I developed young.
Let’s be clear: I mean breasts. I developed breasts at a young age. Before I graduated from middle school, I was already a C-cup and it only got worse from there.
I say “worse” because I felt bad about it. I remember performing with a church musical group around then and being devastated when I needed the large shirt we were all wearing while the other girls wore smalls. One girl specifically made me feel awful – not because of anything she did, but because I had been trying to live up to her beauty and talent for months. To console me, someone said, “She may be tiny, but she’ll probably never be endowed like you.” It just made me feel worse. It had been ingrained in me that breasts were bad because they were automatically inappropriate and I should never do anything to draw attention to them.
Still performing a year later, I wore an outfit that made me feel good. It was a graphic tee that said “You know you love me” and a black silk vest that buttoned directly under the words. I thought it made my waist look tiny, but one of the leaders pulled me aside before the service. She took me into the bathroom and had me look in a mirror. “You shouldn’t wear this,” she said. “See how the words draw attention to your chest? And then the vest frames it? It’s not modest.”
I started wearing over-sized t-shirts after that. Any fitted shirt would call attention to my chest.
This is the environment I grew up in and “Nipplegate” didn’t help.
A lot of people in my social group don’t seem to remember this but I do. Not seeing it – I don’t really watch football – but hearing about it. The next day, no one was talking about the game or the commercials. It was all about the halftime show, about Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson’s top off on live, national television.
I didn’t listen to popular music at the time (not in a hipster way, I was just strictly a country girl), so I didn’t know who she was and only recognized him from my school girl crush back when he was in N’Sync, but I knew it was bad. Maybe some people blamed him but that wasn’t the impression I got at the time. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I figured it out as I got older. It was her own fault for having breasts.
I’ve come a long way since then. Every other aspect of my body has the ability to give me a massive case of insecurity and self-hatred at a moment’s notice, but I have accepted my breasts as neutral, as a way to feed my future children (if I have them), and a place to hold my phone when I have no pockets. No outfit makes them look big, they just are big. And it’s okay. It doesn’t automatically make me slutty or immodest. It just is.
Fourteen years later, Justin Timberlake is performing at halftime again and I have no idea what’s become of Janet Jackson. Some research suggests she’s been blacklisted from the Super Bowl and otherwise lost her career. It also suggests that the incident inspired the founding of YouTube, proving that society wants to shame her while still profiting from her exposure. As a woman who has fought for years to accept a natural part of my body while dealing with men I don’t know sexualizing me because of it, it angers and frustrates me that Jackson suffered so much from her exposure while Timberlake has been allowed to move on entirely and was even welcomed back to the Super Bowl.