Sunday, April 29, 2012

My "Ashley Judd" Moment: 34AAA and Saggy?

Ashley Judd, 44,  was in the news recently for her eloquent rebuttal after negative comments made about her face being "puffy" in a photo and some media people assuming she’d had “work done” or was “letting herself go.”

She asked women to share one of the moments when they were shamed about their appearance.

The first moment that came to mind was when I was 23. Yes, 23. I worked as a sous chef in a non-air conditioned restaurant kitchen in the American South. Hot!

It was the 1980’s and the style in the tiny, supremely casual beach resort town where I lived was for younger women to go braless, if they so desired. It was a bit of a hippie thing, and not at all unusual or remarkable. For me, a bra was more than a bit unnecessary.

I was well aware that most people thought I was flat-chested. That’s how I thought of myself, too, and sometimes it really bothered me. For the most part I had learned to accept that my breasts did not align with the view that bigger was better. But I had other things to worry about, and the size of my 34 AAA breasts was getting less important to me every year.

So there I was, well-covered in a cotton t-shirt, braless, reasonably confident about myself, sweating my ass off working in a broiling hot and humid kitchen. A young man, Tim, age 19 and a dishwasher, took a look at my t-shirt one day and made a hand gesture across his chest while uncharacteristically scowling. Tim and I were friendly acquaintances, although he ran with a different and younger crowd than me, the old lady of twenty-three.

I didn’t understand what his gesture meant, so I smiled and asked him what he was trying to say.
“They’re saggy. You really should wear a bra.”

Oh, yeah, he did.

“Are you kidding me?” was the only retort I managed to sputter.

Red-faced, disbelieving, stunned, stung, shamed at the criticism, invaded, humiliated, and self-conscious in a way that only a woman who has had her breasts publicly evaluated without asking for it can understand, I went to the other side of the kitchen and finished my shift under a pall of embarrassment.

Even today, I want to deny the charge of saggy breasts, even though whether they were or were not saggy does not truly even matter. It was the idea that someone else thought it appropriate to look closely at my breasts, evaluate them, and then pass that evaluation on to me in the form of unsolicited advice. That does matter, that Tim thought my breasts were ANY of his business.

Would I feel differently if he had said, “Nice rack!”?  

Honestly, yes, my indignity would have a different feeling, more like the all too familiar reaction most females are acquainted with-- unwanted sexual attention. That he was criticizing me for part of my body, one of the quintessentially “female” parts, is partly why this memory has stayed with me so long. He was telling me I was flawed.

Even though Ashley Judd was criticized for her face, an arguably slightly less embarrassing feature to have scrutinized, this experience from over 30 years ago was what immediately popped into my head when she asked other women to tell their moment.

My moment was in 1981. Ashley Judd’s was in 2012. Is anyone else as utterly sick of it and as ready for change as I am? Pervasive negativity about women and their looks has got to stop.

One way we can promote change is to avoid casual negative comments about a woman’s appearance, no matter whether we "like" the woman or not. JUST DON’T DO IT. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not as easy as it sounds, but I’m re-committing myself to this goal.

Will you join me in making an effort to change the way we talk about women?

Feel free to tell your “Ashley Judd” moment below.


  1. This hit a chord with me - stupid physical appearance -- always an issue - have never thought I was worth anything in that department. Have always felt lacking - though when I look at a photo of my 20 year old self I know now that my perceptions were distorted. It's really stupid. I know, I am being so articulate but I wish beauty were not so subjective and so important to the world. Fuck appearance.

  2. I'm with you. How did we ever get these distorted images? So much time wasted worrying about what I looked like-- even a low-maintenance chick like me.

  3. Great post and reminder. Thanks for stopping by my bolg. I haven't had a fresh fig in a long time. My grandmother had a fig tree and I used to snitch figs from it all the time.

  4. Thank you for reading, Debra Ann! I'll be over soon to see what you're up to on your blog.

  5. As a young mom, I was overly-critical of my "I've had babies" belly. Pretty much all of the women I knew at that time saw themselves in much that same way. Focused on the flaws.

    I look back at photos from those years--shots that I hated because I thought I looked fat--and I don't see fat. I see a happy, busy wife and mom who was blessed and smart enough to know it. I see healthy kids, an adoring husband, and a woman who really wasn't fat. Yes, the perfectly flat tummy of seventeen was long gone, but in its place were three beautiful children.

    PS: At that time, I was a size 6. A size 6 and sure I looked like the side of a barn. Crazy.

    We need to cut other women a break. We need to cut ourselves a break. And we need to stop believing somewhere deep inside that how we look matters in any real way.

  6. Such distorted ways of seeing ourselves are incredibly common. I thought I had thunder thighs when I was teens & twenties. Looking back now, I realize those thoughts were out of whack. But if I had had "big" thighs (whatever that means), I would have been the same person.

    P.S. I've been meaning to thank you for the blog post/refresher course on intellectual property rights, especially photos. Great reminder and I confess to occasional sloppiness in that arena. Going to clean up my act!

  7. Love this. My body and I didn't have any kind of decent working relationship for a lot of years. My first moment occurred when I grew breasts at 10 and inviting the scorn and ridicule of all of my classmates, and really there have been too many ever since. I don't talk about other women's bodies, for exactly that reason. It's hurtful. It's always unwelcome. And those words echo for so bloody long afterward.... Nobody needs that. I think it's how we justify saying such negative things about ourselves.

