My breasts are choking me.
They didn’t used to. Back in the day, they were luscious, round 34Ds, enough to make me feel womanly. They were good toppers, regardless of occasion: a T-shirt, a dress, a nightie. As a teenager, I used to do a routine for my mother that consisted of me in a full slip (am I dating myself?) with one strap sliding off while I pretended to be a cheated-on wife from a ‘70s Bertolucci movie: “Carlo, don’t leave me,” I’d cry, tossing my head. My mother would giggle, while my brother walked by and rolled his eyes. But trust me, the breasts made it all work.
Every time I lie down—my favorite position in which to read—I suddenly have two pushy DDs sliding into my neck.
That’s why it’s come as such a shock that as I careened into my fifties (I am currently idling at 55), the expansion of my breasts has been a stealthy development, akin to Facebook’s constant algorithm changes.
They’re affecting everything: take books, for instance. Every time I lie down—my favorite position in which to read—I suddenly have two pushy DDs sliding into my neck. I have had to orchestrate the arrangement of holding my boobs at bay with one hand while balancing a book in the other. My significant other will ask me why my hand is in such a weird pose. “Huh?” I squeak, as the right bazoom threatens to close my throat passage. “I’m fine! I’m just really enjoying this!” I wheeze at him, waving around Michelle Obama’s memoir.
The Continental Shelf
Look, it’s not that bad. I come from a healthy stock of women with breasts that attack in midlife. My Nana Julia wore a long line bra, for goodness sake. And not a black lace one, like you see on Victoria Secret. I am talking a flesh-colored military-style contraption, complete with an imposing, tough cluster of adjustable straps and hook & eye closures. And that was like a pair of pasties compared with my Russian-born great grandmother, Nana Annie, whose husband laced her into a corset every day. Why she had to wear a corset to make sour pickles and chopped liver, I just don’t know.
Her breasts also doubled as home base during in-house tag games.
Things got better for my mother, Jeanne, and her sister, Sandra. Better in that there were some more effective fixes. My mother was the curator of an extensive bra collection based on her many consultations with Gladys at The Corset Bar, a ladies’ emporium in Bergen County, New Jersey. But it only did so much. Her five children openly referred to her breasts as “The Continental Shelf,” which also doubled as home base during in-house tag games. “Hey, those are mine!” my father would squawk whenever one of us launched ourselves at her.
Auntie Sandra and The Bib
My Auntie Sandra rose to the challenge by wearing a bib while eating, regardless of whether she was at her kitchen table or at a Michelin-star restaurant. Actually, it was a good solution for avoiding stains from falling food that on anyone else would have landed on a lap napkin. My mother didn’t follow Sandra’s example, which usually resulted in my father yelling, “Jesus, Jeannie!” whenever a stray Le Sueur pea or salmon croquet crumb inevitably landed on The Shelf.
Adele laughed lightly, with the kind of hard-won wisdom that could only come from sticking her hands into your brassiere and rearranging the contents.
So it’s my generation’s turn, I suppose. My sister and I used to go to Adele & Agnes, the kind of bra shop where they knew your size as soon as you walked in. My sister once told Adele that she was a 32C. Adele laughed lightly, with the kind of hard-won wisdom that could only come from sticking her hands into your brassiere and rearranging the contents so that you looked like the best-breasted version of yourself. Guess what? Jamie was actually a 34B. She thanked Adele by buying herself a new bra wardrobe.
Although I don’t love having larger breasts, I wouldn’t go through surgery or any other cosmetic procedure to alter them. They are quite literally a part of me, after all. I think my surprise stems from the fact that practically every aspect of my body has changed in the last few years, from my hands and feet, to my hips and neck. At the end of my mother’s 82 years, she said to me, “But I feel like an ingénue!” and I laughed, thinking that she was deluded. But now…now I understand. I know that my body is on a slow march toward the end, but when I look in the mirror, I still see the teenager I was, making my mother chortle by wearing a slip and pretending I was in a movie.
How to Wrangle Big Breasts
If your girls are big and you want to tame them, pronto, here are a few possibilities to consider:
- Buy a minimizer bra—one that fits: There’s a difference, you know, between buying a large bra with too small a cup vs. a smaller size with a larger cup. Find more info here.
- Chest Binders: These are like sports bras gone wild: they reduce your bra size by compacting your breasts. Some women find it uncomfortable, but there’s an art to doing it so you get the best shape possible.
- Breast reduction surgery: If you’re suffering true emotional and physical discomfort due to too-big breasts, this could be a choice for you. Here are some options to think through.
A version of this story was originally published in February 2018.