I was late to everything, it seems. I didn’t get my period until I was 15 and I always cheated on those sheets the girls passed around in class that said, “What goes at the end of a sentence AND did you get it yet?” But I was way behind wearing a bra, too, and the subject of great mockery because I had no strap that boys could snap. Instead, I had “gro-bras” (What a name!), size 32 AAAA, which was just a sheet of stretchy fabric.
Yeah, breasts mattered. But then, of course, I grew up, and as soon as I hit my twenties, I was small enough so that I could appreciate my ballerina like body and stop wearing a bra altogether, and I have never looked back.
HOW NOT TO BE A ROLE MODEL 2013
Mom, can I get breast implants?"
The words made me freeze in my desk chair. I struggled to compose my face into a benign expression before swiveling to greet Chloe in the doorway of my home office.
"Hi, hon," I said, pausing so she could see me clearly. Not just me as her mom, but as a breast cancer patient wearing a cotton cap cover- ing her head, still bald from chemo. Was this ironic? Was she that insensitive? Or had I done such a good job acting perfectly fine so my daughter wouldn't worry that she had taken my recovery for granted? I unstuck my T-shirt from the salve on my radiated breast and chose Door Number Three.
The last time we had been in the car together, and I mourned my reflection in the rearview mirror, she shut me down by saying some- thing nice. Apparently, it was right for me to look ugly now. Survival preempted vanity. And maybe she was right. When she complained about her smudged mascara, I kept quiet about my total lack of eyelashes. All her life I had tried to be a good role model, with every- thing from a strong work ethic to good grooming. That day, when she came in and saw me working, was a prime example. She had followed my lead directly into the double bind of boobs.
"Hon, you already have a beautiful figure." I gestured at her skinny jeans and the sweater that scooped to expose a lace bandeau. This was a sophisticated look, consistent with the rest of her wardrobe. High fashion favored the flat-chested. She was model thin—maybe too thin. If she gained some weight, I thought, she would gain up there, too. She had barely shaken a virus that had lingered long past the holidays, so it could be she just needed time. I sure did. But I didn't dare say that. "Can we talk about this later?"
She eyed the stack of work on the desk behind me and nodded before lifting her gaze to the window. "Thanks for watching my baby."
When I turned around, I could see her beloved pit bull chewing on a stuffed mallard in the backyard. At least it wasn't a real baby. Then her breasts would be a different concern. Clearly, I needed a twelve-step meeting: Hi, my name is Mom and I am a hypocrite. Or were implants a common parental problem now, something to discuss at Mommy 'N Me? I'd read about teenagers in Newport Beach getting breast implants for high school graduation. Some of those girls also got a Mercedes when they turned sixteen, but that didn't mean Chloe expected one. If she were under eighteen, I would forbid augmentation. Now she was nearly twenty-one, and I feared it.
With one sniff of the air, the dog abandoned his toy and bounded across the overgrown lawn. As Chloe strolled into view, he nearly knocked her over in his attempt to nuzzle her. The only reason I baby- sat today was so that she could drive across town to Pasadena and take care of some business at Le Cordon Bleu. Now the beast was licking her face, and she was hugging him in a love fest so touching it looked like they had been apart for days. This was clearly unconditional love. She was getting him licensed as a service animal and dreaming of the day when a pit bull would be welcome in restaurants. Dream on, I thought. The dog was truly a sweetheart, but I still wished it were some fluffy little mutt with a better reputation.
That was how I felt about breasts, too, I realized. My prejudice against them was more about their bad reputation than the reality. Soon, my daughter would be so busy with culinary school that she would forget about breast implants. At least I hoped so.
While Chloe wrestled a leash on her lovestruck pup, I googled "young women" and "breast augmentation." No specific studies came up. Several articles on plastic surgery claimed that teens were the most likely "to be dissatisfied by their appearance," but most grew out of it. When I heard her bring the dog through the house to say goodbye, I clicked to a different screen and spun my chair around.
