Breast Buds and Growing Pains

What's happening to me?

What’s happening to me?

By Bo Bi

Growing breasts can be awkward.

When I first started developing I was nervous about other people seeing my “breast buds” and thinking they were weird. And I felt embarrassed because my nipples kind of showed beneath my undershirt in those early days before I got permission to buy a bra.

The solution? Develop terrible posture. When I hung out with boys I slumped my shoulders, hoping they wouldn’t notice. 

No one clued me in!

No one — not my parents, my teachers or my peers — really talked about how girls should deal with the physical and psychological changes caused by puberty. I wish my mother had told me to celebrate my physical growth and embrace whatever puberty brought to me.

It all shaped my body image, and not in a good way. I have always felt self-conscious and worried about my figure instead of embracing it.

My experience has been very different from “Annie’s” of Jamaica Kincaid’s fictional memoir, Annie John.

Annie had a lot more fun. Her breasts were “treasured shrubs, needing only the proper combination of water and sunlight to make them flourish.” She and a friend even “moonbathed” to get them to grow.

If I’d had experiences like that, I probably wouldn’t have seen my bodily change as something to hide or to go into denial about.

I can finally accept my breasts. I don’t freak out anymore when I discover that my breast size is not “average.” And I no longer get discouraged when my mother comments on my small size. I can even confidently walk into a Victoria’s Secret fitting room now.

But I’ve struggled with this for years, and as an adult woman I sometimes still feel insecure. I wear the most fashionable bras to feel more confident. But when I ask myself whether I see my breasts as a worthy and loved part of my body, unfortunately, the answer is still no.

Recognize your body’s perfections

Luckily for me, perceptions may be shifting. Bra boutique owner, Ellen Shing, says that most of her A-cup customers are happy with their bodies.

Retailers and lingerie designers like Ms. Shing are trying to stop the culture of “how to stuff your bra” and encourage women to recognize their body’s perfections, instead.

Even the title of the New York Times piece reporting this news is hopeful: “For the A-Cup Crowd, Minimal Assets Are a Plus.”

Societies change their aesthetic ideals all the time. Maybe it’s time to give all of us — small- and big-chested alike — more freedom to be ourselves.

And to love ourselves.

Bo Bi a student who gave permission to post this piece, which was inspired by Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s “Breast Buds and the ‘Training’ Bra”

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 27, 2016, in body image, feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.

  1. Puberty is no one’s favorite topic. I’ve tried to be very open with my tween daughter and encourage questions and calm concerns. I honestly learned more about puberty from Judy Blume novels than I did from my mom.

  2. I guess we all need to accept for who we are and what we have. For Men too, they should not be ashamed of how small or extra-large their penis is (though it is not visible as in the case of nipples) – we all are different

    • I agree! Variety is the spice of life!

      And as I recently wrote to another guy who said he was worried about his penis size:

      Actually, only about 20% of women find a large penis pleasurable. These are women who have orgasms as a result of the penis hitting the cervix. And the clitoris is positioned differently in different women, so intercourse can be pleasurable for some of those women if the penis is large.

      But LUCKY FOR YOU: 80% of women find a large penis is either painful, uncomfortable, or irrelevant. A study of African women found that the larger her partner’s penis was, the more likely she was to cheat — because these women wanted to have sex without it hurting.

      Most women orgasm via outercourse, not intercourse, anyway (the clitoris is the most sensitive part of the woman). And less than 30% of women orgasm during partnered sex (though she might orgasm in his presence via vibrator).

  3. This problem of puberty is faced by many of us. The pain and the shame of growing something “unknown” or “unwanted’. It’s the responsibility of the mother or other elders to make the teenage kid aware of the growing boobs. I also think, from the very beginning, the mother should teach her daughter as there is nothing to be ashamed either of a 30A cup size or 36D.

