The lament of the large breasted woman

Date

Susan Murphy

PHOTO: Photography by Getty Images

Christina Hendricks in Mad Men.

Christina Hendricks in Mad Men.

My daughter's size-B bras lie stacked in a neat row on her washing pile, as pretty and colourful as a row of macaroons. The padding keeps them upright and shapely. Delicate combinations of lace, bows and buttons adorn flimsy straps and dainty fabrics in gorgeous colours and patterns: bold brights and the softest of pastels.

In contrast, my huge bras resemble the disposable sick bags used in ambulances and hospitals; large, practical and ugly, but made from polyester instead of plastic.

Because my bras don't have a wide audience, their colours are dull, only available in black, white or beige (often described on the sales tags as "truffle" or "cappuccino"). Occasionally manufacturers create a one-off line in my size using tiger print or vermilion - more suited to sex work than everyday wear.

While shopping for bras with my daughter induces pangs of small-breast envy, shopping for bathers is heart-breaking. A conversation with a sales assistant goes like this: "I'm looking for a pair of bathers in a larger cup size."

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"Oh, yes," says the size-C assistant, "we have two designs in double-D."

"I'm an F," I say.

"I'm sorry but we don't have anything bigger than a double-D," she says.

"But many women are bigger than that," I reply.

By now the assistant has lost interest and I slink out empty-handed.

While big breasts are promoted by popular culture, idolised by men and coveted by women who don't have them, the truth is that the majority of women who are large-chested, wish they weren't. My daughter's size-F school friend says she wishes she was two sizes smaller. "I have to wear two bras on sport days. If I didn't they would hit me in the chin," says the 17-year-old, whose nickname is "Tits".

Many women, fed up with the discomfort and inconvenience associated with large breasts, resort to breast-reduction surgery. My great aunt and her twin daughters went to a plastic surgeon en masse, and proceeded to the operating theatre in procession. Years later, they still say it was the best thing they ever did.

Bad backs, neck pain, excoriation and fungal infections are common consequences of large breasts. "I see many people with debilitating symptoms that are a result of large breasts," says Victorian GP Sema Yilmaz. "I often refer them for plastic surgery, which makes a huge difference to their lives, although there is a long public waiting list for this type of surgery."

Women whose breasts cause them physical problems, and who have trouble finding clothes to fit, cannot believe others pay thousands of dollars to have theirs enlarged. I understand a woman's willingness to pay for modest-sized breasts that are in proportion to the rest of her body, but the desire to possess abnormally large, protruding domes, destined to become the recipient's dominant feature, is a puzzle.

Women new to large breasts may not be fully aware of it, but large breasts attract unwelcome attention.

Some men surreptitiously steal glances, knowing it isn't polite to gawk. Others, torn, flick their eyes up and down from breasts to face. Then there are men whose urge to stare at breasts overrides any pretence at good manners - such as my neighbour.

I do my best to avoid this man when I can, but our paths occasionally cross when he knocks at my front door proffering pumpkins or a bag of lemons. We stand and chat while he focuses on my chest. I want to scream, "Stop staring at my breasts, you pervert!" But I don't say anything and he knows I won't because he's been staring at my breasts for as long as he's lived up the road. Instead, I make polite conversation and wish he'd go away.

While my big breasts make it difficult to buy clothes, cause strap ridges in my shoulders and make me want me to knee my neighbour in the groin, I won't be resorting to surgery.

Instead I'm preparing to embrace the "return of the bosom - the big bouncy bodacious sort", according to Violet Henderson of British Vogue. If well-endowed models and actresses and their designers and costumiers push breasts back into prominence, with any luck the fashion industry will follow.

Maybe later this year I'll be able to buy a new pair of bathers. •