"I'll talk to Nana," she said.
Oh, crap, I thought, smiling. As the family matriarch, my mother wielded great influence. She would empathize with Chloe, who had been through some rough years. Between the rocky divorce , her sister leaving for college, and the water polo injuries that turned an all-star athlete into just another babe in La La Land, I'd dragged her to half a dozen therapists. Then I remembered that my mother was a therapist, as well, only recently retired. She had once trained other therapists. Surely, she would help her granddaughter explore the reasons she felt surgery would make her happy and find a better solution.
We hugged goodbye as if nothing had happened, but I couldn't get her request out of my mind. The problem was, I didn't know any other mothers who had dealt with this, and I felt embarrassed to ask around, especially in my condition. It made me feel as if I'd not only been a bad influence but had taught the wrong values. Worse, the only boob job I'd truly noticed on someone her age was during my divorce ten years earlier. I was buying a slipcovered couch to fill up our empty living room. The salesgirl looked like she stuffed baseballs in her tube top. A delivery guy entered the open doorway with a vase of long-stemmed red roses and set it beside an identical flower arrangement on her desk. When I asked if it was her birthday, she said no, they were from her boyfriend. I pictured a middle-aged man in a sports car.
Too distracted to return to writing book club questions, I researched breast augmentation again. There was nothing about age groups beyond the numbers. Surgery was on the rise for teenagers, but reduc- tions were reported most often because of the struggle to get insurance coverage for them. Even though the FDA declared that augmentation was beneficial to a woman's quality of life, reductions were elective. Saline was approved for women over eighteen and silicone for women at twenty-two. Board-certified surgeons wouldn't go against FDA guidelines, but plenty of other surgeons would. Hell, my dentist's new partner offered Botox. There was no law against it.
By the time Chloe was six years old, forty of the fifty-two state
winners in Miss USA had implants.1 In 2009, the Miss California Pageant admitted to buying implants for Carrie Prejean. She may have won Miss USA had she not spoken out against gay marriage . Pageant officials immediately revealed an old sex tape to discredit her. They demanded she resign—and reimburse them for the implants. Donald Trump , who owned the pageant, let her slide. When questioned about the implants by a Christian newspaper, she said, "I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says you shouldn't get breast implants."2
In late May, several months after Chloe's request, I flew to her sister's graduation from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Juliette sent me two of her four tickets, so my husband would meet her dad for the first time. I'd only seen Drew twice since our divorce, but I still got nasty emails. Fortunately, my mother was there to see her eldest granddaughter graduate from college, so she sat with my ex in the enormous auditorium. After the ceremony, we met outside the crowded entrance surrounded by a rainbow of helium balloons. The bump of my port was concealed by a thick sweater. Perhaps the obvi- ous wig above my gaunt cheeks and drawn-on eyebrows contributed to our calm meeting. We took an awkward picture with the graduate, then split up for the day.
Sunday was mine. While my husband read the morning newspaper in our hotel room overlooking Union Square, I spent an hour online look- ing up local bookstores. Since I didn't have the energy for a proper tour, Juliette and I planned to spend the day handing out bookmarks and book club guides from Oakland to Pacifica. I dressed to impersonate myself again, but with thick eyeliner instead of fake lashes. If they didn't believe I was the person the back of the book, the grad could vouch for me.
Juliette picked me up in front of the hotel in my hand-me-down Acura. She wore a sundress. I understood she was used to the cool weather, but I couldn't help notice the low neckline cutting across her cleavage.
"Do you need camisoles?" I asked, mindful of her student budget. She laughed and pulled up the front of her dress. "I have some.
I just didn't have time to do laundry." She wasn't trying to be sexy; she was oblivious. But I didn't want anyone ogling her boobs. I wasn't using sex to sell books.
