“Sooooooo talk to me… about your fucking boobs!!! Where the hell did they come from?? Xxx”
My step-sister noticed.
I had neglected to tell my family that I was getting a boob job. One year after the deed was done, I posted a photo on Facebook that made it impossible to keep the (new, ish) girls a secret for much longer. I’d forgotten, in the hubbub of everything, that some of My People were still clueless that I’d paid a lot of fake money for a pair of fake lady parts.
“I had them done just after I got back from England last year!” I replied. “But it wasn’t something I really told anyone about.”
That was a lie, in part. Most of my close friends in the U.S. knew what I was doing. But I hadn’t been sure how exactly to go about announcing to my network of friends and family – fifty percent of which live thousands of miles away – that I, Amy Byrne, was going to a Beverly Hills surgeon to give me the gift that puberty had not. It wasn’t a very “Amy” thing to do.
Then again, it was also one of the most “Amy” things I’ve ever done. As with most of my big life choices, it was something I chose to do very spontaneously. It wasn’t that I’d wanted to supplant my genetic makeup since I was a nipper, like some girls I knew. If anything, I had grown very comfortable with my under-grown chest. It had, very simply, been a product of a whim. My ex and I had had a shared credit card that promised a large reward for a large spend, and after puzzling for a while on what to spend the requisite five thousand on, I had a “eureka” moment whilst walking our dog one morning. What could we add to our lives that we didn’t already have, that cost five thousand dollars? Boobies for Amy. That was what.
A little over a month later, I was lying on an operating table, chest flayed, goop pumping in. I don’t do things by halves, and this is a perfect example.
Fast forward a year, and my step-sister was all caught up on my newfangled bra size, thanks to the power of social media and a certain photo of me in a bikini.
“Oh my! What size are they?” she asked.
“I’m a 32DD now!” I said. “A ‘potato eater’ as Grandad would say.”
I immediately thought back to the dinner table where my grandad would rib our thin, cheerful Nan about her tiny tatas. The family joke was always that Nan never ate enough potatoes to foster a filled-out bra. No-one cared, of course – least of all my grandad – but the jibes were there regardless because, in British-English, light insult is a form of affection. “Potato-eaters” were Longworth-speak for women with sizeable chests.
The thing is, Longworth women do not fall under this umbrella. I was not genetically predisposed to a set of knockers; none of the women that preclude me are particularly well-endowed in the chest region. In our defence, we’re a family of small things. We’re short, we’re hobbit-like, and we aren’t flashy. This mentality extends further than the extent to which we flesh out bras (or forego them altogether); being modest is etched into our DNA. It’s who we are. We’re overtly ordinary, and – for the women at least – our chests reflect this.
Then I came along. I was the wayward one who moved to America, and ultimately stuck her fingers into a pie that was too hot. This metaphor extends to many things that I’ve done, but never more so than with my foray into the realm of plastic surgery. I went into it headfirst, guns blazing, and came out the other side looking like a page three model. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there were going to be consequences – big consequences – for thwarting the body my ancestors had blessed me with. I had lived twenty-six years as someone who didn’t attract an awful lot of undue attention; now my implants spoke for me whether I liked it or not. And they spoke loudly.
My experience of breast augmentation was a very particular case in other – very particular – ways too. My surgery occurred on September 12; my ex-husband and I split on September 19. A surgery can be scheduled, but a break-up cannot. The two events were unrelated, but in hindsight, it was a recipe for disaster: there I was, a legal alien in the U.S. with alien woman-bits in an altogether alien state of existence. And trust me, being someone who thought she’d outsmarted the end-result of puberty at the same time as a major life schism is not an experience that happens without significant growing pains.
