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The moment my breasts appeared on my body, I recognized them as the enemy. When I was growing up, Winona Ryder, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Moss were the go-to glamour girls of teen magazines, and all of them are lithe in a way that cannot be imitated if your boobs are big. As a top-heavy pre-teen—tall, pudgy, and busty from puberty onward—I was doomed to remain outside the circle of the mid-90s' most desirable women. I was barely a teenager when I told my parents would get a breast reduction when I grew up. I hated mine. They were always so there.
I grew up in a part of the country full of chicken farms, where my babysitter hunted deer with a crossbow, and my mom made us scrapple at least one morning a week. So you might think a "heartland" American sense of style would be my saving grace. Country style vibes are inarguably pro-rack; one of the most quintessentially cleavage-celebrating looks of all time—albeit one that's resolutely impractical—has to be the deep V-neck button-down midriff.
Big boobs sometimes have a powerful, undeniable social cachet, but they never connote good taste or old wealth.
But at the age when I started taking a more active role in what I wore, I was a bookish introvert who most wanted to emulate the look modeled by my private school peers: that of the preppy, casually rich. Unfortunately, I had neither the body nor the budget to pull it off.
Of course, in some ways, the body trumps the budget or rather, the body is the budget. Women's bodies are heavily coded to indicate at a casual glance how much worth they have—and how much they're worth as a body. If you're a woman of color, if you're fat, or if you're disabled, your class (i.e. your relative wealth) may be a foregone conclusion to other American eyes, regardless of your taste in fashion.
Being white and able-bodied gave me a lot of wiggle room, but I wasn't sure how to take advantage of it. The bland, WASP-y wardrobe choices of my school's cool kids incorporated clothing from Gap, The Limited, and American Eagle, stores that—in an exurban community like mine—required a family be wealthy in order to shop there. Even the more affordable Newport News, the only clothing catalog we got while I was in middle school, was a splurge for my mom. (My mom was, and remains, resolutely practical; she still wears skirts she had before I was born. I'm sure most fashion retailers didn't even know we existed.)
But my frustration wasn't only about a lack of financial resources. My breasts made me look more matronly than model-esque. In my class pictures from this era, you could be forgiven for mistaking me for the teacher. Though I was obviously a child from the neck up, with a gap-toothed smile and chubby cheeks, from the neck down I was womanly in the least conventionally sexy sense of the word, and dressed in an aging poly-blend, olive-colored sweater and voluminous floral skirt to top it all off. (Newport News was not at the cutting edge of looks for 12-year-olds.)
Even now, two decades later, big boobs are still not stylish. According to fashion, they're not elegant and they're not chic. They sometimes have a powerful, undeniable social cachet, but they never connote good taste or old wealth.
Just look at the style icon status afforded to gamine women like Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn, Jackie O and Grace Kelly. Larger breasted women, from Marilyn Monroe to Scarlett Johanssen and Kate Upton, are usually relegated to the realm of pin-up, a man's object of desire but not a figure for well-bred woman to emulate. I blamed my boobs from keeping me from ever looking truly skinny, my ultimate physical goal, and from looking rich, my ultimate style goal. They were the biggest—no pun intended—obstacle to achieving my vainest dreams.
I blamed my boobs from keeping me from ever looking truly skinny, my ultimate physical goal, and from looking rich, my ultimate style goal.
Into adulthood, my personal style continued to be an exercise in mimicry and class drag, though my awareness of brands evolved beyond rudimentary mall offerings. I forever tried to dress for the bank account I wanted rather than the bank account I had. This meant shifting to Anthropologie and Free People once I moved to the city, and slowly exploring boutique shops with small labels that offered more variety than major chains.
As my work as an escort brought me into contact with increasingly affluent people who expected me to hobnob in increasingly ritzy scenarios, I adjusted my wardrobe accordingly. Soon I had a closet full of silk tops and cashmere sweaters; dresses by Nina Ricci, Roland Mouret, and Victoria Beckham; and of course, narrow Burberry trenches. These items were beautiful and glamorous, and I hoped some of their delicacy rubbed off on me, the former scrapple-eating, Newport News junkie hiding in plain sight.
