When I was younger I wanted Barbie-doll boobs: lavishly large and perpetually perky. Never mind that her breasts were two cold, lifeless knobs of hard plastic. They looked good.
My own breasts never measured up. They seemed designed for another woman: one who was about four feet tall. Rationally, I knew that breast size didn’t indicate a woman’s worth, or even her sex appeal. I knew there were lots of sexy, flat-chested women in the world. Unfortunately, none of them went to my high school.
In college someone told me that Frenchmen thought the perfect breast could fit into a champagne glass. Comforting news if you live in Paris, but my boyfriend at the time drank beer. Out of mugs.
So I learned to camouflage. I wore loose blouses and tight jeans, avoided one-piece bathing suits and elasticized tube tops.
Still, those Barbie-doll boobs haunted me for years, hovering in the background as I walked on the beach in my deflated bikini, as my shirt came off for the first time in the back seat of a car, as I lost my virginity. I don’t remember inviting them to the most intimate moments of my life; I must have left a window unlatched somewhere in the back of my mind.
The other day, however, as I was nursing my daughter, it occurred to me that Barbie’s boobs have another flaw, beyond just their coldness and rigidity: they have no nipples, no sex, no function.
I’ve discovered a secret — one they never tell you in books or Lamaze classes: your baby adores your breasts in a way that no lover ever will. When your baby is nursing, your breasts are in demand. They are the center of your infant’s universe. Your partner claims to love your breasts? Hah! Did he ever cry all the way home from the grocery store because he couldn’t hold on to one?
You’ve heard of penis envy. Let me tell you, no woman secretly wishes for a penis the way a frustrated father, bouncing his squalling baby on his knee, yearns for a boob. Nothing — no bottle, no rattle, not even a hundred games of peekaboo — will pacify a baby the way Mom’s breast will. My husband now calls himself a “mere mortal.”
It amazes me that my little breasts are life-sustaining. They produced enough milk to nurture a thriving baby, and they nourish and comfort my toddler, still. When I pick up my daughter in the morning, she thumps on my chest, demanding a drink. While I’m soaking in the bathtub, she squeals and points at my breasts — something even my husband doesn’t do anymore. At bedtime, only my breasts can soothe her to sleep. She thinks my breasts are terrific, and finally, after all these years, so do I.