"You could always join #FreetheNipple," I teased, as she drove over the bridge. I'd just read about it online while waiting for her. It had started as a documentary by Lina Esco, an outspoken feminist, in support of a woman arrested for being "topless" on a beach. Being "shirtless" is legal for both sexes, so perhaps the police simply needed a dictionary. The woman sued and eventually won. The protesters supporting her paraded bare-chested in an effort to desexualize their body parts. Twitter banned their boobs, so celebrities stepped in and posted their own topless photos. I wasn't sure how much was for the cause and how much was for publicity, but it didn't matter. I'd rather have my daughter strip for a cause than for Girls Gone Wild.
"No way," Juliette laughed. "I'm not a feminist."
What the fuck? My breath caught in my chest. I tried to control my rage at this denial of everything I believed in, every effort to raise her as a respectable human being from the first moment she suckled at my breast. Clearly, I had not done my job as a mother of girls. I counted to ten slowly until I could speak in a calm voice.
"Hon, you are a female. By definition you are femin-ine, femin-ist. Don't you want to get the same paycheck as the guy who sat next to you at graduation yesterday?"
She took her gaze off the traffic to give me the side-eye, as if I was the crazy one.
I pushed on. "You're OK making seventy-six cents to his dollar? Lucky you're not black or it drops to sixty-three cents. If you were Hispanic—"
"Sorry, I looked it up when I compared your tuition to average sala- ries for copywriters. I love that this school has a 94 percent employment rate, but there's no law saying you'll make the same as your classmates." She shot me a look. Then she explained that the F-word made it sound like women were superior. She was referring to the "man-hating women's libbers" from her nana's day. She thought their bad reputation
made them fail.
This was a classic "straw man" argument. Since those who opposed feminism couldn't argue against equal pay, they claimed these women hated men. It was completely unrelated but repeated so often that any woman talking about equal pay got a bad rap. The failure of that first wave was just as my mother had predicted: a lack of focus on childcare. Twenty years later, the same roadblocks led to my own career change, and the compromise I made to care for this entitled brat sitting beside me.
I rolled down the window to get some air. I didn't want to make Juliette feel guilty about the choices I made; I just needed her to under- stand. Feminism is about equality, not superiority. When I started working at home, her father took pride in paying the mortgage. But didn't she hear how he mocked my income? Did I have to remind her of the time he hit me when dinner was late? She saw me on the floor, my bruised lip, my utter failure. Money is where the power lies. She was lucky she hadn't faced the hypocrisy yet, at least not enough to notice. Oh, how naïve.
"What if you get pregnant ?" I said. "Do you have any idea how much that would slow you down compared to the baby daddy?"
She was quiet, probably thinking of famous female business lead- ers. But they were exceptions, not the rule. As long as women had babies and breasts to feed them, we would be dismissed. Or was the word oppressed?
Maybe the word "feminism" did sound superior, but that was merely semantics. In any negotiation, don't you fight to compromise for what's fair? Even Harvard graduates hadn't solved the mother- hood problem. The majority of them stayed home. The only playing field I'd seen leveled was the divorce court. Several of my hardworking girlfriends paid alimony to deadbeat, cheating ex-husbands. But that wasn't the point.
We drove past an adult video store displaying a poster of a half-na- ked woman wearing star-shaped nipple pasties. I looked over at my beautiful daughter behind the wheel while she steered us through the city with ease. Her dress had slipped down again. My pride was mixed with concern about her false confidence . Juliette trusted that she would be treated fairly, not exploited for her body, and that was my fault. Instead of raising her to expect equal rights, I should have taught her how to fight for them. But how?
At City Lights Books, the bearded manager was polite. I auto- graphed the books in stock as he looked at the cover depicting a little girl running into the woods. I felt compelled to explain that the girl in the story was actually a teenager involved with sex, drugs, and a murder trial. Then he opened the book club guide, a stapled collection of discussion questions and ideas. He saw recipes for Hawaiian dishes, since an important chapter takes place there, and I felt feminine in the weakest sense. I turned to the page with a Spotify playlist of Doors music, since rock lyrics are clues in the book. Then I waved Juliette back from the rack of Neil Gaiman books to raise my hip quotient.
