Collage by Emma D.

“Flatty24” was my first AIM screen name. I chose it because when I was 13, my washboard chest had earned me a widely used and less-than-delightful classroom appellation, with a rude last name to match: Flatty Pancakes, at your service! At least when I was tormented in the hallways, I could close my eyes and think of breakfast. I decided to reclaim that shitty nickname to send up the misspelled, appearance-based internet identities of my female classmates, striking a blow against the adolescent “sexeycutey1990”s and “luvelychik69”s that ran rampant on the World Wide Web in the early 2000s. However, outside of making a jokey chat handle about my flat-chestedness (I believe that this practice is commonly referred to as “OWNING IT”), I really didn’t care much about my lack of a bust. If anything, I was reluctant to have Victoria’s Secret whispered tantalizingly to each of my nipples in place of my unfussy and decidedly less mysterious white undershirts. The tit fairy felt differently, though, and I woke up with D cups one morning in the middle of the eighth grade. I gloatingly kept the screen name, OF COURSE, but despite the delightful irony in literally outgrowing my derogatory nickname, I wasn’t thrilled about my newfound buxomness.

I had my 14th birthday party at Hooters. I know, WHAT? This was appropriate in one obvious, metaphorical way, but entirely NOT in every real one, and so I found myself picking at chicken wings while awkwardly shifting my eyes downward all night. My slightly older friends had decided that having my party there would be a funny surprise, the grand finale of which was when the waitstaff shoved me onto a table in front of a birthday cake and scores of receding-hairlined men in polo shirts. These dudes, many of whom had young sons with them, serenaded me creepily as the waitresses tried to get me to bounce along with their wiggle-heavy “dance” moves. I was wearing a white muscle tank, a tiny plaid skirt, and Doc Martens, a uniform that has remained largely unchanged over the past six years despite how profoundly uncomfortable I felt in it that day. I wished to God that I had only had the divine foresight to wear six sweaters, a Mama Cass muumuu, then another three sweaters and a trench coat on top of that. The only way I could have felt more objectified is if I’d been wearing the orange wedgie shorts and Seinfeld-esque white sneaker/sock combination of my similarly stacked torturers. I stood there, grimacing and bounce free, for what seemed like another 14 years before they finally let me dismount and slink back to my table.

The Hooters debacle was just one of many incidents that year that made me feel strange about graduating with top honors from the undershirts to which I once clung. The transformation of my body changed the way I carried myself, as well. For the first time, boys began finding me attractive, and I had no idea how to react to this newfound attention. I wondered, should I dress more demurely, like in the outfit I had so desperately wished for at Hooters, or embrace the slinky five-for-$20 Wet Seal camisoles that were de rigueur at the time? I had no idea what clothes would be the most appropriate for my changed body, LET ALONE how to graciously handle the awe of my former teasers. I knew that most of these boys were fascinated only by my curves and not the more established parts of me that I had any control over, like my politics or taste or obsessive interest in additions to the New Fiction shelf at the library. While I resented this, there was something undeniably intoxicating about being the center of lusty attention after passed over for so long. So when some jackhole posted “whoah…Amy…you’re tits…what happened” on a MySpace photo of that awful birthday party, it was really hard not to be flattered that someone had noticed my body without comparing it to breakfast food. Even though I understood on a logical level that the remark really wasn’t a positive one and that it was actually invasive and inappropriate, it did weird things to my self-worth that I continue to struggle with the meaning of today. One element of that boorish comment has always been entirely clear to me, though. Its underlying message can be found in its misplaced apostrophe: “you are tits,” and nothing more. This is clearly not a compliment, as much as I wanted it to be.

This idea of my identity as a disembodied, floating pair of mammary glands has been repeated to me plenty of times over the years. I’m sure you know the feeling—we’re all forced to hear unasked-for perspectives on the size of our breasts A TON, in all different settings. Your life, like mine, is probably full of people (mostly cisgendered hetero men) who don’t have to deal with the same kinds of body-policing, catcalling, and all the other ways that people can make you feel like your various appendages are up for casual conversation as much as, say, the weather. Harassment can and does happen just about anywhere, even in the places you least expect it. Recently, I was attending a rally associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests with two female classmates. While there, we happened to run into a guy I knew. Since this person had made me uncomfortable by constantly talking about my chest and its rotundity before, I tried to steer clear of him, but one of my friends immediately absorbed him into our conversation. After a few minutes, the three of them shifted their collective focus to my chest, telling me that it provided a “really good distraction” from the cause that we were ostensibly all there to support. Then they said that I should cover it up with a sweater, even though I already had on a jacket, which I pulled tighter over my tank top as they continued to chat about my body parts. Their tone was friendly, but how insane is it to have someone undermine your support for a sociopolitical cause with an analysis of your tits? Especially at a protest known for its progressive ideals? I started to think that maybe I should have just stuck to SlutWalk instead—there, no one would have told me to put on a sweater.

Despite these constant, despicably wack overtures, I feel pretty good about my boobs nowadays. I realized a few years back that no matter how inappropriately people want to sexualize them, they’re mine to do with what I wish. I enjoy them. And it’s important to note that the guy who first popularized “Flatty Pancakes” wound up getting a purely cosmetic nose job during our senior year, which he thought would cure the fact that no one would date him. It didn’t, of course, and he’s stuck with his sexual insecurities while I’m totally cool with how my body looks.

Listen: there will always, always be people who harass you in the lunchroom or on public transit or where have you. This is not OK, in fact it sucks, and I recommend that you visit the Hollaback! website for some ideas on countering it when it does happen. But the people who say rude shit to you or ogle you inappropriately do not own your body; it’s all yours. When it comes down to it, they’re YOUR tits. Not YOU’RE tits. Love them forever (I promise to, too). ♦