She has always loved animals and been fascinated with how they adapt and change...the snake shedding it's skin, the shark with its thousands of teeth, the butterflies and their metamorphosis.
So it was that as she started her first grade year in school, she wondered about her own metamorphosis. She was seven, in human years, but in dog years, which is a more apt representation of her true age, she was going on 30.
I am sure that part of this has to do with the fact that girls now a days are sexualized from a very early age. From Brats dolls to busty Disney characters, little girls can't help but be aware of the sexual energy that is supposedly locked up somewhere in their bodies.
The dance moves that they learn, the TV shows that they watch, all teach them that there is something delicious, yet forbidden about their bodies. It's a tough one. While I don't believe that it is healthy to sexualize young girls, I also feel that it is equally damaging to suppress their physical connection to their bodies.
I think that dressing a pre pubescent girl in a tube top and daisy dukes is no more reprehensible that dressing her in a burka. If the ankle isn't evil, why would the shoulder be? If the stomach and chest are too titillating then why isn't the calf or the nose? These issues of girls bodies have a lot more to do with an oversexualized society than they do with the girls themselves.
I don't think that it is healthy to demonize any part of the body. All parts of the body serve a function and they are all perfect. I finally realized this when I was pregnant with Dalton, and taking the Bradley Method Natural Childbirth classes from my friend's older sister. Finally I was connecting to these forbidden areas of my body. Finally they were not off limits to me. Even when I lost my virginity with my husband, there were areas of my body that were still taboo to me. They were now his, but still not mine.
Ironically it was only when another human was growing in my body that I could finally claim my body as my own. It was only when I was sharing every one of my systems with another dependent life form that I could finally be selfish with every inch of my being. It was glorious...and it was god given. We weren't heathens sitting around in a sexual orgy, we were women and partners sitting around in a circle of life.
It was in these classes that I learned the eternal circle of arousal and contractions, milk flow and stimulation...it was like two worlds colliding. In my sheltered existence, pre-pregnancy, I had thought that pregnancy and motherhood were some buttoned up business of prudish modesty. Now I was learning that the more in tune I was with my body, the easier it would be for my hips to open and my milk to let down. But although I had finally become comfortable and in touch with my body, there was still a skeleton, or two, in my body-acceptance closet.
Fast forward to three kids later, and I've got some splainin' to do. Not because my kids want to know where babies come from...that has been a common topic in our house for years. We've got books laying around the house with bubbly cartoon characters in the act of pro-creating, and nature channels showing the mating habits of every animal that was in that magical ark. No, my explaining has nothing to do with my oldest son who is 11 but everything to do with my seven year old daughter.
She's got the birds and the bees thing pretty much wrapped up. What she wants to know is "When is my chest going to look like yours?" And this is when I get weak in the knees. Funny how bumping uglies rolls off my tongue like the pledge of allegiance, but explaining how one gets around genetics is absolutely terrifying.
You see, I was born to goodly parents who were naturally thin. I know, it's a curse. Where the curse comes in, at least that is how I viewed it, was in the fact that when you have very little body fat, you have very little body fat, and therefore very little breast tissue. I think that many of my teenage prayers were to my loving Heavenly Father who I knew could answer even the smallest of prayers, and I knew that he could see how I longed to be "female". Because you could only be really feminine if you had ample breast tissue.
Until he saw fit to answer my prayers, I would pretend. Not that it made a huge difference I am sure to others. But I could fool myself. With my long dangly body I could fold sheets of tissue in my bra. I could wear a padded swim suit top. I could pretend. I don't remember the age that I was when my Mom took me to get my first bra, but it may have been more out of pity than necessity.
However, once I had a bra, I was almost certain that it was only a matter of time before I needed to upgrade to a bigger model that would hold all that was awaiting me as the fruits of my heartfelt prayers were answered. Friends grew busty, and filled out in other areas. Their hips grew, their bottoms got round. And there I stayed, a string bean, only growing in one direction- up.
I was resentful. Here I had a period, and had to go through the monthly angst of a week of blood and gut wrenching stomach cramps, only to be denied the gift that was supposed to go with it, of turning from a pre-pubescent looking girl in to a woman.