As I signed books from one end of the city to the other, I wished I'd used unisex initials instead of my feminine name. When men wrote about families, it was considered "real" literary fiction. Men got auto- matic respect, like when dads "babysit" their own kids. I kept finding my novel shelved in rows labeled "women's fiction." Eighty percent of book buyers are women, but this was not the high-status shelf. I did find a bestseller by Nicole Krauss with the mainstream fiction, but she usually wrote from a man's perspective. And she was on record saying she'd been pressured to wear low-cut dresses for publicity pictures.4 Thanks partly to the rants of bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, a female reviewer had finally been hired at the New York Times Book Review. But I didn't expect much change. The problem was similar with popular fiction. Look at any bestseller list. Mostly male authors ruled even when writing detective and crime . These were popular genres, so they earned big advances, lots of promotion, and sold a lot of books. It was a self-confirming cycle.
I had another idea. Instead of using initials to pretend I'm a man, why not give men what they really want? I vowed to put boobs on my next cover. I chuckled to myself. Juliette looked over, but I didn't explain. This would sound like sour grapes, and I wanted to have a nice day.
As we headed over the Bay Bridge to Oakland, Juliette's phone buzzed. Her boyfriend had already checked in, so she expected it to be her dad calling en route to the airport. I shrugged to let her know I didn't mind her answering. Happily, it was her sister, so she clicked the speakerphone button, and we both shouted hello. The girls planned a private call later and hung up, so I took out my own phone to email some graduation pictures.
The image prior to the first balloon-filled shot was a photo of Chloe in her chef outfit. She looked so cute, completely hidden in white, with her name embroidered over her chest. If not for her smiling face, it could have been someone of either sex.
"Did you see her uniform?" I waited until we were stopped at the next light to tilt the screen towards her. She nodded. I didn't know how often they talked, but surely there were no secrets. I couldn't resist. "Has she mentioned wanting a breast augmentation?" I was too embarrassed to say boob job.
"Mother," she said, "Who cares?"
"Apparently, your sister cares," I said, wishing she would just call me Mom. "And she's not alone. I read that over three hundred thou- sand American women will get implants this year. But you already have curves."
"Just lucky, I guess." She laughed and pushed her thick hair behind her ear before continuing. "My only concern is, what if she changes her mind? She's pretty indecisive these days. Like about quitting culinary school."
Oh, crap. My silence prompted a furtive glance from Juliette, so I pretended to already know this. "Those pots are heavy."
"Especially with those hooks in her shoulder," she agreed.
"And the ex-gang member who's always texting her," I said. Chloe couldn't block the man's number when he was in every class. She had complained to the instructor, but all he could do was warn the man, which made it awkward. The class was small and she was one of the few females. That archaic belief that women belong in the kitchen referred only to the ones at home.
"Maybe it's just not as fun for her to cook anymore," Juliette suggested.
"Could be. It's just as important to find out what you don't want to do as what you do." I checked the map and pointed to a shady cul-de- sac of shops. "I'm more worried about the boob job idea."
"I don't think she'll try out for Playboy, if that's your concern." "It wasn't until now, thanks."
She wasn't referring to a potential mother-daughter legacy. She had no idea what I'd done. This was the upside of the narcissism of youth—they didn't want to hear their parents' stories. By now, The Girls Next Door had run its course, but Keeping Up with the
Kardashians was another freight train to hell. Without Playboy, could
the Kardashians have launched a financial empire from a sex tape? Chloe claimed to watch because she missed our old house, and their store was so close that our former mailman could be spotted on their show. I just hoped she wasn't one of the millions who broke Twitter after Kim posted another "liberating" boob shot. Some said she was the most influential person on social media. And I was just as guilty of reality-show rubbernecking.
"What about The Bachelor?" I asked. "You guys are both the right
age." I heard myself say guys instead of girls, but I didn't know why. Did the male word sound more powerful, even to me? Then I realized that show had a similar allure as the one I felt answering the ad for Playboy back in the day. I wanted public approval that my daughters were pretty enough to be picked. They'd look gorgeous in evening gowns. But the thought of seeing them fall for the fantasy made me shiver.
"That show is so stupid," Juliette said. "All those people competing to get married."
"See, you are a feminist!"
After we parked in front of A Great Good Place for Books, an independent bookstore that lived up to its name, I reached over the car console to give her a hug. In real life, of course, I wanted her to be happily married someday. I hoped she and her sister would find part- ners who loved and respected them as equals. That was my fantasy. I picked up my last box of book club guides and climbed out of the car.
On the way back to the hotel late that afternoon, the tented booths of a street fair blocked our route. Juliette pulled to the curb beyond the clanging cable cars at Union Square a few blocks from my hotel. I gave her a long, hard hug. I was flying home in the morning, so it was impossible not to cry. Now she would be looking for a job and starting her grown-up life. We released our embrace, and I saw her blue bra strap slip down her shoulder, a sign of poor fit. The towering glass entrance of Victoria's Secret was visible, so I pointed in that direction. It was a plea for more time.
"Hey, want to shop, then watch Mad Men with us at the hotel?
With your degree in advertising , it's practically research."
"Thanks, but I just want to go home and watch Game of Thrones."
I nodded, and climbed out of the car. She didn't care about history; she was all about the dream.
"Any last thoughts about your sister?" I asked. Stalling, but serious. "It's her body."
Smarty-pants. I thanked her for the day, climbed out to the curb, and shoved the door shut. "I love you!"
She blew me a kiss and drove off. I waved goodbye, picturing her with pizza and beer and her boyfriend, watching the flat screen TV I'd sent last Christmas. Did she notice the bare breasts more in high defi- nition or did they look like wallpaper in the background? She rooted for the Mother of Dragons, but for every queen, there were dozens of exploited slave girls. Did she take the female nudity for granted, see it as something that just happened on TV? Did she equate it with the kind of sacrifice she might make to get her foot in the door on the first step of her own career? Or did she simply watch it the way it was written and directed, from a male point of view?
After I lost view of Juliette's taillights in the stream of Sunday night traffic, it hit me that she said she was going home. My baby was never coming back. Home was here in San Francisco, far away from me. I missed her already.
Sobbing, I turned toward the hotel. Thank goodness it was Sunday night. Then I panicked that the hotel might not have AMC. Without the distraction of Mad Men, I would be sad all night. Juliette surely had it, since her other favorite was The Walking Dead. The zombie apocalypse series featured death and dismemberment every week, but I'd read that when a machete sliced off a woman's bloody breast, the censors made them blur the nipple. Had she noticed that? I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and took a deep breath.
She was gone now, from my sight and my influence, and I feared for her worldview. Exhausted from the long weekend, I trod down the sidewalk and narrowly dodged a group of girls. They were giddy with triumph, pink bags in hand, outside the gilded doors of Victoria's Secret.
Back in Los Angeles the next afternoon, I stopped by Chloe's studio apartment to drop off a bag of Ghirardelli peppermint bark, her favorite. When I knocked, she shouted from the couch to come in. She was lounging in sweatpants while she looked at her computer screen. She pushed a few bottles of nail polish aside, so I could see the face of a high school girlfriend, a familiar brunette with a trembling smile who was overseas in the Israeli army. Oh, the miracle of technology. I made small talk, brushing off a compliment about the bandanna tied around my bald head, then excused myself to go to the bathroom and give them privacy.
There was only one square of toilet paper clinging to the cardboard roll, so I opened the cabinet under the sink. No Charmin, but I did spy a familiar striped pink shopping bag in the back. It was filled with a jumble of rubber blobs that lived up to their nickname, chicken cutlets. There were also foam bra inserts, some covered with so much lint that I suspected they'd been fished from my own trash can years earlier.
