by Emilie Astolat
I’m not sure when she started maturing sexually, but it’s definitely happening. Technically, according to all the books, they’re only buds. But the idea of her actually having them is so foreign they might as well be balloons.
For her birthday recently, I got her a book called The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls by Valorie Lee Schaefer. As the name implies, it describes and illustrates various bodily developments and what to do about each one. With the book, I wrote the following inscription:
I gave it to her with the expectation that she would sigh about having received a reference book as a birthday present. But I told her that it talked about all sorts of things that she was already going through, and that, if she read the part about breast development, I would take her bra shopping.
To my surprise, she came to me that weekend telling me what she’d learned and asking when we could go to the store. I suggested we read the section together—I’d already read it, but I wanted her to hear the words being said out loud so that she could realize there was nothing to be embarrassed about.
I also wanted to get her used to talking about things like this with her parents and trusted adults, so when the day comes that some idiot classmate or boyfriend tells her she can’t get pregnant the first time she has sex, she’ll know who she can ask to verify.
So there we were, sitting on the couch and matter-of-factly reading all there is for preteens to know.
Breast come in endless varieties … Even the colors of the nipples and areolas , the dark circular areas around the nipples, vary from pink to brown … Some nipples stick out, while others are inverted, or go inward … Doctors divide breast development into the five stages shown below …
Then off we were to Target.
I can’t even begin to describe my dismay when we got there. All I wanted was a simple, skin- or plain-colored bra for an innocent child. One that allowed her the freedom to still wear a white cotton shirt. One that I’d seen on their website.
But perhaps worst of all was the fact that they were padded.
It was in that moment that my calm, take-it-in-stride facade melted away and the real me emerged— frazzled and freaked out. Why a preadolescent’s bra should be padded is beyond me. A 10-year-old’s breasts don’t need to be accentuated. I felt like it was suddenly me against the world: I’d been hoping my stepdaughter would have a few more flat-chested years and everyone else was trying to make her boobs bigger faster.
Let me back up a little bit.
I started developing my own breasts when I was 9. I only noticed one day when I ran into the corner of a countertop that was about chest-high and instead of just feeling pain, I felt like I’d been shot. I looked down at my chest to see little raised bumps through my shirt that I swear had not been there the day before.
I was dismayed, but mostly because I immediately associated breasts with the agony I’d just felt. In that instant, I knew there must be some untold version of Peter Pan, and that his real reason for not wanting to grow up was simply that he didn’t want to deal with the hassle of puberty.
My mom responded to the situation a little differently. She immediately whisked me off to the doctor to see what was wrong. The doctor calmly told her that they were just breasts, and that everything was OK—nay, completely natural.
“But she’s only 9,” my mom had responded, desperately.
Flash forward to now, and I was standing inside Target being attacked by sex appeal. But I reminded myself that I’d always promised not to feel such despair with my own children when maturity came knocking. And I didn’t. I was simply pissed.
All I could think about was the number of sickos on this planet that are sexually attracted to children. They are deplorable and disgusting vermin, and I believe they should be publicly castrated and lynched for what they do. But I couldn’t help but wonder—if parents are dressing their children up to look like miniature, fully-formed women, aren’t we as a society partially responsible?
I told my stepdaughter a padded bra was out of the question, to which she immediately agreed. In fact, she agreed so readily that I realized she was just relieved as I was. I asked why, and she said she wasn’t ready for some of her classmates to know she was wearing a bra. She told me she hadn’t wanted to go bra shopping at first, but had spoken to some of her friends after reading the body book and discovered that many of them were in the same boat.
I felt for her—that same feeling of isolation is felt across generations and during all types of stages. In this case, here was a bunch of elementary students stumbling together through a natural part of development, and yet they felt completely alone. I can’t count how many times I thought I was the only person in the world experiencing something before finding out that the same thing has been happening since the dawn of time.
We began looking high and low and behind other bras to find a regular one. It took about five minutes to find two hangers that met our criteria—literally the only ones left—and we took them to the dressing room. By that time, my stepdaughter had gotten so involved in the process that my societal resentment subsided.
She began telling me what she’d learned from the book, and how you’re supposed to roll your shoulder to see if a bra fits properly in the strap. If the strap falls off your shoulder, it needs to be tightened; if it digs in, it needs to be loosened.
I shared the success of the experience with my parents during a family get-together. I had grown up not being able to talk to them, but when I became an adult I realized I didn’t have to perpetuate that cycle.
My mom was surprisingly supportive—that is to say she was quiet. It was my dad who shifted uncomfortably and half rolled his eyes.
“I just think she’s a bit young for that,” he said.
I couldn’t help but agree with him. But then again, that’s beyond my control. As much as I may want to, I can’t push my stepdaughter’s breasts back into her chest. All I can hope to do is make sure she knows she can always come to me for help.
Sex in San Diego, a column appearing every Friday here at The OB Rag, explores topics related to sex in America’s Finest City. To encourage openness while still respecting privacy, most authors will use pseudonyms.