  4. Though I get saddened by certain comments passed to me, but I am happy and content the way I am. Nobody is perfect and everyone should be happy the way they are born. 🙂

  5. I was also feeling embarrassed at the time that my breast buds. My parents didn’t tell me or teach me about this so that I felt shame when they grew. At the period, I tried to cover , or using anyway to make it seems “normal”(flat), such as hunchbacked. If my teacher or parents would have tell me that this is something we should celebrate because this is like I am growing. Instead, I tried to make my breast as flat as I can. Thus, I didn’t let it grow in neutral way. That is something I really regret.

  6. To quote a great line from Forrest Gump [regarding the book in the picture]: “I know that book!” I wonder how many of the blog readers recognize it from the cover. Good posting.

    • Thanks. I’ll have to watch that movie again.

      • Sorry, but I misled you here: It was the book in your picture, a book that we had used with our kids as they were reaching puberty. Forrest Gump said what he said to Little Forrest about *Curious George*, a book Forrest read when he was small. “I know that book” was the first thing that came out of my mouth when I saw your posting. *What’s Happening to Me* is/was a book that served us well. For the record, I had, like many boys growing into puberty, lumpy nipples/buds. That’s the way it was. Shower rooms were not pleasant….

      • Sorry about that. Sometimes kids can be little idiots. But it sounds like a good book.

  7. Britney Fratus-White

    I remember when I first started developing. My mother made a really big deal about the whole thing. She made a show of taking me to Target to buy my first set of training bras. She called my grandmother and told her that “today was the beginning of my womanhood.” The whole experience was actually really embarrassing. I did not enjoy the attention that was placed on my changing body by my family members. If I have daughter in the future I probably would not make her changing body the center her family’s attention. Although my experience with my “breast buds” was well informed, unlike the authors, I still felt uncomfortable in my own skin with so many of my family members eyes watching me blossom into a young woman. I hope that one day I too can stroll confidently into a Victoria’s Secret like the author.

  8. This is awesome! Thank you for writing this. I never had anyone discus what I was going through during puberty, and I was horrified when I began to grow breast. My mom even took me to the family doctor because she said they just didn’t look right?! While I was developing my breast I would only hear negative things about it like, “You need to start wearing a bra because you can’t walk around like that.” Umm…like what??? I had no idea what was going on with my body, but I soon learned to embrace my body and that was nearly two years ago after I had my son. Let me tell you, breastfeeding changes everything! I loved my breast before breastfeeding, and now I am learning to “re-love” them again because they are not how they use to look or feel. Women’s bodies should be celebrated throughout a her life, and not shamed for not looking like a 17 year old girl’s body forever.

  9. I agree that the eduction system towards learning more about puberty isn’t all there. I remember the entire topic when I was in fifth grade was what were the organs (such as a penis and vagina) but nothing about learning about your self image. Whether you were male and female you defiantly needed a little encouragement during that stage in your life. I think schools rely to much on the parents to try and teach the kids but never factor in all the other things that may happen. Especially during this time of life these kids are all scared to even think about what is going on with there bodies. So if there was any way to make this time of life easier for anyone it will help them out throughout all of there life. During the developing stages of a childs life, especially during that time can really have a big effect on what is going on through the rest of there life.

  10. It is sad to say, but I am thankful that this is an area that I PERSONALLY do not have to worry about! I can not imagine needing to hunch over to hide something from the opposite sex. One thing I CAN say is that I have seen many women. Some with bigger breast and some with smaller. I have spoken to many different guys and the guys all have stated that they have a preference, but they do not discriminate. With this said, I see that women no longer need the acceptance of men. Women have an opportunity to just love themselves because there are men out there that love different types of women. Men are self conscious but ours is just easier to hide. I do not think that things such as this should be hidden but rather openly accepted. This is something that the world needs to change to ensure that young girls do not feel shameful about their bodies.

