“That’s it?”

My first and only boyfriend stared with dismay at my pale, exposed 32A boobs. That was the first time I let a boy take off my bra. I pretended like I didn’t care. I kissed him harder, allowing his sweaty hands to grope the little lumps growing out of my chest.

He broke up with me shortly after this. I blamed myself. I wasn’t hot enough. No boy would ever want to hook up with a girl who still wears her first training bra.

I couldn’t fit into Victoria’s Secret, so I had to resort to other options to conceal my secret. I went to Target and bought the “EXTREME PUSH UP” with enough padding it may have been bulletproof. Going out at night, I would wear two bras, because there was no way I would let any boy see what was really underneath my tank top. I refused to go swimming—I couldn’t find a bathing suit that had the inches of padding I felt was necessary to have in public.

I was obsessed with padding. I would go to the mall every weekend, searching for a bra with even more. A bra that would keep the real me safe from the glances of boys on the street and girls who might realize I didn’t go through puberty like they did. And yet, no bra was ever padded enough.

Coming to college, I stopped wearing two bras out at night, because I wanted to do all the things I never did with boys in high school. The experiences with the boys were all the same. When he’d get to taking off my bra I’d apologize for my lack of bust. He’d respond, “It’s okay, I’ll focus on your ass,” or he’d shrug and say “whatever,” not wanting to ruin his chance of sleeping with me.

It wasn’t a boy who taught me to love my boobs. It was me. For a period of time before falling asleep in my twin XL, I’d stare at myself naked in the mirror, examining the little breasts that I’d covered so well all day. I would scrutinize them, trying to find what had so horrified my first boyfriend. But I didn’t see deformity. I saw me. I was never going to undress and find Pamela Anderson. No, I would find me, and more than anything, I love that.

I started running errands without a bra. Then, I started searching for styles that would give me an excuse to go braless. One unremarkable Sunday, I went to Van Pelt without a bra. Complaining to a friend about work at Mark’s Café, I smiled, because he didn’t know I was breaking the rules. Only I was in on the secret of myself. I loved the way it felt. And I loved breaking the padded barrier between me and myself. I was free. And that, as my ex–boyfriend might have said, was it.