I’ve never been very blessed in the chestal region. But has this ever fazed me? Not really. That’s not to say that my life has been blissfully free of insecurities, but this particular asset (or lack thereof) was never one of them.
That was until one fine spring afternoon in 2019. I was catching up with a friend, discussing our newfound singledom, when something small yet life-altering transpired. We were going back and forth about how the fear of dating again tends to dredge up insecurities when she turned to ask me if being small-of-breast was something that I worried about when dating.
“WTF,” I thought.
It was a fairly innocuous question; we had joked about our chests before as lifelong members of the itty bitty titty committee. But instead of the usual humorous dig, her expression was one of genuine curiosity. I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, and then I started thinking about why I was thinking about it (otherwise known as spiralling).
Now, I’m very open about the fact that I’m flat-chested: I joke about it constantly and usually go sans bra since I certainly don’t need the support of wiring. But I was taken aback nonetheless. Why, you ask? Because, as naive as it sounds, it never really occurred to me that this was a part of my body that someone else might think I was insecure about. And it definitely made me feel some kind of way. Was this something that held me back? Did everyone think this? How much are boob jobs? Has my brain always surreptitiously dodged comments like these to preserve my baby ego?
Breast augmentation continues to be one of the most in-demand cosmetic procedures among Australian women my age. Everywhere I go, people seem to be boasting a lot more upstairs than me, and yet I had managed to avoid developing the anxiety around this that my friend seemingly had. We had grown up similarly, around the same community, and even had the same interests.
Looking at the facts, it remained that I had never been called flat-chested (at least to my face) until this point, and arguably the most significant factor, I had never dated or been with someone before who wasn’t, by all accounts, stoked when I took my top off.
I also had to admit: beauty standards have favoured the flat-chested in many ways. Look at any runway and you won’t see much beyond an A-cup. Some of the most beautiful people in the world don't seem visibly concerned with augmenting their chest. And having an interest in fashion, I always looked at my boobs with pragmatism, if not love. Yes, a lot of clothes didn’t quite fit me right. But there was a lot that did work on my shape that may not have if I had been bustier. But reasoning didn’t seem to change the fact that a seed had been planted.
I suddenly started noticing just how much I wasn’t filling out certain tops. I started wearing bras again (telling myself I needed them) and even caught myself picking apart my wiry shadow while waiting in line for a coffee. A new insecurity was born, but this one had the unusual quirk of being passed on to me.
Secondhand insecurities — the ones that manifest from someone else's —when someone addresses a common feature with the belief that you also experience it as a 'flaw' — tend to hit different to the ones we pick up on ourselves. The discovery that someone else experiences a common feature, physical or not, as a 'flaw' only exacerbates the internal stress we have around how we are perceived by others.
Out of fear of developing a new insecurity every time I had a casual conversation, I tried to tell myself that this wasn't my thing. This secondhand stress did not have legs and was simply a result of projection and generalised anxiety. But just because it wasn't something I'd already noticed, did it really make it any less valid than the insecurities I'd held long before? The result remained the same; it was there now, perched right next to my feelings about my acne scars and twig arms.
Years later, I'm still wearing tops I like that don’t quite fit my bust, and humbly going sans bra (much to the dismay of my expensive bralettes) and I think that looking back and identifying just how many of my insecurities stemmed from other people’s comments or opinions actually helped me reevaluate how nonsensical some of them were. Because the thing with insecurities is that while they can feel like these living, breathing entities that feed off of us, in reality, they’re far more idle.
I can’t say I’ll never care about these things again, or that new ones won’t pop up, but questioning the ‘why you feel’ over ‘why you have’ them helps to give some perspective. Rarely are the people around you actively trying to provide you with insecurity ammunition, and it's important to stay grounded in how you feel about it yourself. It might sound like a load of cheese, but as one Maya Angelou said, "the real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself."