Not long ago I was ribbing a friend with my typical knowitallism -- "Duh, don't you know you need a sponge to seal grout?" "It's nook-lee-ur, not nook-you-lur!" -- when he sighed deeply and said, "Sheesh, girl, you're not easy to impress."
Really, not true. Smart people -- like this friend -- dazzle me all the time; It's actually me who wants to impress. I have this awful habit of trying to prove I'm as intelligent as the company I keep. I'm afraid if I relax too much in conversation, if I let my A Game slide, someone might think me stupid.
I am neurotic, it's true, but in this case there's an explanation: Until I was 18 or so I didn't realize I was smart. I didn't think I wasn't smart, I knew I was bright enough, and I don't mean to suggest now that I'm some great undiscovered mind of my time... It's possible my Mensa card is lost in the mail, but for now let's assume I'm an average girl with a good head on my shoulders. Unfortunately I was in college before it occured to me that what I thought or said might be of interest to anyone not related to me or paid to listen.
Why so unsure? Two reasons: The breast on my left, and the breast on my right.
Stop laughing, boys, this is serious. I hope you glean a lesson from this story, one that informs both the way you interact with women and the way you teach your sons to do the same.
Excessively large breasts skipped a generation in my family -- skipped right over my mother and landed with all their crushing weight directly on top of me. By the time I was 15 I had my grandmother's bosom. Literally. Eight out of ten people would not have been able pick mine from a lineup of busty old maids. I didn't jog or booty-dance (as was the style in those days). I wore a tank top at the beach. Maintained a strict over-the-shirt policy when it came to second base. I wouldn’t even consider undressing for a boy, no matter how cute he was or now sweetly he wooed me. I could scarcely stand to be naked alone.
Boys my age sometimes teased but usually they avoided me or gawked from afar. On the other hand, older men made it their business to leer, approach, conduct entire conversations with my chest. The lack of eye contact stunted my self-esteem, I think. In my formative years -- a time when strangers' judgment trumped parents' pride in shaping my sense of self -- I was just learning what my assets were and how I was supposed to use them. I thought if my measurements were all anyone noticed, maybe they were all I had to offer. Eventually I replaced attempts at witty banter with tight shirts, short skirts, and longer, blonder hair; People expected a bimbo, so a bimbo I would be.
This charade served me for a while but still there was no denying my breasts were a problem. They spilled out of bras, bumped into strangers, knocked over water glasses and announced my presence by entering a room just before me. I tried not to be self-conscious but it was a losing battle: They were always a step ahead. I was always a step behind.
My back ached. My shoulders were strained. Physically, sexually, emotionally, my body was holding me back. I was fortunate to have options, and I think you can understand the choice I made:
Bound and wrapped like Yentl the morning after surgery, I took a few deep breaths and peeked beneath my hospital gown. My body felt light and it looked so small... It was the first time I’d seen my lap since I was 12. That was when it hit me how much my life was going to change.
Bit by bit I tasted sweet freedom: I strolled into Victoria's Secret and picked a bra straight off the rack. I auditioned for -- I danced in -- "A Chorus Line" with a community summer theater. When the cast went skinnydipping, I joined in the fun. At college parties with boys I showed off nothing but my wits, and to my surprise they listened and laughed when I made conversation. They saw me as smart. They saw me as funny. They saw me. And the first time one of them asked clumsily, "Are you wearing colored contacts or are those your real eyes?" I blushed and swooned and said, "Wow, that's the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me."
So you see, my smart friend who cannot pronounce "nuclear" but amazes me nonetheless, I'm pretty easy to impress. All you have to be is yourself.