body

I’m an Asian Woman With Big Boobs and People Call Me ‘Slutty’ No Matter What I Wear

Growing up in conservative Singapore, I’ve often been shamed for my body.
02 July 2020, 1:57am
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Me in 2016, pairing a sheer shirt with a PG-13 camisole for an art history class field trip. Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Varinata

My body is a normality on Instagram but an anomaly in reality. At least that’s what I’ve found growing up in Singapore, where my 32DDs make heads turn and eyes roll, but not in a good way. I'm used to having one and a half kilograms of fat glued to my chest but it seems most people I know just can’t help themselves but comment about my body every chance they get.

I started wearing a training bra at 10 years old and quickly grew out of them by the time I was 12. One day, I tried on a bralette my Gugu (aunt) gave me, but I struggled because it was simply too small and too sheer. I ended up switching bras with my sister, who Gugu gave a bigger size to because she was older.

"I thought the younger sister had smaller breasts than the big sister," Gugu quipped.

That was the beginning of my struggle as a “blessed” woman. In truth, I didn’t feel blessed at all.

The reality of my big boobs dawned on me when I was in eighth grade while shopping for bras in a local department store with my mum. A middle-aged saleswoman took out a measuring tape, wrapped it around my chest, and said “34C.” I tried on a few bras and went home with ones that covered my boobs, none of those “push-ups.” Although it was nice to finally wear good-fitting bras, I felt self-conscious about having boobs much bigger than anyone my age. I wished they would stop developing, but these hopes were dashed.

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Hiding my blooming B cups at 13 years old. Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Varinata

By the time I was 15 years old, I was wearing a padded D cup and became increasingly awkward as I noticed my body change. My classmates noticed too. My chest protruded from underneath our uniform’s puritan white polo shirt, which led to a boy in school muttering "Big Tits" as he walked past me at the cafeteria. I was shocked. The unsolicited comment made me feel violated, so I reported him to my school counsellor. Though I expected an “I’m sorry this happened to you,” my counsellor looked at me with a stern face and didn’t say anything. Having to discuss my growing body to an older man felt awkward and his silence spoke volumes. He didn’t say that I was “asking for it,” but the implicitness of it all shamed me.

I knew then that my body was a target for bullies, so I hid my breasts by wearing bras that compressed them, and t-shirts with high necklines.

Unlike my friends, I could not wear strapless dresses and low cut camisoles because people would call me “slutty” or a “whore.”

I felt judged even by the people closest to me. For my junior year prom, I wore a body-hugging dress with a sweetheart neckline, revealing a sliver of cleavage. Before heading out, my mum reminded me to bring a scarf. I only realised later, while I was on the dance floor with friends wearing dresses with much lower necklines, that that was code for “cover up your boobs.”

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Posing with a friend during our prom in 2011. Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Varinata

I knew that there was something wrong with this picture and that I will have a life-long battle of people sexualising me for simply existing. I have to “dress for my body,” people said. So I wore t-shirts under tank tops and put scarves over my chest. I couldn’t leave the house in a slip dress without wearing a jacket over it because I knew my conservative Indonesian mum wouldn't let me. “Wear this t-shirt,” I would hear her say. Other times, I even smuggled the outfit I wanted inside my bag and changed in a public bathroom. I felt shamed, like I could not be myself. I wanted to enjoy my body but instead, I was reprimanded for it, told that my breast size is "inappropriate."

I lived like this until I was 21 years old when I finally said “fuck it, don’t let the patriarchy cramp your style,” after seeing women wear whatever they wanted while living in Los Angeles for four years. Now, I’ve stopped “dressing for my body” and started “dressing for myself.”

Why shouldn’t I be allowed to feel sexy, like everyone else?

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Me at 27, in a dress I designed to flatter my boobs, not hide them. Photo: Jimman

Instagram has helped me become more comfortable in my own skin. That’s where I seek style inspiration from women with similar body types. Seeing them wearing bikinis, tank tops, and body-hugging dresses so freely motivate me to do the same. It’s liberating but still leads to arguments with my parents and older relatives. They say it’s "too inappropriate," but unlike when I was younger, I am now able to stand up for myself. Once, I showed them a photo of a woman with smaller boobs wearing a bikini and asked why they didn't think there was anything wrong with it. I win some battles and lose others, but at least I can be myself.

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My parents would kill me for wearing this top, but can’t a girl have some fun with fashion? Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Varinata

I’ve also started posting my own body-positive photos on social media. That is, wearing whatever I want, no matter the backlash. I want to encourage other Asian women to be comfortable in their bodies and to never feel ashamed for wanting to be sexy.

Michelle is the freelance fashion and beauty writer behind the blog Lapis and Layers. She is based in Singapore. Follow her on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.