As a 22 year old woman, I’ve only just got the point where I view my boobs as benign. Boobnign. I now feel like I have ownership over my Freudian mounds, and, as it transpires, a real affection for them. And most of this came about by finally feeling brave enough to release them from tit-jail. No more fort knockers for my gals.
Bras are gits. For years they were how I understood how to make my boobs acceptable and underwired seemed a complete necesstitty. But why on earth do I want wire anywhere near my boobs. Wire belongs in war zones and around wild animals and, even though I fondly think of my boobs as feral creatures, why should they be restricted in such an inhumane way. Let the bouncy beasts free!
Last week in London I found Utopia. A place surrounded by willow trees and lily pads with baby ducklings swimming with you in the water and dragonflies basically landing on your head. I saw a kingfisher twice.
This, Ladies, is Hampstead Ladies’ Swimming Pond.
A place where freedom to bare breasts and throwing yourself into a wondrous lake combine. As I swam I kept being so overwhelmed by the beauty of it that I’d forget to swim and end up joy-drowning. I also got far too excited by the lilies. But where the lilies are, so too is the silt. And as much as I love lilies, I fucking hate silt. My foot goes in, I empty of joy, and I try to feign calm as I swim away and my brain’s going: ‘MONSTERS. YOU TROD IN THEIR KINDGOM. MONSTERS ON MY FOOT.’
There’s an Elizabeth Bishop poem that makes monsters out of our mounds. It’s called, ‘In the Waiting Room’. This is a snippet, she’s reading the National Geographic as she waits for her Aunt at the Dentist:
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
cane an oh! of pain
–Aunt Consuelo’s voice–
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
She’s narrating the poem as her six year old self and there is already a sense of detachment from her own body. She hasn’t even nearly begun puberty, and yet here is ALREADY the idea of female physicality as an affliction: something to be objectified – and here photographed – but not something to own for yourself. We must start to change this perceived non-entity-physicality by owning our own bodies. And I don’t just mean the idea of them; I mean the hair, and I mean the stretch marks, and the spots and the smells. It should be our smells that ‘are horrifying’ and we should have pride in that: we produced them. In this way, by rightfully taking possession of our own bodies in all their naked and clothed splendour, we can win against the shit-sniffers who photoshop and plasticise and dehumanise our form.
And then we get to the point where we can read the poem and the line, ‘I might have been embarrassed, / but wasn’t’ becomes the most significant line. Let us show the willy-wavers who’s boss. I’m awaiting the day that a photo of my bare arse is the front cover of Vogue and it’s got Hampstead’s darling ducklings tattooed all over it. #no filters.
I might have been embarrassed, but I wasn’t.