Boobs, tits, chest, knockers—no matter what you call them, they’re often a focal point on women’s bodies, whether we like it or not. I hated mine growing up. I saw them as a nuisance, a hazard, the “downfall” of my body. They were the reason I cried in the dressing room while prom-dress shopping, shied away from low-cut tops, and felt uncomfortable running down the soccer field next to my smaller-chested teammates.
Just a few years ago, at around 21 years old, I stopped caring as much. I gained the kind of perspective that comes with aging, I suppose, when you realize that there are more important things to worry about (finances, career, relationships). Plus, I realized that I was one of the lucky people with boobs—no back problems, no health issues, and the financial ability to buy the right bras and make the choice to get a reduction if I so chose. It was nice reaching a point of body-positive thinking. Unfortunately, this took a turn when I started working a full-time, 9-to-5 office job.
I felt more aware of my presence as a woman, rather than my presence as a writer or an employee.
Working in an office as a digital writer, I quickly became aware of the fact that looks and overall presentation play a great deal into how colleagues view you and your abilities in the workplace. For example, a well-dressed person may come across as more organized or willing to get the job done, whereas a messy or unkempt person may come across as lazy or likely to fall short on tasks.
These standards might be expected, but more disturbingly, the same judgments applied to my big-boobs problem. On days where I’d wear something a little more revealing—and by that, I mean a V-neck T-shirt or a slightly tighter-fitting dress—I felt more eyes on me. I felt more aware of my body, of it feeling too “exposed” or on display for others to see. I felt more aware of my presence as a woman, rather than my presence as a writer or an employee.
Sure, this could be because we’re “expected” to dress modestly in an office setting, but I have to say that I’ve always felt some type of the same scrutiny regardless of work environment. I worked as a barista for over five years, where I simply wore a uniform of black pants and a black polo shirt, and still felt “unprofessional,” as if I was showing too much to those buying their morning coffee. The judgment never came verbally (thankfully), but in the form of stares—from co-workers who perhaps thought I was using my chest to my advantage in some way, or from customers who maybe thought I chose to wear that tight-fitting shirt for the wrong reasons.
Over the years of navigating the workplace as a large-chested woman, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the major challenges (and solutions) of going out into the world as a person with a body like mine, and I want to share with you some of those thoughts. Of course, simply because having big boobs is not inherently a problem, and there also isn’t a guaranteed fix for any of these challenges. But I hope you find my perspectives on them helpful anyway.
Having big boobs makes a lot of women feel sexy in an unwanted way. I can’t count how many job interviews I’ve had where I felt uncomfortable and unprofessional simply because of my chest, despite the fact that I was trying to cover up.
First, I’ve learned that no matter what, button-down shirts are a definite no-go. Luckily, they’re not the only style of shirt for sale. Sure, being limited in terms of wardrobe can be annoying, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. I found that accepting this small idea is a powerful move. Instead of having that awkward opening on your button-down shirt—or worse, have a button fly off in the middle of a brainstorming sesh—I often opt for V-necks, sundresses, or just about anything else that will let my boobs be free.
That said, I also know that the fact that button-down shirts aren’t designed for people with my chest size doesn’t mean it’s my fault for having this body. When you have big boobs, there’s this idea of always, always feeling sexualized, no matter the situation. This is probably the hardest of all. Having big boobs makes a lot of women feel sexy in an unwanted way. I can’t count how many job interviews I’ve had where I felt uncomfortable and unprofessional simply because of my chest, despite the fact that I was trying to cover up.
The only way I’ve come to accept this is by knowing that it isn’t my responsibility to change my body or behavior. I’ve realized that conjuring up this narrative in my head—that is, “Everyone is staring at my boobs,” “I look too sexy in this outfit,” “I’m not dressed appropriately because of my chest,” etc.—makes the situation much worse than it probably is while also distracting me from the more important tasks at hand. Hard as it sounds, you have to refuse to allow other people’s stares control your value, as a person or an employee.
At the end of the day, though I may still feel unprofessional at times, I know that my chest certainly doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) have the power to represent me as such. I can’t control other people’s stares (unless, of course, they cross a line; in that case, speaking up is absolutely warranted), but I can control whether or not to let them hold me back. Just like anything else, it’s a process, and accepting the parts of your body you’re not so fond of certainly does not happen in one day’s work.
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so… welcome to The Flipside (as in the flip side of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society’s definition of “beauty.” Here, you’ll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we’d love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
Next up: Read how makeup helps one Byrdie writer deal with her chronic illness.