It felt like there was so much wrong with my appearance that day, but the evening crew of the local Old Navy (which was lucky enough to host my debutante-ball-for-one) couldn’t have cared less about how I was dressed. If they were annoyed about anything, it would have been the fact that I was in the store at all so close to closing time. I did a run through the women’s section of the store as the staff cleaned up from the day’s business, looking at a few things in the store, more self conscious than I ever had felt before. Once I had taken in my fill of the uncomfortable situation, I considered my mission complete and beat a hasty retreat back to my car.
The following day, I did a postmortem of my initial outing. I took inventory of what worked, and what didn’t, what needed to be added, and what needed to be subtracted. My conclusive research yielded one major finding: I needed boobs.
Boobs are magical. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Beloved by newborns and adults alike, boobs were the key to my personal understanding of my ideal body shape. Although the idea of laying out a vision for what I needed my body to look like sounds vain at face value, it’s an important step that most trans women tend to spend time thinking about before they transition.
There is a thin line between frivolous vanity and the very real need to feel good about ourselves inside and out. Where that line exists is up to the owner of the body.
I had only an ugly, boxy male body to work with, but if I could express some curve while being careful not to overdo it, I thought that maybe, I could start to see the ever-elusive ‘girl in the mirror’.
Society sets a lot of hash standards for women. We’re told who we should want to marry, what types of jobs make sense for us, and what the right age to have kids is. Even after women’s liberation, these social artifacts exist — and the same rigid standards still tell us what our bodies should look like, and what they should feel like.
According to these standards, the bigger your boobs are, the better fortune you will have in all aspects of life. Men will fawn over you, velvet ropes will part, and sweet symphonic melodies will herald your arrival as you walk through every door you enter (or so the legends say).
In recent times, women have made a lot of progress rejecting the calls society makes to feel any certain way about our bodies. Letting other people dictate to you how you should feel about the skin you’re born into is a fool's errand — and yet, for many trans women, the path to feminine acceptance steps through the territory of body image realization.
Intellectually, I know that the well-worn social standard of breast importance creates unrealistic expectations for all women, including for trans women. In my heart, I know that having boobs or not having boobs does not define who I am as a person, nor does it indicate the value I offer independent of my ability to fill out a dress.
Even so, I needed something there to help fill the void. After all, my physique, still untouched by the powder-blue love of Estradiol tablets, had given me the flattest chest known to man or beast; I would have been happy enough with ‘mosquito bites’ but was lacking even slight development. So I set out to find a pair of convincing, but entirely fake boobs…which, incidentally, is about as much as you can hope for when you’re in the market for such a product.
Having neither the money nor the motivation at that time to go under the knife and get breast implants, surgery was obviously not the answer I was looking for. And even my standards were too high to stuff my bra with socks and tissues.
When selecting your first pair of boobs, there's no need to be choosy, because the job they're meant to do isn't complicated. I didn't feel obligated to be overly selective, but I also had too much self-respect to improvise a homemade solution. I needed something that had the right dimensions. They had to feel real to me, or they wouldn't feel real on me. I found a pair of breast inserts that fit the bill quite nicely and purchased them along with a bottle of spirit gum (with handy roll-on applicator) to affix them to the skin on my chest. The appearance of these silicon breasts in my one and only bra looked unusual, but the way they felt under my clothes felt perfect. I felt a comfort in my own skin in a way I had only recently discovered.
I felt a sense of oneness, like the sound a shoe makes when your heel slips into its perfect fit. Sure, the boobs were a little larger than they needed to be, but they worked, and that’s all that mattered.
To me, those ridiculous fake boobs meant more than just a shot at acceptance as a woman in this world. They were the first step in claiming agency over my body.
As I grew more accustomed to wearing them out in public, I cultivated a better understanding of how to carry myself. Having established a decent self image, I was free to restructure other parts of myself to align better with the transition that was looking more and more inevitable as the weeks went on.
My relationship to my own body image is fraught. The time worn concept of being a “woman trapped in a man’s body” notwithstanding, I had the signature cognitive dissonance whenever I would look at myself in the mirror and see a pronounced lack of chest development. Eventually, I was lucky enough to get a better fitting set of breast inserts which even further improved my self-certainty.
These oddly shaped bags of saline had helped me to overcome an obstacle to feeling like a fully developed adult. While these silly prosthetics gave me so much confidence, I knew that no such development would ever be forthcoming without modifying my body from its natural state.
The price of being transgender is to be told regularly how we are allowed to live in our own bodies. We’re told that the way we perceive ourselves on the inside is false, and that our pursuit to actualize a self-image of how our bodies should look and feel — something we don’t have the luxury of being born with — is a ridiculous waste of time.
We are told that sexual surgeries which have consistently been deemed ‘medically necessary’ are mutilations, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves for seeking treatment.
Body image is an important concept for all women to understand, and equally important to understand is that there is a thin line between frivolous vanity and the very real need to feel good about ourselves inside and out. Where that line exists is up to the owner of the body.
To me, those ridiculous fake boobs meant more than just a shot at acceptance as a woman in this world. They were the first step in claiming agency over my body. It felt empowering knowing that I was calling the shots for myself, instead of having the rest of the world tell me how I would be seen by others.
Eventually, I retired the old bags. I hung up the wig, too, when my hair got long enough — because the time came when I didn’t need them anymore. They had served an important purpose in my life, but I became able to stand on my own with the body I had developed.
I remember my transition both fondly and bitterly. We all have moments of awkwardness and times where we need a crutch to limp through a challenging time. I had my struggles, and I had my victories. In the end, I came out a better person, and that makes the whole journey worthwhile.
Image: Emily Crose