  8. Thanks for bringing your moment to the table, Desi. I try really hard not to comment on girl's/women's looks, except to perhaps compliment on an item of clothing. Seems that there isn't a woman alive who has not been belittled for her looks at some point.

  9. ..Except to give a compliment to another.... I agree, Melanie. We should help to boost ones spirit and not to shoot them down.

    Loved this post, Amiga! :)

  10. Thanks so much, Virginia. If I had only channeled all the time and worry I've spent on my "looks" into some other direction... I could have climbed Mt. Everest by now, lol.

    Hugs, Virginia!

  11. I've always been 'hippy', as in wide hips and a very ample behind - contrast that with a small waist and you have a very curvy gal. It wasn't all the rage, by the men would make comments about it and it made me very self conscious. Some men thought it sexy (that was uncomfortable) and some thought it not so much (nose dive for the self esteem). Yeah, we need to move on people...MOVE ON (stupid media).

  12. stupid media. But someone buys it or they woud go out of business, right?

  13. I'm sorta speechless because you said it all, and so well. And I woulda "accidentally" poured some hot liquid on that guy... with a sweet smile and a "woopsie".

  14. With me it started with a high school nurse. I remember coming home in tears after she told me that there may be something wrong with me because I was short. Now that isn’t specific to being female, but it still is a body image thing. Fully grown I measured a little under 5’ and weighed 87 lbs (32-22-32) I believe I was treated differently because of my size.
    There have been many moments like that for me. Another hurtful comment was made by my then boyfriend comparing the small size of my “boobs” to the much bigger ones of my best friend.
    I don’t think the emphasis on the importance of how someone looks will change any time soon. It is so ingrained in we humans and always has been. Perception of beauty may be different, but there is that word, beauty. Men and woman have been judged by their looks from the first time man figured out how to portray body images in some form or other of artistic interpretation.

  15. I do believe there is the faintest whiff of change in the air. That there are a fair number of people no longer yelling for body acceptance but for inner beauty acceptance. That the package does not matter.

    The package does not matter! It's simply the casing for the sweetest parts of ourselves.

  16. LyndaGrace, Those judgments stay with us, don't they? Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment.

    Jane-- I so hope that there is some change in the air-- maybe even the internet is helping change this, since through blogging we get to know people from the inside-out, in a way. I'm trying to get through the end of the semester, and then I'll be over to get caught up with your blogginess. Hope you are well!

  17. Wonderful post, Melanie. The other side of the coin is also true, though. Women also judge men. It's not as mediatized, and I realize that there is no overarching matriarchal dilemma in society, but the problem is there nonetheless. I think it's that people need to stop judging other people on appearances. Period.

    That being said, I read the abstract of a very interesting study recently that had to do with the subconscious judgements we make, how attractive people (facial symmetry, fit body, etc.) earn more money, are promoted more often, etc. There is some primal aspect to this over which we have no control, or that we at least don't always realize.

  18. Yes,the judging goes both ways as far as women sometimes judging male appearances. Is it chauvinistic of me to say I think some women are more accepting of men who are not traditionally handsome than the reverse?
    I have seen the studies that look into a primal aspect of "looks" as far as who makes the most desirable mate for each gender-- interesting!
    I have a feeling this topic is not going away any time soon.
    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  19. Such a thought-provoking post and such thoughtful responses. I make a conscious effort to put down those random and automatic thoughts that come into my head along these lines. Unfortunately, as the research cdnkaro mentioned indicates, I think some of it is hardwired.

    Your request for our Ashley Judd moments immediately brought the post linked below to mind. Not that there's really any shortage of those moments to choose from...

  20. It seems my entire life has been an "Ashley Judd " moment, starting with my first husband who CONSTANTLY told me how fat and hideous I was (as I was pregnant with 3 kids, in 4 years time) to my sisters room mate in the Navy barracks. My sister was 19 ,I was 4 years older, I walked in and the girl said "Oh ,Is this your MOM?"

    There's been plenty more since then, but when I look back now , at my "fat hideous" ,145 pound self....I was young and beautiful.

    It's a damn shame that other peoples opinions robbed me of EVER feeling that way.

    On a lighter note, this post also makes me have to tell you this little story...

    One of my BFF's is about 72 years old and she told me this tale of the first time her "not yet husband" was going to get to first base? (is that boobs?)

    Picture it, 1950 something....He picks her up and takes her to the drive-in , she's all gussied up ,yet wearing her younger sisters bra,stuffed with toilet paper.

    They start smooching it up and she just KNOWS he's gonna try to get further...she begins to panic about her tissue chest.

    Luckily, he goes to the snack bar,while he is gone she unstuffs her bra and throws her "boobs" out the window.

    Apparently he never said a word about her sudden flat-chestedness.

    Years later (after they were married) she did suddenly go get breast implants and said "and you're gonna pay for 'em!"

    He is gone to Heaven now and my 72 year old friend's rack still looks as good as the day he bought it.

    This physical beauty crap is nothing new.Unfortunately women have been dealing with it since the beginning of time. As soon as Eve ate that apple , Adam covered up because he knew he should be ashamed, Eve grabbed her fig leaves and said " OMG! You think I'm ugly, don't you?"

    Glad I found your blog :) I will shut up now :)

  21. Smocha, I'm glad you found me, too! We all have way too many of these stories to tell. On a bad day, I am my own worst enemy. I have to work really hard not to feel like a hag, and that is incredibly silly and wrong. I need to be brainwashed in the other direction-- I am pretty, so pretty, so witty, and etc. :)