  11. My mom gave me mixed signals about puberty and the physical changes that come with it. She was always very open about the menstrual cycle, changing her bloody pads in front of me for as long as I could remember. I knew what a period was, and I knew I’d get one sometime in middle school. Breast, however, were a different story. I didn’t see breast as something all women get. I saw my mom’s as just another part of her. When mine started coming in, she gave me “training” bras, but didn’t tell me I should always wear one. And given the choice, I wouldn’t wear one. I hated them. And I’d be chastised and shamed any time I was caught not wearing one. This instilled a shame, and I despise bras even to this day. I was a late bloomer in my school. While my classmates had grown full breasts by 5th and 6th grade, I was still on the smaller end. But over the summer before beginning 7th grade, my full breasts came in. I recall a classmate, Barry, remarking, “Wow, Amis, you really bloomed over the summer!” They became a full D. My mom would later tell me that when I began going through puberty she would pray to God (she’s a devout Catholic) and ask him to please not make my breasts too large. She’s a C, but most of her eleven sisters are double Ds and Gs. I envy women with As and Bs. Bras are optional, and the same top that looks classy on them would look trashy on me simply because of the difference in breast size. A cousin and close friend got breast implants, making their As a full C. When I tried to talk them out of it, they said I don’t understand because I have large breasts and don’t know what it’s like for them. I agree, women of all breast sizes should be celebrated, but I would gladly trade my Ds for As.

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this. When you live in a society that celebrates large breasts it can be hard to appreciate your own smaller ones, So I’m sure many women will be grateful to hear the other side.

  12. I find this post very insightful. As a male, I don’t really care to ask, or have anyone mention to me the experience a female has to go through when they hit puberty. For example, I have a younger sister who developed pretty early, I am three years older but she hit puberty way before I did. And in a sense she wasn’t comfortable enough to talk to our parents or me about the situation. (I wouldn’t have known what to do either). But Knowing now that women’s body are seen also as a sexual object rather than a human beings body, it saddens me a bit because I feel the biggest reason we might not talk about this things to our growing and sprouting female sisters is that same reason. We associate their body’s as a sex object so its harder for us in our society to openly talk about sex and therefore the female body because we have been told that sex is a bad thing.

  13. Taking this conversation from a female based article, I feel like most men also may go through the same thing when it comes to their bodies developing. Even though we live with the same body part all our lives, the size and stimulation of said part does change over the course of our lives. Religion may forbid people from exploring their own bodies since they deem such actions as sinful and wrong. What I find wrong, is not being curious of ones body, but rather forbiding curiousity to flourish. The more we know about our own bodies the more we can fight certain disease such as cancer. For example, a women should be able to touch her breast just how a man should also be checking his testicles for tumors and abnormalities. Growing up I was always told that a males penis is the best thing he has. Now, a penis is just a penis. A tool that is used for reproductive purposes. And I feel the more people understand that our bodies are our own, the happier, and more understanding we become and little things that should not matter are in the way of bettering our health and society.

  14. I had a very similar experience. My parents divorced at a very young age so I lived with my dad and he was always very nervous when it came to me turning into a women. He dressed me as a boy, buying my boys shorts, loose baggy shirts, and I could never wear sandals. I think he was more afraid of what it would be like raising a daughter on his own since I am the youngest out of 7 and happen to be the only girl. It was such a dramatic change for him when I started growing breasts that he had no idea how to handle it. He wouldn’t answer any of my questions and didn’t want to buy me a training bra. It wasn’t until he met my stepmother did he finally break down and get me the things I needed. I mean I wasn’t even allowed to shave my legs until I was 15! I love my dad but I wish I had help while going through my growing stages like you did.

  15. Hi!
    This is my first visit and the first post I have read. There are few things that I would like to share-

    Embrace our imperfection is the best way but for this we need to understand the beauty that resides in them;
    The way a woman grows made me realize the difference between a full and a half moon… chants!!
    Loved this post .. It’s always great to be ourselves and to see ourselves not through other’s eyes…

  16. i do believe that when your body changes as you get older and it becomes more of an awkward stage for someone to talk to someone about it. Lucky for me i not only had a mother to go to but a sister to go to when the time came for me. Since i had both my sister and my mom it wasn’t awkward to come out and ask questions, but i can image someone who doesn’t have either and only had a father to go too then i see how it can be awkward. As you get older i feel that you see your breasts as imperfections if they aren’t big enough for your own self esteem, seeing models on covers on magazines or tv shows i feel only make you feel worse about yourself making yourself think that your breast need to be bigger. I feel that every women is created for there own body and is beautiful in there own way.

