The week after my birthday, I watched all fourteen, one-hour episodes of Outlander that had aired up to that point. I was hooked. Mentally, I was living in 1740s Scotland, surrounded by dirty men and somehow holding my own. Physically, I was here in Houston, surrounded by vomit-y babies and still somehow holding my own. My escape every night (for one whole week) was to put myself as Claire, the main character, in all her feistiness and wit. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long, and I soon joined the rest of the world in the two-weeks-long wait between episodes (only one more this season!). It’s a mild form of torture.
But putting myself in Claire’s dresses is not so easy. Slipping into her personality isn’t much of a stretch (I mean, I can be feisty), but her corsets are a different thing altogether. The primary issue is that her boobs are much smaller than mine. The style of the 1740s certainly accentuated the chest area, but with the small-breasted, it doesn’t become a distraction. Non-sexual scenes remain non-sexual. Big breasts would become the focus of the non-sexual scenes and automatically sexualize them, not by any fault of the actor or the breasts but because our society sexualizes women’s body parts. When I imagine wearing what the female characters on Outlander wear, I fit in with the prostitutes on the show, not the leading ladies.
To make it clear, I didn’t ask for breasts. As a late-bloomer, I thought for the first sixteen years of my life that I wouldn’t have to deal with them. I come from a line of large-breasted women, at least one of whom got a breast reduction in her life and others of whom have considered one, so to miss out on that part of my bloodline would have been a welcome gift. As it so happened, I am a product of genetics, and I probably got breasts before I even remember, because all of the sudden girls in my high school were talking about them, as if, overnight, they had become a general topic of conversation. I (or, rather, my chest) would no longer be able to blend in from that point on.
Those of us who were blessed (meaning cursed) with big boobs know how hard it is to hide them. We wear higher necklines and scarves. We stay away from button-ups. We rarely go for the androgynous look or wear loose, tent-like tops because we become, well, a tent. Taking the focus away from the breasts requires so much effort. It’s tempting to blame a woman who has a ton of cleavage showing for intentionally being too revealing and craving attention, but the truth is that it’s just easier to let it show, not to worry about hiding it, to simply wear clothes like most other women can simply wear clothes. Big-breasted women have to think about a part of themselves more often than people give them credit for, and they have to think about it because others will perceive them in a certain way if they don’t.
In short, it sucks.
Thankfully, there is the #FreeTheNipple movement, which aims to take the sexual stigma off of the breast and out of the eye of the beholder by normalizing breasts as innocuous body parts like any other body part. I love it. I love movements that try to make life better for people. If people stopped looking at my chest like it means something about my character and took me as a whole person, that would be wonderful. It would be so freeing. But until that happens, I will write about my experiences; I won’t be the one posting pictures of my nude body. I want to support these movements without attracting more malicious attention than I already get.
That said, I do think the world is changing, however slowly. I think perceptions of people who are fat are changing for the better and that feminism is no longer a dirty word. I think that racism is on the forefront of people’s minds more than it ever has been in regards to acknowledging it and trying to do something about it, and I think that people with disabilities are not as invisible as they once were. I think the Internet, for all its woes, does help to spread goodness rapidly, and the more we have to come face to face with something (like people who are gay or different-bodied), the more accepting we become. This is good news. We can work with this.
But we still have such a long, long way to go.
So when I watch Outlander, I fantasize about being the main character and wearing her layers of corsets and wool and spouting my wisdom from the future. I ask what would happen if the main character had boobs— if the main character were me— but I know. I know that either the costumes would have to be customized to take the attention away from my chest, or I wouldn’t be the main character at all and would just be a minor character in the one scene in the one episode that takes place in a brothel. I know how this world works and how my body fits in it. I know how the shape of my body and what I put on it affect how people think of me. I know what is allowed and what isn’t. And as much as I want a different world and different perceptions, I know.
It would just be nice not to know.