Got boobs? Then I guarantee that you'll have been reduced to your mere protruding nippley flesh mounds at least once in your life. Who gives a shit if you've got an English degree? COR LOOK AT THE TITS ON THAT, etc.
It's not hard for me to recall the times that any other part of my humanity has been rendered irrelevant thanks to my baps.
There was that time my first ever boyfriend broke up with me, and then said - in a voice that I think was supposed to be consoling - "at the end of the day, you had a great pair." Yeah cheers babe.
Then there was that time I was about 12 or 13, in my local shopping centre with MY MUM, and a group of leery lads walked past, one of whom reached out and grabbed me by the boob. Just in passing, ya know, gave it a squeeze and then carried on with his life. I was so shocked and ashamed that I never said anything; that random, uninvited grope on a bland Saturday afternoon felt like my fault for daring to have a body that was developing beyond childhood.
What else? The teacher who was signing my shirt when I was finishing my GCSEs, who hovered his pen over my boob before quipping that "ooh, I'd better not". That time recently when I was told that if my boobs were any bigger, they'd be "too big". And then that time at school when a boy told me I was a "baghead". I asked what this meant and was told, "it means you'd be fit if someone put a bag over your head". And guess what? I was genuinely grateful. "If they reduce me to an anonymous, faceless, naked thing, then maybe they'll like me. Cool!!! Hey, has anyone got a paper bag?"
The purpose of recalling these experiences isn't to have a sad boob pity party. But what they all have in common are that my feelings about my own body were always being defined through the eyes of other people. A specific part of me has been deemed public property, for others to touch or talk about. Did anyone ask me for permission about this? No.
But there is a book that is changing this, and it's beautiful. Bare Reality: 100 Women, Their Breasts, Their Stories by Laura Dodsworth, collects the photographs of 100 different women's boobs, from the ages of 19-101, and allows them to tell their stories. This book explores the revolutionary idea that boobs are just another part of a woman's body, like an arm or an ankle.
It's so powerful that I was moved to tears as soon as I read the first story, of a woman who had a single mastectomy after cancer, and had a tattoo to cover her scar. Everything is here: breasts that give life, that take life away, that become saleable commodities, that are used as symbols of protest, that love themselves and hate themselves.
The only consensus here is that there is no consensus. These boobs all look entirely different - even I, a boob-owner, didn't know boobs could look like this. And these women think in entirely different ways about their own bodies. Some are at peace with them, some only grew to love them when they used them to breastfeed. They all know they attract men's attention - some enjoy this, some don't. The point is, these are our boobs shown and talked about on our own terms.
I've spoken to lots of different men about this book, and asked them to imagine women's breasts as something - anything - more than eroticised, sexualised objects. The responses have ranged from the defensive to the incredulous, but, uniformly, it was nigh-on impossible for men to separate women's breasts from sex. I am not blaming them for that.
The issue with bringing this up with men is they can end up feeling complicit in something awful. What heterosexual man doesn't love a good pair of boobs? Don't worry, that doesn't make you the arbiter of the dehumanisation and degradation of all women. But if you've ever found yourself ignoring the person, and thinking of her as nothing more than a walking vessel for wank-worthy fun bags? Try to just notice that. And try not to do it.
Because you know this stuff happens to us right? The random grabbing, the eyes on our chests rather than our faces? Being referred to as 'tits on that' rather than a human being? And you know we don't like it, yeah?
Here's a scenario: imagine if the situation were reversed, and men's knees were a universal object of desire. Imagine how fed up you'd get, having your merits and achievements ignored, while everyone gawped at your kneecaps, and stroked them and grabbed them without your permission. "I'd love a go on those knees," groups of women would say, as if the man wasn't there. "I am more than just a pair of knees," he would silently think.
What Bare Reality allows women to do is take back our boobs - which allows us to reclaim our individuality, our autonomy, and become the tellers of our own stories. Yeah, I've got boobs, but I can also play the piano, quote extensively from the Alan Partridge canon, and tell you that I don't want to be the prime minister but I definitely want to change the world. If you think two bouncy spherical things stuck to a chest are more exciting than that, I don't think you've got much imagination.Suggest a correction