Until recently, I had put Chloe's figure in the category of the high fashion models a few inches taller. Maybe she wanted to be closer to the Victoria's Secret Angels. Many were rumored to have small implants, called the "Brazilian B."5 Apparently plastic surgery is no big deal in Brazil, where many of the current models were from. Women boasted about it. In America, we pretended not to paint our faces or dye our hair. We wanted to be as naturally beautiful as the Victoria's Secret Angels. OK, maybe not everyone. But here was the ubiquitous pink bag right under the sink. Since it wasn't within easy access to her underwear drawer, she probably wasn't using them. She wanted real ones. I pushed the bag back where I found it and grabbed a box of Kleenex.
The following Saturday, my mother sat in my living room, resplendent in navy blue slacks, a matching top, and simple gold jewelry. Chloe sat across from her with shining hair and manicured nails. She wore a white T-shirt and jeans in a way that looked equally elegant. My mother's poodle, Pierre, a cliché that made me bite my lip, yapped at my heels as I served them sparkling water.
After retreating to my office, I hovered in the doorway to eaves- drop. I failed to hear a word, so I tiptoed back to my desktop and typed "boob jobs," the only phrase I hadn't googled yet. Wow, lots of links for this. I clicked on celebrity quotes and learned that actress Kaley Cuoco got one at eighteen and said it was the best decision she ever made.6 Naya Rivera, who also got one at eighteen, was so excited she told all her teachers at high school.7 Denise Richards regretted hers at nine- teen, but mostly she blamed herself for not checking out the doctor. Same with Tara Reid, famous for her botched boob job. Oh crap. Kate Upton, that year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition cover girl, was Chloe's age. Wait, Upton's boobs were real. How was that fair?
I was still reading about celebrities when I heard the click-click- click of Pierre's nails on the hardwood floor. My mother's footsteps grew louder, then she leaned her blond bob into my office. I stood to face her. The slam of the front door echoed from the hall behind her. It sounded angry, so I tried not to smile.
My mother announced that her granddaughter understood that surgery wasn't the answer to angst over life in general. However, she did believe that it could make Chloe feel more confident. She said it couldn't hurt to look into it, but only with a board-certified surgeon. I was disappointed, both at her response, and the idea I'd let any doctor who wasn't board-certified lay a hand on a child of mine.
Eureka! That was the solution: take her to my doctor. Dr. Calvert
was her doctor, too. Years of softball had periodically dislocated her shoulder, but an aggressive water polo game caused the most damage. An orthopedic surgeon installed hooks in her shoulder and neurolo- gists shrugged at her concussion results. Dr. C had grafted skin from her scalp for her sinus repair, so he was the perfect person to consult. We both trusted him, and now he had four children of his own. Surely, he would talk her out of it. I'd get all the credit and none of the blame. A few weeks later, we sat at the end of a leather couch on the tenth floor waiting room of the Beverly Hills surgical office. Several doctors held office hours that day, so the chairs were full of men and women—but mostly women—in pursuit of perfection. Chloe texted someone while I retied my headscarf and read about our doctor's Patients' Choice Award. The twenty-something woman in the velvet chair beside us kept glancing at me as if we'd met. She flipped through a scrapbook of photographs, then she moved to squeeze in beside me on the couch. Chloe moved over to give us room.
At first, I feared she recognized me from the before and after boob book. I sipped my complementary bottle of water and hoped the photo showing my collarbone hadn't given me away. Then I realized there was a big lump from my port there now, and no hair on my shoulders. She pointed at the article I was reading and bragged that she was seeing the same doctor. She said he was such an expert that he'd just returned from a European lecture tour. She had exactly enough time between graduate school semesters to get her nose done. Her nose looked fine to me. When I smiled, she mistook it for interest and showed me the photographs of her favorites. I was about to say I wasn't sure it worked that way, but she was already describing her ears and her chin and the parts she would fix next. Chloe and I exchanged eye rolls in a sweet moment of bonding . "What are you studying?" I asked, to be polite.
"I'm going to be a psychologist," she said.