My breasts, meanwhile, were forging their own path. Their size fluctuated as I lost weight, went on hormonal birth control, and entered my thirties. I can't pretend I noticed their vicissitudes at the time—perhaps because I'd already rejected them so thoroughly—but my disappointment with them stayed strong.
Last year, I came to the realization that I had the disposable income to finally get the breast reduction I promised myself as a child. One of my friends had had one, and was loud and proud about her fantastic results. ("I never need to wear a bra anymore!") Most consultations are free, so I did a little research and made three separate appointments to explore my options for improvement.
The girl who once thought her adolescent boobs were too big now wears a 30FF.
Over the years, my complaints about my chest had evolved from "too big." I'd grown into my boobs, gotten used to them, as well as whittled them away a bit with diet and exercise. Few people would have described me as "busty" by the time I was visiting with surgeons, and I was leaning more towards a lift than anything else. Yet I walked away from my cosmetic foray with implants, which I'd become convinced were the best chance at achieving some of the shape and lift I wanted.
The increase in volume was more of a side effect than the desired goal, but it was undeniably an effect. The girl who once thought her adolescent boobs were too big now wears a 30FF. (It sounds huger than it is though, I swear! It's all the fault of the band size.)
What was unexpectedly freeing about my implants was a shift in what clothing I felt I could get away with. I imagine many women feel this way, albeit in the opposite direction: Suddenly they "fill out" standard clothing shapes they hadn't before. But after my implants, I looked cartoonish in my fancy dresses—those that fit, anyway. Their aura of classic charm was ruined by my body's inherent garishness.
Luckily, I didn't have a lot of interest in that type of clothing anymore, anyway. Where I once saw refined taste and glamour, I'd matured into seeing stuffiness and impracticality. Suddenly, I wanted to wear....camo. And denim shirts. And plaid. Sleeveless tees with cow skulls on them. Cotton tops cut with huge armholes so my big honking side-boob was fully on display. Tom Petty and Grateful Dead tanks that every man in my life teases me about, mercilessly.
Suddenly, I wanted to wear....camo. And denim shirts. And plaid.
It's the type of clothing I imagine I could wear to a monster truck rally, though it's been years since I've attended one. It's the imagined, Hollywood-ified uniform of the most effortlessly cool American you can imagine, the "salt of the earth" girls who live miles from any dry cleaner and can't take time fussing over clothing for twenty minutes every morning because they need to get out to the stable and feed their horses.
Looking comfortable and being comfortable are no longer inconceivable propositions. Finally, I feel like I have the confidence and sass to rock the laid-back country girl vibes that were my birthright. I'm sure there's a part of me that's subconsciously trying to downplay my breasts with roomy blouses and generous cuts—basically attempting to achieve the result I hoped for as a teen. (Don't notice how big my boobs are, please!) But the flipside is, I have cleavage and shape without clothes being strictly tailored to my curves. I come across as feminine without the signifiers I formerly relied upon: delicate fabrics, a cinched waist, strategic stitching, tiny buttons that can't unfasten. And I know how to choose smarter styles that play with revealing and concealing. Instead of tops that hug my ribs or nip in at the waist, I choose capacious necklines and shoulder-showing straps.
The other aspect of my new willingness to go full cotton is that I'm familiar enough with rich people situations so that I no longer feel automatically out of place when I'm in one. I've earned enough money to assuage some of my own financial insecurities, and I've matured into the recognition that, even as "the rich" become an increasingly small subset of America, they're in a category swimming with nouveau riche gaucherie. If you've got money, you can get away with bad taste, so I've given myself permission to dispense with the "I'm rich, too" costume; I don't want it or need it anymore.
This new style feels strangely pure and spontaneous, even as I know it's still highly imitative. I've come full circle back to the attire I once rejected, and it feels like home. Maybe the joy of sporting easy, basic pieces will gradually wear off, and I'll hear the siren song of the constrictive designer frock once again, but I hope it doesn't happen anytime soon. I'll never be an original dresser, but at least now I'm a happier one, big boobs and all.