we meet, "You don't think I'm going to let you leave before you fuck me with that big cock of yours, do you?"

Maybe. But we have other choices, too. There is real, natural, effortless beauty all around us at all times, ripe for the picking, delicious and fruity and inspired and sometimes not completely devoid of what our culture might define as "flaws." There is porn made by women. There are other standards of beauty that include sexy women with noses bigger than buttons and breasts smaller than half-cups. We can choose our signs and signifiers carefully, and assiduously avoid those who don't.

That said, big boobs are tough to deny. Our culture has conditioned us to appreciate their particular magic. And who among us can sidestep life's sexual chili-cheese fries without fail? Who doesn't like a little Magic Mike XXL thrown in with her Johnny Depp?

More important, though, who is the boss of your body? Who gets to say how you should or shouldn't look? If the technology exists to fix what you personally view as a problem, and it's safe and you can afford it, who else besides you gets to judge that choice?

Yet here you are, asking me for permission to get a boob job. I will give you permission in a heartbeat, of course, but I won't do it without asking you why you feel you need permission for this in the first place. Your desire for permission and your desire for a boob job are related. A boob job would grant you another kind of permission, permission to finally feel proud of and flaunt your body. But who is really granting permission in that case? Men? Without the perfect boobs, are you not allowed to flaunt yourself? If I were you, I would examine your need for permission in all areas of your life. I would consider how it might feel to give yourself permission to want the things you want, without looking around nervously to see what other people think first.

I'm not suggesting that your desire to change your body is problematic or illogical. No way. We all internalize conventional values, like it or not. No matter how many times we've privately overthrown dipshitty notions of beauty in our minds and hearts, we all occasionally feel good or bad about how we look based on the fickle dictates of culture.

Years ago I met a woman whose fiancé dumped her out of the blue, and afterward she got a boob job because she was always worried that her A-cups were going to damn her to being abandoned by men over and over again. And even though she was (of course!) wrong about this, even though it was the worry itself (and not the smallish breasts) that was the true enemy, what difference did that make? She didn't want to worry about her stupid boobs anymore. And she loved her brand-new boobs. She talked about them a lot. In fact, instead of being rejected by men who don't like small boobs, she now ran the risk of being rejected by men who don't like women who get boob jobs and then talk about their new boobs a lot.

Obviously, you should do whatever you want with your body. Make your body look exactly the way you want it to look, or accept it the way it is now. Either way, do what you need to do to feel good about yourself. You can think that a boob job is a little sick and still do it. You can decide not to do it because it feels like a weird modern trend that people will look back on and cringe. You can base this on how you feel inside. Even though this boob job you want could arguably be seen as an echo of your fundamentalist upbringing rather than a repudiation of it — aren't men still the deciders? would you consider this option if you hadn't been so thoroughly indoctrinated into Men As Deciders thinking? — there's also a strong point to be made along the lines of WHO THE HELL CARES? YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOU.

So, to you, FDWIW, I say this: Do what you feel! Stop asking for permission! Stop attaching meaning and worth to things arbitrarily, stop seeing everything you do as a revolt or repudiation of what came before, and simply trust your own instincts instead! Are you fully recovered from the sexual guilt of your fundamentalist Evangelical upbringing? Will you ever fully recover? Who knows? We all carry around different kinds of baggage. You are a free woman either way. You can do whatever makes you happy. You've earned that right.

To the younger girls out there with the smallish breasts, though, I want to say that breasts change dramatically over the decades, sometimes for the better. Trust me on this! Sometimes they get bigger. Sometimes when smallish boobs grow and sag a tiny bit and I say this from personal experience they look less like seal noses and more like boobs. (I use the term "seal noses" here with affectionate nostalgia.) Don't make any decision to change yourself before you've stopped growing. My body changed every year, and it didn't stop until I was 40 years old. Mostly, it improved as I got older. I know that sounds absurd, and I'm sure it's my perspective on myself that's changed the most. But that's part of my point! Don’t change anything if you haven't learned to appreciate just how beautiful you are right now. Go watch some French films. Marvel at the gorgeous, strong faces and the sexy flat chests. There are many, many men who like small breasts and big round asses and think the rest of the herd is out of its fucking mind.

But most important, imagine looking in the mirror and saying, "This is how a woman SHOULD look. I am beautiful and real and flawed and perfect, perfect, perfect."

Polly

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