I have a lot of feelings about boobs. This statement is manifold: I was a very early bloomer, and by the time I was in middle school, I was wearing a D-size bra and crying in my local surf shop dressing room every spring when I couldn't find a single bathing suit top that fit. Then, when I was 21, I was shockingly and suddenly diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, meaning that — despite my many hang-ups about them — my breasts would have to go. It was a literal matter of life or death.
Immediately after my bilateral mastectomy (when I was so flat-chested that even training bras were depressingly baggy), I moved to New York and started working in fashion. As sick as this sounds, I sometimes didn't want to go through with the final reconstructive surgery; my new physique seemed much better suited for the waifish, "model-off-duty" style that was so popular at the time. In the late 2000s, Alexander Wang sent models like Freja Beha Erichsen and Abbey Lee down the runway in slinky tank tops with low-cut arm holes (something I'd never dream of attempting to wear with my former cup size), and — with the exception of Lara Stone — trends seemed to cater to the Anja Rubiks and Erin Wassons of the world, rather than to busty, curvy women like me. Well, pre-cancer me, at least.
For the few months that I was, for lack of a better term, boobless, I had a blast with clothes. Not only did I appear much slimmer, it was also the first time in my life that I didn't have to get dressed around a bra. I wore camisoles, backless dresses and even deep-v sweaters; the freedom and comfort that came with ditching my usual underwire bra was particularly blissful. At the same time, I would make bi-weekly visits to my doctor to get my implants gradually inflated (yes, this felt as terrible as it sounds), but once I reached about a B cup, I considered fleeing his office and never returning. I had contentious conversations with my boyfriend, my parents and my surgeons, who thought my desire to stay small-chested was not only shortsighted, but potentially disfiguring: If I didn't fill the space left by my mastectomies, my chest would look uneven and saggy — both in and out of clothing.
Eventually, I made it back to my original 34D cup size and underwent full reconstruction. The insecurities I had about my body only worsened, as I now had two giant scars and the big breasts that had long hindered my fashion choices. My brief stint as a waif-adjacent person gave me a weird thrill — almost as if my ability to dress like the "It" girls of the moment would help me get my foot in the door of the industry. Luckily, that feeling subsided, and while there are still certain pieces I'm unable to wear because of my chest, I am so thankful that I didn't base a permanent physical change on a fashion trend.
Yes, the treatment of certain body parts and shapes as cyclical "trends" is a problematic habit in the industry, but I am particularly annoyed by the clickbaity question that Vogue UK is posing in its December issue: "Is the Cleavage Over?" The "debate" is presumably fleshed out in a print feature, and discusses "the distinct lack of pertinently pushed-up breasts everywhere from runway to red carpet," as well as the prediction that "tits will not be out for the lads. Or for anyone else, for that matter." While it is fair to argue that modest necklines were popular at buzzy shows like Gucci, Prada, Céline and Balenciaga for fall, the fashion world has recently made major strides in promoting body positivity and inclusivity — something that's resulted in lots of women beautifully embracing their curves, and more models representative of the non-sample size set landing prime spots on the runway.
What's more is that, if you're even peripherally tuned into pop culture, ladies in the spotlight are clearly embracing their cleavage with pride these days. Women like Emily Ratajkowski, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid and Ashley Graham are not shy about showing off their curves to their millions of Instagram followers or on the red carpet; Teyana Taylor was the talk of New York Fashion Week with her buxom look on the Yeezy Season 4 runway and in Kanye West's "Fade" music video; and models with larger chests, like Irina Shayk and Anna Ewers, are fixtures on the high fashion scene, despite not being built like a clothes hanger. We're living in an era when the "naked dress," the bodysuit, nipple piercings and bras worn as tops are the norm, and who doesn't appreciate seeing ladies embrace their curves and sex appeal? This year, we've celebrated not only cleavage, but also side-boob and under-boob (!), and while Vogue's context-less quote insinuates that women only dress this way to get male attention, I'm pretty confident that is not the case.
The piece isn't yet out in full (the issue hits newsstands on Thursday), and while I'm curious to see how Vogue UK backs up its statement, I'll just say this: I'm glad this article didn't come out in 2009, when young, super-impressionable me was considering forgoing my breast reconstruction in order to go the "fashionable" route. That would have been a much more painful, difficult fix than ending up with an overpriced "It" bag collecting dust in my closet after a fancy magazine told me it was no longer desirable.