"Mommy, your bubbies look sad," Ava says brightly one morning as I'm toweling dry from the shower.
"Sad?" I ask.
"Yes. They're droopy... sad," she explains, making a little frowny face.
"Yeah, Mommy, your bubbies are soggy, like fried eggs!" Carmen pipes up.
I stare at my daughters, who are lounging naked in my bed -- aged 5 and 7 -- waiting for me to toss them their clothes so they can get dressed under the covers. All the perkiness that once uplifted my youthful breasts now inhabits these two beings. The history of my bosom is written in peaks and valleys, reaching its golden age during the cleavage-rich months of my first pregnancy.
Now, after two pregnancies and nearly five years of nursing, the once ripe peaches have deflated into more prune-like fruits. An entirely natural consequence of motherhood and gravity, though not one that pleases me. But my children have never seemed to mind -- until now.
"Is that supposed to be a compliment?" I ask Ava. "Because it sounds kind of mean."
"No, it's not mean!" she protests.
"Well, it feels mean to me," I say. "My bubbies are droopy because I nursed you guys for so long. And you know what? Some women get an operation to make their bubbies rounder and higher. The doctor cuts underneath them and fills them up with this plastic-y stuff."
Ava stares at me, wide-eyed with horror. "Mommy," she breathes. "Promise me you will never, ever do that!"
I promise, but keep my fingers crossed behind my back. I don't tell her I was online late last night researching boob jobs -- cost, clientele, cup size of choice. Within a few clicks I'd fallen down a rabbit hole of promises, hypnotized by dozens of before-and-after torso shots.
Women with deflated A-cups metamorphosed into voluptuous Playboy models. Some clearly went too big, but some looked surprisingly tasteful. If you didn't know the truth, you wouldn't be able to tell. Apparently there are new, improved silicone implants called "Gummy Bears" which look and feel more like natural breasts (available only from premier plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills). I began to price out plane tickets to Burbank.
Breast enhancement may be an idle daydream, but there's a tiny kernel of curiosity in there for me, a hard nub of ego that won't wear down. Like a piece of grit in my shoe, it rubs when I walk around town and notice other women's assets, particularly the spherical 21-year old variety.
Would I actually go through with the fantasy and spend thousands on a new set of knockers? Indulging my imagination yields a brief hit of dopamine. I envision my droopy, fried egg chest uplifted and abundant again. What would I look like with a swelling C-cup? Younger? Sexier? Tacky? Pathetic?
I once sat in a Yoga Teacher Training as the conversation turned to plastic surgery and our doe-eyed teacher sang the praises of regular Botox injections. We'd just practiced Pigeons and Wheels, inhaling deep, ocean breath into the tension accumulated in our hips and shoulders. We'd sat in half-lotus and meditated on our Third Eyes as incense smoked on the altar. We'd pressed our palms together at our heart chakras and chanted OM, honoring the spark of divinity within all beings.
And then Charlotte, a dimpled brunette who looked 25 although she was at least a decade older, told us she was a Believer. She believed in Botox. The other women in the room nodded, agreeing that any kind of plastic surgery was a positive choice if it came from a place of self-love. It wasn't shallow or self-destructive or anti-feminist, but a woman's expression of her own inner beauty. I knew there was something amiss in this equation, but I couldn't deconstruct it without sounding pompous or judgmental.
We'd been studying the Yoga Sutras and the Yamas and Niyamas (often considered the Ten Commandments of yogic philosophy). The first was Ahimsa, non-harming. Paying a surgeon to take a scalpel to your breasts and inject them with silicone gel seemed to violate this precept, but I didn't speak up. Then there was Santosha, contentment. If yoga practice encourages us to savor the present moment, breath by breath, posture by posture, can seeking future happiness through bigger, perkier boobs truly be yogic?
The American yoga marketing machine emphasizes having a beautiful, svelte body, gaining physical strength and flexibility through practice (while wearing bum-hugging designer pants, of course). Look at the cover model on any Yoga Journal magazine -- she's a young, gorgeous, glossy-haired babe. But the ancient yogis knew the yoga postures only served to strengthen the container; the real energetic transformation occurred within.
Still, maybe I needed to lighten up. Was it really a big deal? Maybe a little Botox to smooth those vertical creases between the brows ignites the Third Eye, as my friend Leah suggested with a grin. What if getting "work" done wasn't a moral issue after all, but one of self-preservation, kind of like dental care? There's this high-and-mighty spiritual conviction that if something is superficial it can't possibly improve our well-being. But who's to say what boosts another's happiness?
Over cocktails last week, Leah told us about a mother of four boys who'd treated herself to a boob job for her 45th birthday. She was so thrilled with the results that she walked around the house topless for a month.
"A month!" laughed Leah, as if this duration proved the intrinsic value of the procedure. We all pictured the nameless woman, probably an urban legend, prancing around the kitchen making spaghetti with her fantastic new rack bared for all to see.
I used to scoff at women who paid big money for bigger breasts. Young and cosmetic-free, I would never have dreamed of altering my flesh. After my feminist awakening in college Women's Studies, I disdained culturally-defined ideals of feminine beauty and stopped shaving my legs to prove it. But gravity, pregnancy, and lactation all have their way with a woman's body, which is why the "Mommy Makeover" -- the trifecta of tummy tuck, boob lift, and liposuction, with a $12,000 to $15,000 price tag-- grows in popularity every year. Some women say their self-esteem is buoyed by their remade figures -- their moods lift, their sex lives improve.
"Honey, have you ever touched fake boobs?" asks my husband, interrupting my reverie.
"No," I admit.
"Well, they're weird. Hard and taut and... fake." Tim speaks from experience. When he lived in L.A. he dated a big-time movie exec named Shannon, a toned blonde right out of the pages of People. She drove a red Porsche Carrera, lived in the Hollywood Hills, and flew to Milan to have her jeans hand-tailored with Swarovski crystals. She also sported a beautiful, very expensive rack.
I imagine Shannon sleeping on 1000-thread-count sheets in a white bedroom overlooking the glittering L.A. basin. Her flaxen hair spills across the pillow like Aurora the Disney princess, a silk eye-mask covers her lids. But even as her body rests, her respiration slow and relaxed, her breasts are at full attention, defying gravity.
If you look closely you can see the hairline scars where the Beverly Hills surgeon worked his masterful craft. This pair may look amazing on the red carpet in a low-cut, couture gown, but in private they appear vaguely extra-terrestrial. The camera adores fake breasts; the fingertips do not.
One day in the bath, Carmen is nuzzling my chest as usual.
"Mommy!" she says, delighted. "I just noticed -- your bubby looks like an elephant's trunk!"
I grimace, thinking of wrinkly gray skin, but I know Carmen considers this animal comparison high praise. Even so, I ask musingly, the way I sometimes talk about getting a tattoo, "What do you think, girls, should I get bigger bubbies?"
"NO, Mommy! Natural bubbies," says Ava emphatically.
"Then they would be big, fat, plastic balloons!" yells Carmen.
I look at my cherubic daughters, whose bottom teeth are concurrently loose. In the bath, they've been putting their hands in each other's mouths to test out the wigglers. It is a vulnerable, tender form of sisterly examination, exploring how their bodies keep changing. With their smooth chests and flushed warm skin, they are the most beautiful creatures I've ever seen. Somehow my own body created them.
Even if I had six grand to spare for a pair of designer LA tits, I could never explain myself to these girls.