It was when I had graduated from High School and dating a boy seriously, that I realized that there was a way to cheat my failed genetics. It was expensive, but in my family, it was a cost that could be rationalized over most others. In my family, your self worth was inexplicably tied to your physical appearance. When you couldn't perm, bleach, wax, or diet your way to the perfect appearance, you knew that you always had a last ditch option on the table.
And this option was something to be hush-hush about, yet not really feel ashamed about. Because if one's self esteem was suffering, then certainly God did not want you to suffer and would be happy to have you lift the burden that was weighing you down. Men (and women) were that we should have joy. And what greater joy could we have than feeling radiantly beautiful? It was with this vessel of a body that we would go forth and proclaim our love of the Lord. We would only use the new gifts to serve and enlighten him. It was like a Monet or a Rembrandt. Another sign that the Lord loves and rejoices in all things beautiful.
Not partaking of the available gifts that would enhance oneself was as foolish as not using fertilizer to strengthen the crops, or not using asphalt to improve the roads. We used the gifts that were on the earth, because all things were given to us by God.
So it was that the conversation began about me needing cosmetic surgery. I spoke with my mother about it, who called up my Grandmother. I have a vague recollection of her telling my grandmother that I needed it desperately because I looked like a pre-pubescent boy. My nineteen year old self was hurt by this comment, but only momentarily because I realized that it was key to show my grandmother, who was the final word (and checkbook) on every decision made in our family, why it was so essential that this operation take place post haste.
Being a pre-pubescent boy at the age of nineteen meant that I was never going to land a decent man to marry. I would have guy friends, and could land dates, but to be a good wife I also needed to be able to sexually fulfill a man, as was my sacred duty, and no man could be expected to be sexually fulfilled with someone whose chest resembled that of a prepubescent boy...in fact, it would almost make the man abnormal if he could be aroused by that.
This was akin to a cleft palate or a mermaid tail. It was not meant to be, and modern medicine was God's way of fixing those uh oh's that he let slip through the cracks when he was busy spiritually procreating and forming all of our bodies in the pre earth life.
I went to the Plastic Surgeon's office with my Mom in Provo. It was beautiful. Hidden and nondescript from the outside, but lush and sophisticated on the inside. There were dark woods, and fine furniture. A large fish tank held bright and exotic fish. I entered the exam room and was told to disrobe to the waist. The nurse told me that she would need to take "before" pictures of me. I was assured that no one else would see these, as my horror would not be that naked pictures were floating around to damage my moral reputation, but the fear that someone...anyone may be able to see just how inadequate I really was under all that padded clothing.
The nurse pointed the camera at me and her scrubs pulled tightly against her taught and full chest. My Mother came in the afterwards, when I was sitting with my paper shirt that tied up the middle. She wanted to be on the consultation, as she was an expert in all things beauty. The Doctor entered the room with the nurse and my pictures in his hand. He had a mantle of white hair that sat atop his tanned face. His nails were perfectly manicured and his fingers were soft. His voice was low and soothing, as if he knew that this process was simultaneously terrifying and stimulating all at the same time and he was blessed with the job of calming my nerves throughout it.
My Mother knew this Doctor. Everyone did but me. He was a prominent member of the community. His daughter and my sister went to school together. He was in the Bishopric of his ward and his palatial home was situated only a few miles away, in the foothills above our rented townhouse.
He said something about the pictures. I couldn't concentrate as I was dying with embarrassment over the fact that someone my father's age was conversing with me about the topic of my breasts. He opened my shirt so that he could fully understand the scope of the project at hand. He and my mother exchanged knowing glances. Yes, the situation was dire, but there was a solution.
Luckily we were in good hands with this Doctor. His nurse could vouch for his good work and showed off her perky profile that was the result of this good man. We talked sizes and everyone agreed that the biggest mistake I could ever make, and for which I would forever regret, would be to choose a breast implant that was too small in size.
Samples of the implants were brought in and I was able to compare and contrast them. We passed them around like giant cream filled Moon Pies, waiting to be devoured. The tangible sensation of holding my future femininity in my hands was breathtaking. I could write the script of my future right here in this mahogany panelled doctors office. Did I want to be simply female, or did I want to be noticed as being overly feminine? Did I want to be secure in my new profile, or scream it from the rooftops with a profile that demanded the eyes of everyone who passed?
