How One Cruel Joke Changed The Way I Felt About My Self-Esteem Forever

I was aware of my breasts growing up, and I forgot that everyone else was too.

girl laying on ground wearing flannel covering eyes from sun Daniel Dror / Shutterstock

I like to joke about my boobs. I think any funny woman with big boobs does. 

When they don't fit into certain tops, I like to joke that it is like trying to contain Jabba The Hut. Other times I will give my big boobs names, "This is Frances Gunderson, and this is Chloe LeMain," I'll say, apparently having had one too many gin and tonics. 

If I'm putting on a sports bra I almost always mutter to myself that the time has come to "wrangle the girls." 


I realized recently that while I am a huge proponent of loving your body, and that self-acceptance is super important to me, I never think of my big boobs as really being a part of who I am.

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I think that's because of something that happened when I was still in elementary school.

I developed really early and really awkwardly. Suffice it to say I did not have very high self-esteem. 

My boobs didn't come in all at once, they came in one after the other. "Like popcorn kernels," my mother said when I worried that my left boob would never make its presence known. 


I was the first one of my peers to wear a bra, and it wasn't because I wanted one, it was because I needed one. I bypassed training bras altogether and went straight to the "rack 'em high, strap 'em on" section of the lingerie department. 

I wasn't proud of my developing body, I was mortified by it. 

Men on the street were suddenly asking me if they could walk with me when I went to the candy store.

My mom sent me inside a 7-11 to pay for gas and was horrified when a man smoking outside told her ten-year-old that she was a "red hot mama". And fair enough. This didn't bother me because these weren't people who knew me. 

I figured that as long as the boys I went to school with hadn't noticed anything, I'd be fine. So I wore big shirts, and I slouched. 


Then it happened. Christiano was the class heartthrob. He also developed early, if the mouse hairs on his upper lip count. He had a pierced ear and easily went through an entire bottle of Dep gel a week, styling his hair into perfect spikes.

He sat behind me in class and we never spoke, not really.

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Then, one day not long after I started wearing bras, he tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around.

"Are you a turtle?" Asked Christiano. Baffled, I shook my head.

"THEN WHY DO YOU SNAP!" He yelled, snapping the back of my bra as hard as he could.

The class erupted into laughter and I learned, sadly, that it is impossible to kill someone using only the power of your glower (glower power if you will.)


He made a roomful of people laugh at me by reminding them that I had boobs. I wanted to die. Die or murder. And neither were reasonable or remotely possible.

So I did one better. 

I went out of my way to make sure that everyone knew about my boobs before someone else could make fun of me for having them.

I became my own bully, self-esteem be damned. 

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During dodgeball during gym class, I'd melodramatically swoon if a ball hit my boobs, "My chesticles!" I'd cry out, as the rest of the kids laughed uproariously.

I wasn't making fun of myself, I was making fun of boobs and they surely had nothing to do with me. 


This way of relating to my body hasn't changed. Even now, when I pride myself on being a vocal proponent of body acceptance, I'm the first person to make a joke about my boobs. 

It doesn't mean I hate my body, but it's a memory of a time when I was so uncomfortable in my skin that I would have done anything to get out of it. 

When I make jokes about my boobs now, I try to think before I do it. Why am I making this joke? Is it because I'm shy? Is it because I feel uncomfortable? Is it because I feel insecure? 


I don't always know the answer, but when I do, and it's one of the latter, I try to keep my mouth shut. 

It's true that people don't often make fun of me for the size of my boobs anymore. But I doubt that I'll ever fully look at my big boobs as something to be proud of and not a weakness and embarrassment that I have to acknowledge before somebody else gets the chance. 

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a freelance writer, editor, former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek, and former Senior Staff Writer for YourTango. She has a passion for lifestyle, geek news, and true crime topics. Her bylines have appeared on Fatherly, Bustle, SheKnows, Jezebel, and many others.