I stifled a laugh. Chloe's eyes widened in horror before she turned away. When a nurse called the woman in, I felt guilt by association. She was an example of my greatest fear , being here, as they would say on The Bachelor, "for the wrong reasons."
Chloe's name was called. I held back. This was her deal and I wanted no part of it. But she waved me in, so I grabbed my purse and followed. If she thought this was a show of support, she was mistaken.
In the examination room, Dr. Calvert asked how I was doing. He had been my first call when I was sick, so I appreciated his friendly concern. I also appreciated he didn't mention how different I looked from when I saw him last. Then I went to look out the window at the Hollywood Hills to stay out of the way. Also, to signal him to dissuade my daughter.
First, he checked the swathe of bare scalp hidden beneath her hair.
He said he could fix that whenever she was ready.
"We met a woman in the waiting room who was having a bunch of stuff done," I said. "She mentioned being here because you are famous for noses. Is that all you're doing now?" I smiled, hoping he would get the hint.
He chuckled and sat down on the rolling stool.
"I don't limit my practice. I do limit my patients, though." He shook his head. "That woman had issues that surgery would not fix. I turned her away."
Chloe and I exchanged grins, then I sat down on the stool in the corner. This was the equivalent of a salesperson telling me the dress I was trying wasn't right. I trusted him even more now. Chloe worked in a clothing boutique, so we'd discussed this as a sales strategy. But she told me she did it honestly. It led to repeat customers. And voilà, here we were.
"So, what's up?" Dr. C asked. "What brings you here?"
Chloe explained that she had been waiting all her life to have breasts. She always wanted them, but they never came. She saw me shake my head before I knew I was doing it. She turned on me. "How could you not know that?"
I shrugged. She had never mentioned it that I recalled, but it had been a busy bunch of years since she hit puberty. The divorce, her sports injuries, her sister going to college, working my ass off to pay the bills, my cancer . . . She never wore baggy clothes to hide her figure. She spent money on lip-gloss and nail polish. She was aware that people considered her pretty, even if she didn't think so. She had so many other challenges smack in the middle of adolescence that her looks seemed fail-safe. To me, anyway.
After she put on a paper gown, the doctor returned with his assistant, Orla. I was tempted to ask Orla about her new baby. This, however, was not the time. When the doctor opened Chloe's robe, I kept my eyes averted. I hadn't seen her naked since the days when she changed in the back seat of the car on the way to softball games. No reason to invade her privacy now. I was no expert. I just wanted him to tell her what not to do.
He closed her robe and nodded to her. She smiled.
I panicked. "Maybe if she gains weight, she'll gain all over."
She shot me a look so hot, I felt sunburnt. I gave Dr. C a pleading look. He wrapped his fingers around her thin wrist. "She's small-boned. Her body structure won't support enough weight to make a difference."
Strike one. I tried again. "Maybe she's still growing."
He looked up at Chloe, who had at least three inches on me. "How old are you?"
He looked at me and shook his head.
Strike two. Why had I not emailed him in advance? Did he think my presence condoned this? He took the measuring tape from Orla and started measuring my daughter's ribs.
"Shouldn't she wait?" I asked, flailing now. "Even car rental companies have an age requirement of twenty-five. That's when the brain is mature."
"Why not enjoy them when you're young?"
Or when it's fun, he might have said. I wasn't sure. He wasn't talking to me. But I refused to strike out on this one. The twenties is a dangerous decade, when everyone is young and foolish. Didn't I flaunt my body in my twenties? I was angry now, frustrated at the fashion magazines that showed us the importance of looking sexy. Teen magazines and twenty-something websites were just as bad. Hell, I could barely read the cover of Cosmo at the grocery store without blushing . Sure, it was our biological imperative, our hormones , that drove us to compete for the most capable father to our offspring, to promote the very survival of our species, but geez. The whole thing had gotten out of hand.
Now Dr. C was telling Chloe how one client nearly caused a car accident just by walking down the street.