The first, of course, is the fake money that garnered the girls. My divorce was, to the surprise of literally everyone I tell the story to, miraculously amiable. He kept his things, I kept my things, and since the boobs were my thing: I kept the debt too. It’s approximately the same as a car payment each month, and yes – I struggle with that. I work whenever and however I can to make sure that that loan is paid, along with all the other necessities (rent, electricity, phone, internet, dog food, etc). It’s also worth noting that a sum so hefty is not laughable to someone who never crafted a proper career for herself. It’s actually something I cry about. And, unfortunately, boobs are not things you can simply sell to someone else to rid yourself of them. So I clock in and clock out, at a rate that most people would balk at, to pay our way in the world.
That brings to the other thing: the world. These boobs hadn’t been purchased with the intent of being on display to the world. They hadn’t been bought for attention from other people. We bought them for me, primarily, and also for the passive enjoyment of one (arguably fortunate) other. Thus, as soon as I became a single woman again, the boobs became an issue. I had become as physically attractive as I’d ever been at a moment in time when I was licking my wounds and rebuilding from the ground up. Being freshly single has been problematic in many ways, but never more so than that it’s impossible to ascertain whether someone is attracted to me on a mental level or on a physical one. The boobs jolted me up a few digits on The Hotness Scale, without anyone mentally preparing me for the fact that I’d even have to think about The Hotness Scale again.
“Matilda and Merle,” as “the boobs” were affectionately dubbed by one of my best friends (much to the chagrin of my ex), still don’t feel like they belong to me. They were separate entities to give names to, not a part of me. No one ever told me that having a boob job would make me detach myself from my physical body in a way I’d never experienced before. I also call the boobs “aggressive,” more than any other adjective, and it’s a pretty perfect word to describe them. They’re adamantly in-your-face, whether I want them to be or not, and they’re a damn sight more aggressive than the person that I was before I had them.
Putting 32DD boobs on a 5’5” 120lb woman changes her entire shape; it would take a potato sack to mask them completely. The problem is, being a potato-eater after many years of not being a potato-eater means I do not, by any means, want to wear a potato sack. On the contrary, I now want to wear bikinis and lower-cut shirts and so on, because I finally – after years of relatively intense self-loathing – actually like the way I look. But of course, the ugly reality of living in modern-day America is that women who show off their bodies – especially on social media – are immediately assumed to be in need of attention from men. The merest hint of a woman being confident enough to show off her shape is very often misconstrued as aggressive attention-seeking.
Thus, there are multiple predicaments at play here. I, Amy Byrne-nee-Longworth, don’t love being lavished with attention from any more than a select few sources, but I do love my body a little bit – or a lot – more than I used to. I love the way they balance out my figure. I love the fact that I feel more feminine. I love that I feel more sexually empowered. But I vehemently detest the combination of feeling all of these things and also lacking the only social sign that a woman is off limits: a wedding ring. Navigating life as a single person is hard; navigating life as a newly single person experiencing a knee-jerk reaction to a new body is even harder. In high school, everyone experiences this together. In one’s late twenties, there are no guidebooks – only a million mixed messages from a lot of different people that can’t specifically relate to this very specific problem.
Many have asked, since I made it more well-known that I did the dirty on my DNA, whether it’s “worth it.” I’m never sure how to answer this. On the one hand, I’m quietly furious with myself that it took a Beverly Hills surgeon to grant me a sense of self-worth. I do not, by any means, feel that any woman’s life ought to be enhanced by the injection of some very expensive silicone. But now that I’m saddled with the debt and the double-D’s, my honest assessment is that it was certainly worth it, despite the myriad extenuating circumstances, and I certainly wouldn’t go back and nix the choice to (rapidly) grow a pair. I feel sexually confident in a way I never felt on the flipside of sixteen, and that – in and of itself – is something that money can’t buy.
“Wow! Well you look bloody fabulous!” My step-sister replied to the “potato eater” comment. I wasn’t sure if the reference was lost on her. She might not have known Grandad well enough to understand the joke.
But I had to agree with her. Being a potato-eater is a whole lot of fun, however long it’ll take me to grow into the space (and the bra) that I now fit into. I just know now that I had had the potential to be this confident without the boobs.
And I wish I’d known it then.