I was the skinniest little girl in my class. In fact, I may have been the skinniest kid in the entire school. At least I was in my mind. Proclaiming that mine was the skinniest little body they had ever seen, boys regularly picked me up, threw me into the air, caught me, and then having proven their virility, walked away with hardly a glance back. Boys and girls alike on a regular basis grabbed my wrist, encircling it with their thumb and forefinger, and held it up high like a trophy, saying, “See? I can fit your wrist between my fingers!” I thought that this shouldn’t be unusual . . . doesn’t everyone’s arm taper down to the hand? I never said this out loud. Instead I ran horrified to the farthest corner I could find.
My mother too seemed concerned about my size. She poured supplements into my milk and stated that unless I stood up straight I wouldn’t grow. I imagined what it would be like to be this small all my life and tried to stand straighter.
Because of my skinny build, I was always excused from physical education classes. I had to dress out, but I was told to sit on a bench and read. Sometimes I was directed to read rules and regulations about the sport being instructed. No matter what I read, the pages were blank to me. Most of the time I felt embarrassed, but when I saw that kids chose members of their teams for sports, I was relieved to be exiled. I knew that if I were left to the judgment of my classmates, I would never be chosen.
In seventh grade everything changed. The year began as usual. Classes were OK, I was still skinny, and I could easily melt into the wall. That first week, the first day of P.E., stepping quickly to the orders of our teacher, I hustled with the girls into the locker room and was stunned to see every girl in class removing her blouse to reveal a bra. What had happened that summer? Why didn’t I know this? Here I was with the undershirt that I had worn since kindergarten! I fled into a stall and changed into my gym suit. For the rest of the day I cautiously began to steal glances at girls around me. Except for Gloria, who had worn a bra since fifth grade, everyone seemed to be fairly flat. Then I noticed that through their blouses I could see bra straps on the backs of every girl. Oh no! Now everyone knew that I still wore an undershirt! I spent the entire year changing clothes in a bathroom stall and wearing sweaters.
During summer I never saw kids from school. I had a reprieve and time to figure out what to do. I was not going to enter eighth grade without a bra. All summer I searched for strategies to grow. I pored over magazines that advised ways to assure larger breasts. One article recommended exercises. Studying the instructions pictured by the well-endowed models before me, I thrusted my arms back and forth every morning. I carefully saved allowance money to send off for gadgets that were sure to build my breasts. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of the importance of large bosoms. Billboards, magazine covers, and movie stars became the models of what I needed to become. I grew more and more despondent each time my mother took me shopping for clothes and shook her head in disapproval as she pinched the darted points of blouses where my breasts should have been.
Just before Labor Day my mother came to me and said that it was probably time to buy a bra. I suppose she had read this on her “Dr. Spock’s How to Raise Kids” list because I certainly didn’t need one. For once I was glad she was shopping with me, though. I was horrified at the public nature of buying a bra. What if they said I didn’t need one? Did I have to try it on in front of anyone? We went to Marshall Fields, and my fears intensified. Following behind my mother, I lingered a few aisles away and hid as I heard her describe the kind of “training” bra I would need. I pictured the large, robust breasts that were sure to result from wearing a training bra. With determination I stepped forward, tried on numerous bras, and nodded silently when my mother announced loudly that I would need the most padded one.
My breasts never did grow. In my high school years I stuffed tissue in my bra. For some reason that seemed less embarrassing than buying one with padding. I knew that big breasts could be the beginning of a great life well beyond my imagination. I faithfully continued to do exercises designed to build a woman’s chest. I tried to sleep on my back to keep them from growing inwardly. Nothing I tried helped to catch the eye of an admirer – boy or girl. My breasts were non-existent. Every now and then I overheard girls talking about their weekend experiences with dates who got to “second base.” That was never a territory I understood beyond a good Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Fortunately, my college years began with the year of burning bras, and I could not have been happier. I remained flat until the age of 52. I suppose they will soon begin to sag. But that is another chapter.