An Open Letter

My 48 Reasons Not To Get A Boob Job page has, from time to time, brought me mail saying things like "It's difficult to go through life being a 34A when everyone around me is a natural C or D cup", or "What about women who can't look in the mirror everyday because they weren't blessed at birth with anything".  I am asked things like how I, as a male, can understand this side of the story.  On one occasion, this is what I wrote back.  In the end, the recipient and I both felt that it would (with some editing) make a good addition to the anti-implants page.

Of course, as a man, I have no knowledge of what it's like to live in that situation.  But there's one thing I do know: in our society, it's the norm for women to find fault with their bodies and the exception to feel like you're good enough, and that's true even for the most physically perfect people.  Isn't that basically insane?  If you look around at other people, you wouldn't proclaim that four fifths of them are defective and only a few are adequate, would you?  Yet that's how too many of us treat ourselves.

I once listened to a talk by a guy named Dr. Stan Dale, who told a story about how he was once, many years ago, hired by Hugh Hefner of Playboy.  Hefner's problem was that he'd recruit these gorgeous women to pose for his magazine, but they were often so ashamed and inhibited about it that it was a big difficult effort to get any photo shoot accomplished.  So he asked Dale to work with them and see what he could do... and Dale gave a bunch of these playboy models a questionnaire to investigate how they felt about their bodies.  He asked them, how do you feel about your hair, your forehead, your eyebrows, your eyes, your cheekbones, your nose, etc etc all the way to their toes.  And what he found is that almost every one of these women found a way to despise almost every part of themselves.  The only body part that didn't come in for intense negative criticism was their teeth.  And these were women who had already been selected to be in the most perfect-looking top tenth of a percent of the population.

Isn't this crazy?  Why do this to ourselves?  (I say "ourselves" because this is not rare among men either and I've certainly felt ashamed of my looks sometimes.)  When so many people fall into this kind of fault-finding, obviously the cause is not that everyone's body has so many faults.  This means the problem is in the way of looking at the body, not in the body itself.

Many years ago I fell for somebody who, as it happened, had exceptional good looks and attracted lots of interest from guys (and some gals).  People would try to tell her she was attractive, but her attitude toward herself was so negative sometimes that she'd just look in a mirror and hate her skin, and start picking at it compulsively.  Did she do that because there was anything actually wrong with her?  Of course not.

She had small breasts.  Once or twice she told me that she might like to get implants, because she wished they were bigger and she knew someone who'd got them and thought they looked great.  My reaction was, "Nnnnnooooooooooo!!!"  It was probably because of that moment that I eventually wrote this web page.  Even back then I knew immediately that there was something wrong with the notion that her body was not as good as someone else's because of a minor difference in shape.

Often things that are obvious when we look at someone else are hard to see about ourselves.  I bet if you looked at her you'd think she had no need for implants, and she might think the same if she looked at you.

I am glad to report that she now feels pretty happy with her body.  Is her body improved?  No, it's older and more out of shape than it used to be.  The difference is that now she refuses to hate herself.  It's a hard struggle to reverse that kind of mental habit but she has been successful at it, in spite of a huge amount of negativity left from her childhood, when she survived plenty of abuse.  It just takes persistence and a determination to be on your own side instead of rooting for the opposing team.

We can all find some area in which we don't compare well with others around us.  If you had the boobs you wanted, don't you suspect you might be saying that it's hard to live with some other aspect of your body?

Even if your body were absolutely perfect in every respect, you'd have to lose all your perfect traits one by one as you got older, until in the end you lose everything and your body can't even stay alive.  There is no reward at the end of the pursuit of a physical ideal, and if we set ourselves up in competition with everyone around us, there is no way to win.  No matter what, we have to live with shortcomings and find a way to be happy with them, sooner or later.  Why not sooner?

What is it here that's actually hard to live with -- the boobs themselves, or a feeling of shame?  Do the boobs themselves hurt you?  They don't, do they?  But does shame hurt you?  Absolutely.  The good news is that we have much more choice about whether to feel ashamed than we do about what kind of bodies we get.  We all need to say, "I have nothing to be ashamed of!"  Your mind may resist the idea but your heart knows you're telling the truth.

If you can't look at yourself in the mirror, I have a radical idea: go ahead and look anyway, until you can do it easily.  I don't think flaws in our appearance cause us to be unable to face the sight of ourselves -- I think that shrinking away from the sight of ourselves is something that allows us to develop crazy ideas that we are flawed.  The reluctance to look could be what enables irrational negative beliefs; once you really let in the sight of yourself, it's very difficult for that belief to stand a confrontation with reality, because you can see with your own eyes that there's nothing to make a big deal out of.  It takes time for this to sink in.  We look at a mirror, and immediately some kind of fear is warning us, "Don't really see yourself, you have to reject it somehow, or you'll discover something awful!"  Instead of flinching away, you can respond to that by calling its bluff.  "Do your worst.  How bad is it?"  In time you find that the threat has nothing behind it. 

The craziest part of rejecting ourselves like this is that there really is nothing at all to gain by it, nothing to protect ourselves from.

One last point.  I'm asked, don't men always prefer larger breasts?  I think this is more a stereotype than a truth.  Men vary a lot in this kind of thing.  Only a rather small fraction of the guys I've known seek out larger than average breasts when they're looking for a relationship.  But on the other hand, larger ones are what tend to catch a man's eye more, when encountering strangers.  This is where bigger ones have the most effect: for making a first impression, and for show-business situations.  It's easy to overgeneralize from that.  Personally, when I was younger I was mostly attracted to skinny women without a lot of curvature.  As I've gotten older I have become less attached to one preferred type.  I think this is typical: most men tend to shed kneejerk responses to particular looks as they get older... which is fortunate, since we're all losing our looks anyway.

UPDATE:  The woman I mentioned had no lasting interest in getting implants, but years later, her younger sister decided to get them.  Sensibly, she changed her mind once the doctor spelled out the risks, which she had been quite unaware of.