Everyone lied when our parents, teachers, and textbooks said that the day you get your period is the day you become a woman. I had my bloody ritual years ago and I’m still asked what year I am in high school.
Why? Because I’m flat-chested! No one can believe I’m all grown up simply because I don’t have breasts. Flat-chested Frances. So there it is, people—the real rite of passage for every girl is not when she gets her period but when she finally buys her bra. The trip to the lingerie counter is our real initiation.
The truth is every healthy girl will get her period, but not all girls will get the luscious curves that supposedly define femininity. It’s true. I once had my hair cropped and I was mistaken for a boy.
So I put on dangling earrings and added a sway to my walk. I was promptly harassed with, “Badiiiiing!” Just because I don’t have those telling curves on my chest that shout proudly to the world, “I am a woman!” Since I don’t have those curves, what does that make me?
Back in grade school, we would wait uneasily for the blood in our panties, which we were told would signal our womanhood. In high school, however, we couldn’t wait to have a bra. Everyone had to have it! It was embarrassing to be without one, especially in PE where you had to be in the changing room with all those budding breasts and be increasingly aware that you lacked them.
I did insist on bras even if I didn’t have anything to put in them. But it was a desperate and terribly embarrassing attempt to initiate myself. I decided to buy padded bras, all in different thicknesses since I thought there were clothes that looked good with a small chest and others that looked better with a big one. Everyone in school noticed my new chest size (or, more correctly, sizes), and how quickly it grew—overnight, in fact. What I didn’t realize was breast measurement was pretty much constant, and my not so constant chest—big yesterday, small today, and medium tomorrow—was the subject of amused conversation. I went around in blissful ignorance, smug in my newfound attractiveness. It never occurred to me to buy just one thickness of pad until my best friend pointed out how ridiculous I looked and dragged me off to shop for new bras.
Throughout my teenage years, I prayed that my chest would finally catch up with the rest of me and grow. “Grow!” I would demand of it. I coaxed my muscles by exercising, even resorting to that silly rhyme, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” for motivation. When that didn’t show any progress, I tried weight lifting, but it only hardened my pecs so I dropped the weights instantly. I wanted to look like a girl. I had two choices to get bigger breasts: get implants or get pregnant. No thanks—my quest to get breasts wasn’t that desperate!
Eventually, a small pair of my very own natural paddings did grow. I realized to my delight that a little fat can be a great friend. Looking back, I think it’s funny in a sad sort of way. All those ludicrous attempts to measure up to society’s standards of what a woman should look like were destroying my self-esteem.
The lack of big breasts made me insecure about how I looked, my attractiveness, and even my sexuality. For the longest time, I allowed myself to be led on by the big-chested dream, but it had to stop somewhere. I finally accepted that this is how I’m going to be for quite a while, and I began to look in the mirror, survey what I have with appreciation, and make the most of it.
I’m now comfortable with my body. It helps that fashion decreed that thin is in. But fashion is fickle, and tomorrow it might announce that flab is fab, but even then, I’ll be okay. After all, it isn’t what’s outside that defines my femininity but what I really feel inside. Being involved in activities that help others, having achievements big and small, learning to dress creatively and fashionably, and having the love and acceptance of people around me boost my confidence to an all-time high. And this projects to others an attractive person.
You see, small breasts or even none at all, don’t take away the fact that I am still a woman. I’m glad I am. I can’t imagine myself otherwise!
This first appeared in the May 2005 issue of Candy. Frances Amper-Sales is the Editor in Chief of OK! magazine.