I’ve always felt like my boobs make me a little too ‘present’.
Like they enter the room before I do. Like they’re a smudge of lipstick on my teeth, or a skirt tucked into my undies – something embarrassing that everyone else can see, even when I’m painfully unaware.
They make me visible in a way I don’t really want to be.
That’s why I was mortified when, while working as a waitress overseas, a man stared at my chest and asked, “are they real?”
I felt dirty. I felt humiliated. I felt like I had just been asking him what he wanted to drink and now a part of my body that was not at all relevant to the conversation had been brought up, and it was my responsibility to shut it down.
Listen: The case for body neutrality, instead of body positivity. Post continues after audio.
But how could I shut it down? If I said ‘yes,’ I thought, I would sound… proud of them. In a way I’m not particularly. They’re a body part, not some sort of achievement. Saying ‘yes’ would tell him something I didn’t think he had any right to know.
Saying ‘no,’ while it wouldn’t have been true (although I have no judgement for women whose breasts aren’t ‘real’ in the way this man was implying), would also suggest that his question deserved any kind of reasonable answer.
When you pick up an object, like a diamond, or a designer bag, you might ask if it’s real. You don’t ask that about a part of someone’s body. That reduces them to a… thing, that exists primarily to be looked at.
So the words, “are they real?” felt tantamount to being asked, “hey, woman. Your tits. They’re visible to me. I need you to tell me if you’ve had implants so I can form a complete judgment about the quality of them.”
I don't 'owe' you details about my boobs.
My reaction was far stronger than I expected. I repeated my question for him, which was, 'would you like anything to drink?', but didn't register his answer as I headed out the back with a bright red face and an unshakable feeling of shame.
For the rest of the night, and for a lot of my time at that workplace, I was more wary of my body. Was my top too low cut? Too tight? Was I wearing the wrong bra? Was I... embarrassing myself?
I know there are lots of women who wouldn't be so affected by being asked whether their boobs are real. Some might even be flattered. But I hated it. It was humiliating. Writing about it now, for some reason, makes me feel ashamed, even though I didn't do anything wrong.
That's why last week's headline of '"Have you had a boob job?": Erin Molan's busty display on NRL's The Footy Show sparks breast implant rumours' sat so uncomfortably with me.
As far as headlines go, when it comes to objectifying women's bodies, it's far from the worst offender. But the question, and its implication, made me feel sick. 'Busty display' - really?
Molan wasn't putting on a busty display - she was wearing a dress. While doing her job. Which has exactly nothing to do with her boobs.
In last week's instance, a number of viewers took their questions about Molan's chest to her Instagram account, asking, or straight out assuming, that the journalist had 'implants'.
But back in 2014, Molan was publicly questioned about her chest on live radio. The then 31-year-old had a regular sports segment on The Kyle and Jackie O Show, and in a 'game' called Let's Get to Know Erin, a listener called in to ask, "I was watching The Footy Show last night and I noticed that your chest area has got a little bit bigger. Just wondering whether you've done a boob job recently?"
Indeed, some women might not have a problem with being asked about the anatomy of their breasts - but Molan did.
"That is an incredibly personal question," she responded. "I’m just going to say I'm happy with my rig how it is. That is a weird opening question."
"Are you not listening to what I say about football?"
It wasn't long before Molan quit Kyle and Jackie O altogether, and made a statement on The Footy Show.
"To every young woman out there and every person out there, you determine your worth and if you feel you’re ever in a situation where you are not being treated with respect or the way you are being treated is not acceptable to you then you have every right to walk away and every right to stand up for yourself," she said.
When I was asked about whether my boobs were real (I shudder even writing that sentence), I felt an overwhelming sense of anger that as a woman, I can't just... be.
I can't just be at work. I can't just be a waitress purely focused on whatever the hell it is that people want to order. I can't just be a human being operating in the world independent of an unrelenting, sexualised gaze.
And it's haunting that as a woman in a domain so overwhelmingly dominated by men, who is so impressive in her knowledge, passion and skill set, neither can Erin Molan.
If you're desperate to know whether Molan has breast implants, there's a more urgent question you need to be asking yourself: why?