Robin Brooks is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her work has placed in the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Competition, the Austin Film Festival, and the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. She received her MFA in theater with a focus in dramatic writing from the University of Idaho and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. Find her online here.
It happened in college. I was gathered in a hall with a bunch of theater chicks; there were maybe five of us chatting when she arrived. She came up to our group, chest out-thrust and proud as a new mom.
You got them done, someone more knowledgeable than I asked. Are these them?
The “them” in question was her breasts, and yes, they were now endowed with newly acquired gel circlets.
I honestly couldn’t tell the difference.
The new owner pulled her shirt down a little more to display their perceived opulence.
“Aren’t they natural-looking? And they’re warm. Robin, feel them,” she said.
Why the heck she chose me to assess her new boobs, I’ll never know, though I knew she had done it as a kind of honor.
“That’s okay,” I said. “They look great.”
In actuality, they looked exactly like what I vaguely remembered her original pair looked like, but the need for tact here was obvious.
“No, really,” she said. “Feel them.”
Half a dozen pairs of eyes eyed me.
“Umm,” I stammered.
She pulled her shirt down to maximum breast-touching capacity. I stretched my index finger out and gently prodded one. I’m certain I had the same look on my face as I do now writing this. Gingered worry with a dash of apprehension.
“Uh huh,” I said. “Wow.”
“Do it again,” she instructed.
Again I gently poked the breast. It felt like touching a person.
Again, tact. “Very natural,” I exclaimed.
Pleased, she turned to the other women for more reassurances, more validation that these new acquisitions had been worth the time, the money, the pain, the sacrifice.
Except, of course, they weren’t.
At least, not in my mind.
This friend of mine, this person who trusted me first to touch these bodily investments, chose the wrong sounding board, because to this day, I think it was a waste of so many, many things.
And yet, she chose the right person, because I said exactly what she needed to hear.
Therein lies one of many dangers of the current beauty ideals – the danger of keeping your opinion to yourself because it’s the kind thing to do. Had she come to me beforehand I believe I would have done everything in my power to dissuade her. So why didn’t I express to her that I thought her choice was foolish, was a waste of money, that her original breasts were perfect and healthy and completely devoid of any need for reinvention? The damage had already been done, that’s why.
There was no going back. She’d already convinced herself that she needed to modify her person to meet her own expectations of beauty – or at least other peoples’ expectations. She needed corroboration – and she found it in me.
And it makes me sad to think about this story, because there are other women out there who still believe, as she did, that they need to make themselves into something they’re not. Every day they are getting poisons injected into them to freeze their faces into forever-young supposed flawlessness, or they’re getting the fat removed from the places that need cushioning or they’re turning their noses into other peoples’ noses and for what?
Some might say that it’s to make them feel better about themselves. And maybe that’s true. Maybe in some way they do feel better. For a time. Maybe it’s like owning a new car. You take it out, you treat it nicely, but eventually it, too, becomes old and it begins to leak and sag and you kind of wish you’d paid it off sooner because it’s time for an upgrade already. But the difference in this analogy is that humans aren’t made for replacements. We only get the one model.
And I wonder, too, if those who’ve modified that most valuable of all possessions ever feel robbed. Do they feel cheated from seeing their true selves? Deprived of recognizing their own aging process, or seeing themselves in their children or of feeling the belonging one has to ones’ own body? Of knowing that this is one-hundred percent who they are and who they always have been?
And then there is the bigger thievery. It goes beyond the personal and into “the collective” or more broadly, the effect that all this vanity or fear or self-loathing or control taps into. It is the dangerous wildebeest of waste.
And there is so much waste involved. Wasted time, wasted potential, wasted resources, wasted energy. All the time spent worrying and plotting and manipulating could be spent learning or teaching or becoming. We could be discovering how to stop pollution or reverse its effects. We could be determining how to save lives, human or animal. We could be making progress toward exploring our galaxy or the ones beyond it.
Then there is the tangible waste – waste of medical equipment and supplies and chemicals to alter the body, and the intangible waste of surgery time and procedural time and recovery time.
Inevitably in the discussion of beauty, there needs to be a discussion of control. It’s complicated, because there are so many elements of control at play. Do women feel the need to control their own bodies, by drastically altering them in order to 1. Compete with other women 2. Win a partner 3. Keep a partner 4. Feel fulfilled? Do they actually need to transmogrify themselves?
It is dangerous to believe that our only value is in our level of attractiveness, not only because in this type of hierarchy a very limited number of women benefit from being “attractive” and that benefit level is highly subjective. And it’s dangerous to keep telling ourselves that beauty equals value, because by reinforcing those false ideals we deprive the world of so much of our potential. And we overlook the beauty that is knowledge, understanding, innovation, compassion, wisdom, heart.
It is those things that will change the world, that will perhaps save us from ourselves and the messes we’ve made planet-wide.
I wonder sometimes about my friend, the one who wanted a new chest like she wanted a new purse. It’s been a dozen years or more. I wonder if her implants have leaked or slipped or poisoned her, if she’s had them removed, if she regrets them. Or maybe she’s still happy with them. Maybe they’ve given her some kind of inner peace that I just don’t understand.
I hope so. But I also hope she’s discovered her worth doesn’t depend on her cup size.