Monday, August 3, 2009

When Boobs Become Breasts

We have strapped them down for exercise, then desperately squeezed together for a night on the town a few hours later. We've pierced them, teased men with them, tried in vain to warm them up in cold movie theaters. We hid them from our junior high classmates when we changed for gym, but compared them in private with our best girlfriends.

We've vetoed bathing suits because they look too small, too fake, too far apart. Wore inserts that somehow, despite looking like raw pieces of poultry, make our chests look perfect on prom night.
As we age, we'll lament the unsightly stretch marks that will spread across them like stubborn patches of weeds.

For all of these moments, these foundations of femininity will most likely be called boobs. Perhaps something more crass, if you hang out with the mature men I know and usually love (and am sometimes embarrassed by in new company). But they won't be called breasts.

Breasts are cold, hard, medical. They require checkups and mammograms. Breasts don't go to Vickie's for the semi-annual sale, or on vacation with a new boyfriend. They don't go to the bar in a halter top. They are touched methodically and purposefully. Breasts, quite frankly, are not any fun at all.

I assumed they would remain boobs for a few more years. I don't have any friends who are taking the parental plunge, none watching their chests swelling in conjunction with their ever-expanding bellies. When that does happen, I know we will all become immersed in the world of shea butter creams and pumps and nursing coaches. Though I'd never really thought about it before, I think we all assumed that boobs would become breasts the moment we discovered the first girlfriends' pregnancy.

To me, there are few synonyms with such staggeringly different connotations. So when a close friend recently found a lump in what had always been her boob, her usage of the word "breast" choked me up more than anything. This was real, it was happening, and we were 23. Breast cancer was perhaps not only for middle-aged women with mortgages, but also for recent college grads struggling to buying particle board furniture from Ikea. The chest that she had flaunted in a sexy dress at a recent benefit was perhaps working against her in a way she had never imagined.

We gave words of encouragement as we lost sleep. We stared at the clock during her doctor's appointment, and refreshed our emails every 10 minutes after it ended. I prayed sincerely for the first time in years. We looked up pointless statistics and information that we thought could somehow be helpful to her as she waited for the results.

Her doctor poked, prodded, and tested until it was clear that her boobs had beaten out her breasts' quest for chestal domination. (Yes, I imagine this to be an epic physiological battle of good vs. evil). My lovely friend had nothing serious to worry about, no surgeries to undergo or long treatment programs in which she had to adhere. We all breathed in for the first time in days, our own chests heaving as our lungs expanded and contracted in relief over the good news.

For now, our boobs are boobs. Everything is as it should be and we patiently await the first sucker to be coaxed into motherhood who will change this forever. We are left with memories of panic and anxiety, and also the overwhelming feeling of love and sisterhood that can only arise out of situations like this.

The power of female solidarity is ever present, but never moreso than when we understand the subtle nuances between one word and another that is seemingly the same. We know that, like place settings, some words are for everyday use and others are saved for important (and sometimes scary) times. Women know the difference, and we know the proper reaction. Women understand that when, overnight, a friend's boobs become breasts, the only option is to wake up and hit the ground running. Together. We don't look back until they are sitting pretty in their 34C push up, daring the world to bring it on all over again.


Teresa said...

This is really well written Gin