In the seventh grade the division between the “haves” and “have nots” was painfully, if not noticeably, clear. The “haves” being budding boobs in training bras. I was a “have not.” Until school began, I wasn’t aware 11 and 12-year-olds wore bras. Apparently, neither was my mother who continued to choose skin-tight T-shirts for my developing body. I might not have noticed at all, except for the fact that boys began to stripe their fingers down girls’ backs yelping, “Bra!” or “No bra!” (I was the “no bra” victim.) Even my friend Tammy tried to enlighten me about the boob business as we were changing into our gym clothes in the girls’ locker room. “You should buy a bra,” she whispered. “I can’t,” I whispered back. I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother. I’d rather have been dropped into a vat of boiling oil than discuss my breasts with her. “Do you have Underoos?” she asked. Back then, Underoos were about as cool as taking Strawberry Shortbread to bed with you, but it was still better than going braless. It consisted of a nylon top and bottom that closely resembled a matronly bikini. “Yes,” I admitted. And so I began to wear my yellow bunny rabbit Underoos on the days I had gym class. But one can’t wear the same set of Underoos day after day, so there was still the problem of being braless on the remaining days of the week. So I began to wear my sweatshirt. Which I figured would also come in handy in case I had my period for the first time. One girl, Terri, (who happened to have been wearing bras for at least a year by then) was reported to have bled through her white jeans and was sent home in tears of humiliation. I did not want to be braless and bleeding, so the sweatshirt was the perfect camouflage for all occasions. Seventh grade turned out to be cruel in so many ways. Boys would accost me. Zip their fingers down my back. Call me names. Girls would slap me with their hairbrushes as they walked by me. A thick-boned girl held me up against the lockers and accused me of saying nasty things about her, though I hadn’t. I wondered if having a bra put you into some special club. One where you were respected because your nipples were hidden behind protective cloth. I considered talking to my mother. Maybe hinting next time we were at the department store. Like, “Gee, Mom. I’ll bet I might fill out this bra sometime within the next year. Whaddya think?” Just thinking of saying the word bra to her made me flush rosier than a sunset. Teasing was bad, but admitting to my mother that I was starting to become a woman, for God’s sake, was way worse.
So I chose to endure the hairbrushes, the fingers down my back, the sweat under my armpits from wearing a warm sweatshirt.
Then one day, as I was reading Watership Down on my bed, my mother peeked her head into my room. “Um…” she avoided my eyes. “I…I thought you might…” She opened my door further and slipped into my room. Tossed three bras onto my bed. Bras for the flat-chested, such as myself. “Here.” And then she bolted out the door. I picked them up. They were all white cotton with little pink rosebuds in the center. I marveled at their mystery. I tried one on and it fit as comfortably as a giant rubber band around my ribs. I took it off and thought about how I finally got what I wanted…and I didn’t even have to turn crimson to get it. My mother did that for me, running out of my room faster than you can say, “Boobies!” She had been as nervous as me. Maybe even more so. This was a big step, receiving such intimate clothing. It wasn’t to be taken lightly. I could return to school, undergarment in place. The boys would run their fingers down their back, and they would yelp, “Bra!” Maybe stagger back in exaggerated shock. And the girls would titter (Yes, I chose THAT word). They’d realize that they’d finally gotten to me. That I’d succumbed to their peer pressure and entered their world of “haves.” This was a turning point. They’d know they’d broken me down. I slipped the three bras into my underwear drawer. The next day, I went to school. Braless. And the day after that. And the day after that. In fact, I didn’t wear them until school had ended and summer had released its warm days. I may have been one of the “have nots” during school, but at least it was my choice. The next school year, I still hadn't filled out enough to need something stronger than a wimpy training bra, but I wore the undergarments like a secret, the newest member of the Burgeoning Breasts Club. But I had done it on my terms. But the summer had changed the seventh grade monsters into something a little more human-like. No one drew their finger down my back. No one stared at my chest in the hopes to find the outline of a nipple. Having no one notice was somewhat anticlimactic. I'm not sure what I expected people to do or say, but I'd assumed I would shock someone with my new under-layer. It almost felt like a letdown. But no matter. The next bridge was about to be crossed, because no one but me wore socks with their dresses. All the other girls wore pantyhose. I wondered at what point Mom would toss me an egg-shaped container filled with Legg's pantyhose and run out of the room. If she did, I'd gladly slip them on over my hairy legs, hoping she'd get the hint that a razor would be a handy accessory. Hoping she'd realize not just my boobs were budding.