The sizes got bigger, and bigger, until we settled, the nurse, my Mother, and me, on one. I kept asking her to put it in bra size terminology. I wanted to walk out of there at least a C cup. She was talking in milliliter's and abstracts, unable to promise an exact cup size but assuring me that I would be satisfied.
I do not remember much between the time of the consult and the time of the surgery, that stands out. The day of the surgery I remember my Mother taking me. She was teary. I lay on the operating table, waiting. People in scrubs were behind me talking. From behind, someone laid their hands on my head and said in a soft voice, "Heavenly Father, we lay our hands upon her head and give her a blessing..." I recognized it as the voice of the white haired doctor. He continued with my blessing of health and strength as I faded in to a semi conscious state of anesthesia.
There were band aids, and bruises afterwards. Every part of me was sore. Instructions were given to my Mother that I could barely understand as I was wheeled out of the surgery center and out to our car. I woke up in one of my Grandmother's beds. My Grandmother and Mother staring down at me, exclaiming how beautiful and perfect I looked. I hadn't yet seen the results of the surgery for myself and needed help getting up to get to the bathroom so that I could look in the waist up mirror above the sink.
They were big. Hard as rocks. And just as foreign. I couldn't feel a thing above my waist. But I was assured that that was normal. I was supposed to knead them in my hands to make sure that no scar tissue formed. There were other things like a giant bra that resembled an ace bandage, that must be worn in order to help with the healing. I was dazed, but I was excited. God had answered my prayers, and here I was with the two most important women in my life, reveling in the metamorphosis that had finally taken place for me.
I was like a kid in a candy store. New bras, new shirts, new self esteem. Finally I felt beautiful, I felt whole. I was like an amputee who finally knew what it was like to live with a limb they hadn't known they were missing. Men noticed me, people noticed me. This is what it felt like to be a woman. Truly it was a gift to be born female.
My friends visited me with flowers, oohing and ahhing over the impressive results. I let them feel them and observe them, as they still resembled foreign objects to me. My boyfriend, whom I was engaged to, was all too excited to see the results. Our heated make out sessions suddenly grew with intensity as I was finally confident with my body.
Though the interaction between us with my new body was no more fulfilling for me than it was before. Now I was a spectator, observing my fiance with a new set of toys that were his to explore. It made me happy to know that with these new tools in hand I would most definitely be able to be the wife that he needed. Equipped with the proper Victoria Secret underwear, I could be that pin up, who arched her back and surrendered myself, whilst he did the work to make the magic happen.
I knew that if I were available intimately whenever he needed me, and if I were my most beautiful self whenever I was needed, I would fulfill him. Oh, the luck of my fiance to be betrothed to such a knowledgeable catch as me.
Fast forward to fifteen years later- it turns out that the salvation to my self esteem was not two liquid filled balloons. Rather, that was somewhat of a temporary determent from reality. Was it worth it? Did they do more good than harm? I don't know...the answer is yes and no.
I was too young. I didn't know who I was. I wish that I would have found that out beforehand, and then maybe I wouldn't have chosen them at all. Or maybe I would have. I mean it is nice to fill out a swim suit that looks like it's made for a Barbie.
Plastic surgery to me now, is like booze. You just want to be aware of why and how you are using it. What hole is it filling and why do you need it? There are plenty of reasons to do it, but there are also some reasons not to. There are also appropriate and wise ages to do it at, and ages where it's not smart.
All of this comes back to me as Shelby looks at me, hope in her eyes, that her little body holds the magic seeds that mine must have, in order to have bloomed in to the figure that she sees before her. It only makes sense, right? She is my daughter, her DNA comes from me. So, when will that blessed day be? She needs to plan for it. Start a countdown calendar.
I could tell her a lot of things, or I could scoot around the subject till she gives up in getting her answer. I could also tell her the truth. It would not be what she wants to hear, or even something that she'd imagined as a possibility. But it would free me, and it would free her. Free me from creating webs of stories and lies about how the perfect body is created. And free her from holding up a model of her future that is not reality.
