Saturday, June 9, 2007


drawing by Marguerita- from an unpublished book project with Susan Shapiro

Liz Jones on her breasts
Columnist and author of Liz Jones's Diary

I can recollect, quite precisely, when my weird relationship with my breasts started. It was in high school, when I was surrounded by girls who from the age of 11 started to grow breasts exponentially, and quite proud of them they were, too. I would see their breasts jiggling around during netball, or naked in the shower after hockey. They would wear bras, and talk about bras, and shop for bras, conversations and expeditions that terrified and embarrassed me. I found big breasts revolting as well as terrifying: pendulous, covered in blue veins. I was scared of everything in those days - talking to boys, swimming lessons where others might glimpse my body or I might drown - and so I thought, it will be far easier to opt out. I starved myself, and so of course I didn't grow breasts; my adolescence consisted of precisely one period, when I was about 19. I never wore a bra, preferring liberty bodices. I felt pure and clean, mainly because boys didn't want to snog me in the smoking section of the Chelmsford Odeon. They only wanted girls with breasts, which was fine because I preferred books and ponies.

I was quite happy being breastless and hipless and boyless, but then I unfortunately got caught up in the National Health Service system, and once you are in, it is very hard to get out. I was in my early twenties, working on a glossy magazine in London, and the starvation thing had got a bit out of hand. At a particularly arduous ballet class one Saturday morning (I did four hours of classes on Saturday, seven hours during the week), I caught sight of my emaciated frame in its pink tights in the mirror and knew I needed help, which I got (eating-disorder clinics, steroids, peanut-butter sandwiches), but no one told me that one of the side effects was that I would grow breasts. Oh God how I hated them. They meant I couldn't run properly each evening, they meant men looked at me, they meant clothes (Azzedine Alaïa bodies, Katharine Hamnett stretchy dresses) looked obscene. I started to hide my breasts (bear in mind that up to, and way beyond this point, no man had ever touched them or seen them); I never wore a proper bra with wires and cups (horrid word), but I would try to bind them, putting great big Joseph Tricot chunky handknits on top, so that I had a shapeless monobreast. They looked especially milch-cow-like because the rest of me was so emaciated (Jordan was not, at this point, in fashion), and no matter how much I starved myself (endocrinologists are so easy to fool) my bosoms refused to budge.

But then one day, on the bus, I had a revelation. I was reading the very first issue of British Elle magazine (the gloriously flat-chested Yasmin not-yet-Le Bon was on the cover), in which there was a feature that seemed to answer my prayers. It was about the fact that women in Paris were getting breast reductions to achieve that boyish, gamine, high-fashion look, and I thought, of course! Why didn't I think of this? And so, at the age of 29, I had my breasts removed, and fashioned into two spherical perfect rounds the size of squeezing oranges, not navel oranges (too large). I remember coming round from the anaesthetic, and the plastic surgeon saying, 'The operation went really well, but remember, your nipples might not take; they might go black and die'. He hadn't told me that before he put me under, but still, they managed to take, like orchid cuttings.

I can't feel anything in my breasts, and I will never be able to breast-feed (a bit of a moot point, given my two-decade-long sabbatical from men due to my breast phobia), and the scars mean I have never felt liberated by my flatchestedness; I have never been able to sunbathe topless, for example, or wear Versace gowns slashed to the waist, but how often do those situations arise? When I was finally, fleetingly married, my poor husband never got to see or touch my breasts; he became used each night to being confronted by a very thick Gap T-shirt. I guess what my distorted, lifelong obsession meant is that I am scared of life, of being normal, of having a relationship and being looked at. Now that I am on my own again I can go back to not being a woman any more. I am alone, I no longer have to play netball or hockey. I no longer have to be seen naked. It's fine, really.

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