  17. In all honesty, I never knew women with small boobs were ashamed of them! I mean, every girl (I feel) has an embarrassing story that has to do with their puberty, but I never knew small boobs are frowned upon. All the women in my family have large breast, and it’s the biggest pain in the butt because of back pains, bras are expensive, and you can never fit into a good dress or shirt for the matter. We actually envy women with small breast! I mean, you envy what you don’t have right? Such a cute story, I wish more women would be happy with their breast size. I mean, who doesn’t love boobs? Boobs are boobs regardless of the size.

  18. “Her breasts were ‘treasured shrubs, needing only the proper combination of water and sunlight to make them flourish'”. I feel as if these kinds of descriptions are part of what cause women and girls to be self-conscious about their small or budding breasts; it romanticizes and eroticizes small, pert chests, similar to how the figures displayed in magazines and advertisements are practically worshipped in our society. When pre-pubescent girls see such imagery and look back to their own breasts, they’re led to viewing them as imperfect: What if mine aren’t round? Too perky? Not perky enough? Why is there hair? Why are mine so much bigger or smaller than everyone else’s? We should be teaching young girls that the reality of bodies is that there is no “right way” to look, particularly when you’re still growing and developing and even when they are grown. All breasts are beautiful!

  19. I think it’s difficult in the culture in which we live for women to know what to think of their breasts, especially at a young age. I remember when I first realized I needed to buy a bra. One of my close friends was over, and somehow the conversation lead to her mentioning bras. I told her I don’t own any, and she was so shocked and surprised by the answer that I felt a bit ashamed that I don’t wear one. Looking back, I think I got one when I needed one, and don’t think I was too late in getting one, especially since everyone’s body develops at a different pace. After that conversation I told my mom what happened and that I needed her to buy me bras now. Since then, I have often been confused about bras and breasts, like what I should think of them, what bra size I should be wearing, and what that bra size means. Now I’m old enough that I’ve done research on how to tell if a bra fits, and realized that size is just a number and it does not matter as much as society sometimes leads teenage girls to think. I believe we are in a difficult place in our culture where breasts are seen as something very important, but only in terms of attractiveness, sexuality, and relationships, and not as much when it comes to biological function and what it feels when you’re growing up as a girl and developing them.

  20. This is a topic I can seriously relate to! I’m a small b-cup and from a young age always wanted bigger boobs. My older sister developed pretty early and had d-cups by 14 so I just assumed I’d follow in that pattern. My mom was always very open about development which was pretty great. I remember the day I felt my first ‘bud” came in, I had no idea what was happening and it hurt! I asked her and she told me I was starting to grow my breasts. I remember being so excited! Some of my friends were starting to buy bras too and I immediately wanted them too even though I really didn’t need them. My mom was hesitant about buying them for me too because I don’t think she wanted me to get ahead of myself and grow up too fast. I just kept waiting for them to get bigger.

    When they didn’t get bigger I was crushed. How could I only have a b-cup? I didn’t have any cleavage and my friends all had boobs and it was always such a topic between us. Teenage girls just love talking about their bodies apparently. This is when buying push-up bras came into place and this is where I started to feel conflicted. First of all they’re not comfortable and second all I could think was if I were to ever have sex with a guy he’s going to eventually take off my bra and see I don’t have perky c/d-cups.

    I finally just accepted them. I learned that guys didn’t really care. And even if they did care then f**k them, they’re not worth it if they don’t appreciate all of me. Just learning to love your body and yourself is all part of life and getting closer to that point is really exciting.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve learned over the years that being smaller can be a blessing in that you are more likely to get guys who objectify less, and who like you, and not just your breasts.

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