"She already does that," I said. He was no help.
"I don't doubt it." He looked up at her face. "Plenty of women would like your lips."
She had my mother's full lips, damn it. She turned to me.
"Don't worry, Mother, I don't care about that. Boys are stupid." We exchanged chuckles, both thinking of a ditty that a friend of hers sang on her voice mail. I like boys, boys like me. . . .
Dr. Calvert returned to the purpose of her consultation. Her purpose, not mine. "How big are you thinking?" Small, I wanted to say, in proportion. In my anxiety , I missed her answer.
"What are you, 5'7"? 5'8"? He studied her with his chin in his hand like Sherlock Fucking Holmes. He called numbers out to Watson over there with the clipboard.
"Why not the smallest you have?" I asked, a scientific query, as if I had no agenda at all.
"Since she's tall, her ribs are wider apart," he said. "One size does not fit all." He glanced at me as if protecting my privacy, as if she didn't know what filled out my blouse.
Would she even be here if she didn't know I had them? Would she be comfortable to go under the knife if I hadn't? That was the real problem, I realized, leaning against the counter in the tiny exam room. I felt like a horrible role model. I had tried to teach her the value of hard work, a healthy lifestyle, and the golden rule. When she was young, I countered Disney princesses with Brio trucks and drove her all over the city to build character in sports. She knew real beauty comes from inside. Yet I'd also demonstrated that external beauty matters, at least to me. And it could be bought. This was not a family tradition I wanted to start. I was still judgmental about breast implants, even though I had them.
"Shouldn't she wait until after she has children?" I asked. "So she can nurse?"
"She can still nurse," Dr. Calvert said.
Strike three. I was out. As he went over the risks with her, I heard something about nipple sensitivity and had one last thought. Did she know this was about sex? About the irony of having breasts that lured men's mouths, but no longer felt so good? Probably not. But I didn't feel comfortable enough to explain.
"Let's take some pictures," the doctor said, and stood up.
I escaped to the waiting room to stew. After a few minutes of tapping my feet, I realized I could feel my toes again. The neuropathy had finally passed. I was smiling to myself when Cerissa, the finance person, led my daughter through the waiting room to her office. She waved. I waved back. A young professional, she wore a silk blouse with slacks. I couldn't tell if she had implants, which was comforting, since Chloe adored her. She was a good role model.
Chloe emerged a few minutes later, eyes cast toward the marble floor. A sheaf of papers protruded from her faux leather purse. She now knew that in addition to the doctor's fee, there is a high price for the supplies, the surgery room, the anesthesiologist, and a series of pre-op blood tests. The implant manufacturer also advised replacement after ten or so years. Twenty percent of patients have complications. This was a budget decision for life.
Now I had her. I reached up for her hand to help me off the deep sofa. Then I lowered my voice. "Look, hon, I will support you in what- ever you decide to do. But I won't pay for it. You're an adult. This is your deal."
She nodded, quiet as I said goodbye to the receptionist and opened the door. In the hallway, she turned back and smiled. "I can't wait to fill out a bathing suit."
A few years later, I mentioned my obsession with breasts at the start of a luncheon at Spago's in Beverly Hills. I wore my best dress in a sea of suits, women at the top of male-dominated professions. Two hours later, I dug out my parking ticket and looked up to see a dozen women surrounding me. They all had daughters who wanted breast implants. These women danced on the double-edged sword of attractiveness in their careers. They did what they needed to compete. Yet, many were also mothers and, like millions of others, they were conflicted over the message of beauty. They looked to me for answers. I could only shrug.
As we headed outside, a bank director spoke up. "My grandmother celebrated her ninetieth birthday last week."
"That's wonderful," I said, relieved to change the subject.
A smile played around her lips as she handed the valet her ticket. "She only has one regret in life: not getting breast implants."
We laughed. No matter how young or old, the dream of perfect breasts can be alluring. It seems like the answer to everything. The reality is not always so sweet.
@PegausBooks with permission
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