Boobs: The Last Frontier of Body-Shaming
When you turn 50, if you’re normal and not pathologically overly positive, you fall into a depression. Regrets hit harder; the knee you busted trying to impress a boyfriend 20 years ago hurts more; and you start obsessively checking your retirement account and panicking.
But there are benefits too, mostly of the I-don’t-give-a-fuck variety. Dramatic friends no longer keep you up at night, you have no shame in declining plans, and because you’re entering that invisible stage society reserves for women who can no longer reproduce, no one comments on your looks anymore.
Or so I thought. Hello, my name is Adeline, I am 50 years old, and I was body-shamed on Instagram because I have humongous boobs.
My maiden voyage with body-shaming at 50 started last Monday, but let’s get a few things out of the way first. Yes, my boobs are real. I did not buy them and I did not ask for this. Yes, I know they are huge.
No, I don’t know why they keep growing and why they are so big. (Weight gain only explains part of it.) Yes, I hate them. Yes, I have consulted surgeons (three so far) about a reduction. (One wanted $40,000, one told me I was too fat to operate on, and one looked at them and let out a low whistle and said “you have to fix this immediately.”)
But I (obviously) still go out in the world. I go on dates and wear push-up bras (because minimizing bras make you look like a penguin). I still wear bathing suits and splash around in the ocean because it’s my favorite thing to do. This is why I jumped at the chance to take off work to try stand-up paddleboarding with my old friend Ed, whom I hadn’t seen since junior high. For people keeping score at home, this means we hadn’t seen each other for 35 years.
It was great. I eventually learned how to stand. Ed was a patient and funny teacher. We saw pelicans up close and little kids shrieking while they ran into the water. Afterward, we lay in the sand while Ed told me about the daughter he had lost to cancer six years ago (“she was my buddy, she would go on any adventure”) and I caught him up on my various heartbreak over the years. Sandy, salty, and warm, we then went to get pork belly ban mi sandwiches.
A perfect day. Which is why I posted a photo of me sitting on the paddleboard to Instagram when I got home. I use (or used, for reasons that will become clear) Instagram to document my life: new rescue dogs, memorials to the old rescue dogs, half-painted paintings, hikes, days at the beach, and time with my horse and old friends. I have no brand to promote and I don’t have any cause I care about enough to share pithy memes. It’s a digital photo album, nothing more.
So it didn’t occur to me — not even for one minute — that the photo would usher in my first experience with body-shaming. That may sound naive. My friend Mark certainly lectured me later that I was. But to me, it was just a day at the beach.
The comments started out somewhat mildly: “Well, babe, you certainly won’t drown” kicked things off. But things escalated quickly. My friend Lisa — at least I thought she was my friend — commented “I’m glad SOMEONE said something” with several laughing emojis, as if I was doing something wrong, as if someone should say something.
My friend Tracy — at least I thought she also was my friend — threw in a bunch of “LMFAO!” in response to other people’s comments, and her own “WHY DO THEY KEEP GROWIN’?!” And more laughing emojis. There were hashtags too. #Melontitty was the most popular one.
I tried to throw in some good-natured comments to get people to stop, ranging from “hush” to finally “you know I didn’t ask for this, right?” But that was like throwing a brick into the Grand Canyon. People were undeterred. They were not going to miss an opportunity to remind me that my boobs are too big.
Reader, I cried. Not only was I reminded about a part of my body that I already well, hate, the comments made me feel like I had violated some rule everyone knew about except me. I thought I was just posting a photo of me on the water, in the sun. Do I know I look ridiculous? Yes. But did I think people would take the opportunity to remind me? No.
With the rise of the body-positivity movement (of which I am a super-fan, don’t get me wrong) if I had posted a photo of an obese body, I would have gotten a lot of “you go girl!” comments. (At least from my friends; no telling what anonymous internet trolls would do, but they’re a whole other Oprah.) If I had posted a photo in a bikini with deep abdominal scars from a botched surgery — like my friend Katie has — I would have gotten a lot of “fun in the sun!” comments.
But big boobs remain a body violation. Still not allowed, still verboten. Is it because big boobs scream sex, fecundity, and are part of pornography’s lexicon? Yes, probably. We don’t need to take Women’s Studies 101 or read The Scarlett Letter to know that’s likely it. This means for all our progressiveness we still remain a deeply puritanical country. Or at least my friends who follow me on Instagram do.
I don’t want to have to care about all the unwritten body rules. I just want to use Instagram to document my life, but I’m done with all that now. My friend Mark, who told me I was naive to think this was going to go any other way, said I should have been ready for the onslaught, and I shouldn’t quit Instagram but instead “just be less bold.” The term “bold” of course, means having the temerity to not cover up my body, to not wear a long-sleeved, high-necked shirt while out paddleboarding.
No thanks. I don’t want to use any brain cells to determine what is “bold” and “less bold.” I don’t want to participate in a system that punishes me for having rogue body parts.
A few days later (still crying, for some reason) I posted my first meme on Instagram. It simply said “Pause” over a background of a gentle ocean wave, and I explained in the comments that Instagram no longer serves me. I’ll miss the recipes and the photos of sweet dogs, but I can’t have it both ways.
Then I got in bed, still crying for some stupid reason. My new rescue dog — whom I had begun to regret adopting because he is scared of his own shadow — jumped on the bed, curled up next to me, and put his cheek next to mine. He became my dog that day.
I no longer cared that he wasn’t going to be the adventure dog I had hoped for. True friendship means that you can show your body and tears without someone screaming “LMFAO!” And if I can only get that from a dog without an Instagram account, so be it.