Betty Gilpin Has A Few Words About Breasts

Gilpin’s self-proclaimed “tits the size of printers” are the entry point into her debut book, All the Women in My Brain.

Betty Gilpin is the author of 'All the Women in My Brain.'
Stephanie Diani/Courtesy

Writing has long been Betty Gilpin’s mistress — a private passion that she jokes she hides away, only engaging with during secret trysts “in a Motel 6 in Newark.” But during lockdown, Gilpin took to writing with a fervor, ultimately drafting a full book in a marathon five weeks. While she was scared to share something so personal with the world, she knew it was time for her mistress to see the light of day. “It took the literal dissolving of society to quiet the ‘Don't talk, don't write,’ voices, for me to just sit down and brain-sh*t this out,” Gilpin tells Bustle.

The result is All the Women in My Brain, an excoriating yet deeply comical collection of essays. While Gilpin’s best known for her role on Netflix’s GLOW — playing Debbie Eagan, a bombshell former soap star turned wrestler — she’s also made a name for herself by writing dispatches on the indignities of modern womanhood. That theme bled into All the Women, which explores a wide range of inherently female humiliations, from friendship breakups to aerobics classes. But of the many topics Gilpin unpacks, the one that consumes her the most is the gaping divide between how society perceives women and how they see themselves.

For Gilpin, this disassociation dates back to puberty, when she first developed “tits the size of printers.” “In adolescence, I was doing weird, nonsensical mental acrobatics to try to disappear,” Gilpin says. The boobs thwarted these efforts at every turn. “To me, [having] big tits was like screaming, ‘I've entered the room, and I think I'm fantastic, and I'm going to f*ck your husband,’” she says. As desperately as she wanted to be “the tug at your sleeves, pixie dream girl, accidental hero,” others saw her as “the curvy villain who should be euthanized for being so curvy and evil.”

Much like how Nora Ephron used her A-cups as a lens in her 1972 essay “A Few Words About Breasts,” Gilpin uses her breasts as an entry point into All the Women — particularly in her examination of how women “cycle through selves to give whoever's in front of you the girl they want.”

“I think the key is finding the balance between ‘I'm too scared,’ or, ‘F*ck it, let’s do it.’”

But just because Gilpin has written about these concerns, don’t expect her to be newly enlightened. In fact, with All the Women out in the world, they’re exacerbated — as Gilpin’s full of insecurities about how that gap between public perception and personal intention will impact the way her writing is viewed. "Am I sort of taking something that was sacred and just for me and putting tap shoes and lip gloss on it, pushing it out to the world?" Gilpin wonders. “But I think the key is finding the balance between ‘I'm too scared,’ or, ‘F*ck it, let’s do it.’ It's a constant vacillation between the two. I'm out here tap dancing for a second and then I'm going to go back into the authenticity cave.”

And while she’s in the cave, she’ll make time to celebrate her wins. Giplin is currently filming Mrs. Davis, a new series from The Leftovers and Watchmen’s Damon Lindelof, in which she plays a nun battling an all-powerful Artificial Intelligence. “So maybe I'll get drunk in a habit,” Gilpin says. Cheers to that.