So I said something along these lines, as we stood there, me in my bathroom and her just outside of the doorway, "Shelby, all women are different. All bodies are different. Women's breasts, or their chest, are usually in proportion to the rest of their bodies. Women who have meat on their bodies, will often have more breast tissue. Women like Mary and Becky,*(not the real names of my friends that Shelby knows) are thinner and so because they have less weight on their bodies, they also have smaller chests."
"But you are thin like Mary, and Becky."
"You are right. I am. So I am going to tell you something really weird. Some women feel sad that they don't have big chests, which is idiotic, because all the sizes are great. And all sizes work to feed babies that get milk out of them. But there was this thing that was invented a while ago where men figured out a way to cut open your chest and put a balloon in there and fill it with goo to make it look like the women had a big chest when they didn't."
Her face was aghast. "Why would they do THAT?"
"Because they really thought that their body wasn't good enough and they wanted their chest to look bigger because they thought that they weren't pretty enough without a big chest."
"Did YOU get the balloons?" Her eyes are as big as saucers as she is digesting this new alternate reality that she has just become aware of.
"Yes Shelby, I got the balloons....but I think it was silly of me because now I realize that it doesn't matter how big my chest is."
I showed her the scar under my arm pit where the implant was inserted. She asked if it hurt. I told her that it had. I told her that when she starts puberty, about the age of 12, there was a good chance that her chest would not get big, because she has a body like Daddy and Me, where she is tall and lean. I was totally unprepared for this conversation, so it was not rehearsed. If it had been, it probably would have been much neater with less info. I tend to err on the side of information when I am nervous.
I told her "I think that when you are older if you want to get these balloons in you, you can. But there is a good chance that you won't want to. Because you will feel really good about your body. And I may get these balloons out in the future...or get smaller ones put in...because I don't need them like I used to. I want to be able to run faster, and be my original self. Or maybe I'll never change them...who knows. And whatever you want to do, when you are a grown up, is fine. But think of Mary and Becky...aren't they pretty women?"
Shelby nodded, because they are stunningly beautiful friends of mine, who are fit, and athletic, and perfect.
"Wouldn't that look weird if they had giant boobs? Do you think they need them?"
She shook her head no, and she meant it, because Shelby doesn't do or say anything she doesn't mean.
I told her that most people don't like to admit it when they get the balloons put in, because they think it is something to be embarrassed about. Which is silly, because a lot of women get them. She asked me who else has them and I told her who some of the women were who we knew.
Gosh, I didn't mean for this to be the epistle of boobs here. Let me wrap up this novel. This is about body image.
I told Shelby the truth about my cosmetic surgery because I don't want to feel shame about my body, which is ironic, because it's why I got the boob job in the first place. I want to raise a daughter to have self worth about her body regardless of what shape it is and have realistic expectations when it comes to beauty. Maybe this is the case of do as I say, don't do as I do...but I don't see it that way. I am telling her that I once felt horribly insecure, so I made a rash decision, and I have learned better. I'm not saying don't ever get a boob job. I'm saying examine why you feel you would need to. I'm not saying don't have a beautiful body. I'm saying notice the real diversity of bodies around you that haven't been photo shopped or surgically enhanced, to appreciate the spectrum that makes up the human race.
I'm also saying that I know that it is confusing to have a parent tell you to love and accept your body when they don't accept their own. How can you be whole if you are the mirror image of what they thought was lacking in themselves?
Regarding breasts, they are not something to be hush hush about. They are a wonderful part of the body. I don't believe that a tank top makes a girl naughty because it will cause boys to think about sex (that's their issue of self control and being over-sexualized, not hers). Her shoulders are just as precious as her smile is. I also don't believe that a girl's belly button always needs to be covered, because it is what connected her to her mother for nine months. I see it as a precious part of her, not something lewd and sexual.
I'm not advocating full on nudity here. We live in a modern society where we have to maintain certain codes of conduct. But regardless of whether she chooses to pierce her ears or her navel, shave her legs, or shave her head- her body is hers and hers alone. I trust my daughter Shelby and I want her to feel glorious, because she is. I also want her to know the truth when it comes to "beauty" and what it takes to achieve the look that the teenage pop stars have, who are actually 29 years old.
Once we de-stigmatize the female body, we can have a real conversation about it. And admit that as cool as breasts are, they come in all shapes and sizes, and they are just one of the many parts that make up her beautiful and unique body.