- A Story about Breasts
Their breasts were horrifying.—Elizabeth Bishop, "In the Waiting Room"
It's 1972. I'm 18 and purchasing my first car. I've just signed the contract at the bank for the loan; the car salesman is driving me from the bank to the car lot where we'll pick up the vehicle, a used Hertz rental car. It's high summer in New Orleans, and I have on my usual hot-weather outfit: jeans and a paisley red-and-yellow halter top, out of which my large, tanned breasts are practically falling. The salesman, a middle-aged fat guy going bald, is sweating. He's been sneaking looks at my breasts during the whole process—the picking out of the car, the filing of the application, the signing of the papers—and now I'm afraid we'll get in a car accident if he doesn't keep his eyes on the road rather than on my breasts.
My 18-year-old breasts fully fill 38-d cups. They're high and firm, tight and shiny, and totally natural. They are breasts porn stars would die for. I think they are too big, though, and I work hard to prove to everyone that I'm more than my breasts: I'm on the dean's list at college, I point out to whoever will listen; I love to read; I play piano and guitar. And yet I'm also a southern woman, born and raised in New Orleans, a culture where female beauty is deeply important. Even as I bucked and complained when my mother strapped me into a training bra at 11, I could see how her own body transformed into something mysteriously sexy and desirable when she poured her breasts into her underwire Playtex bra.
We come to a red light. The car salesman wipes his brow, then grips the [End Page 51] steering wheel as if he's driving into a hurricane. This time he doesn't look at my breasts but rather straight ahead at the road.
"Look," he says, "how about just letting me touch them?" My heart sinks, but I try not to let any emotions show. My mouth is a thin scar.
"Ten minutes, that's all. You don't have to do anything." I look at him, disgusted. The only persons who have touched my breasts thus far are the gynecologist (I made sure my mother was present) and my boyfriend of many years (I confessed it to the priest … each time).
"I'll refund you $200 off the price of the car," he says. I'm even more disgusted now. Does he think I'm an idiot? I have an ad from the newspaper in my jean pocket that says anyone who purchases a car from this lot during this week will receive a $200 rebate.
"No," I say, putting my hand on the door handle, ready to open it if I need to flee. I'm angry and consider reporting him to the car company. But then I think about how I'm dressed. The halter top leaves little to the imagination, and I could imagine my mother saying I was asking for it.
This would not be the only time my stoplight breasts caused consternation. Later that year an owner of a nightclub where I'd put in an application to work as a waitress insists on seeing my bare breasts before he hires me. I tell him I'm happy to return in a bathing suit if he needs to see what I will look like in the sexy waitress outfit, but he says he needs to see my breasts, and actually tries to remove my dress himself. When I pull away and make to leave, he warns he'll make sure I don't get a job waitressing anywhere in New Orleans.
I find a waitress job the next day that does not involve baring my breasts to the owner.
Although as a young woman I want to be loved for more than my body, I also almost always dress in such a way that my breasts...