Dear Prudence

To B-Cup or Not to B-Cup

My college-bound daughter is ashamed of her small breasts. Should I offer to pay for a boob job?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I was barely an AA cup as a young woman and very self-conscious about it. At age 36, after I finished nursing my youngest, I had breast augmentation surgery. For the past 10 years I’ve been a B cup, and I’ve been completely satisfied with my decision. My daughter, who’s about to turn 18, has inherited her breast size from me. Although we haven’t talked about it explicitly, I suspect she’s just as self-conscious about it as I was. She has literally run away to hide while I consulted with the lingerie sales lady about bras for her. I’m thinking about offering her the option of augmentation surgery before she goes to college. She doesn’t know I have implants, and we’re not generally an image-centric or pro–plastic surgery kind of family. But I’m worried that if I suggest this, I might create the very self-consciousness that I’m aiming to help her relieve. I don’t want her to think that I think there’s anything wrong with her body. Is this a terrible idea? And if I’m not crazy, how do I bring this up in a way that doesn’t imply that I think there’s something wrong with her?

—Flat-Chested Family

Dear Flat,
I wish that a few years ago you’d started talking with your girl about your own lack of development and how it affected you. She would have stared at your chest in confusion, and you would have explained that despite your general qualms about plastic surgery, getting breast implants was the right decision for you. The point of this conversation would not have been to steer her to go under the knife, but to make this subject less a source of embarrassment and taboo. As it gradually became a more comfortable topic of discussion, you could have explained that despite your self-consciousness, tiny breasts did not affect your love life. And I hope you would truthfully have been able to say the decision to expand your cup size was yours alone and not due to pressure from your husband. (If your daughter is like my daughter, by this point she would have pulled a blanket over her head and pretended to be unconscious. But that doesn’t mean she’s not listening.) You have a paradoxical message: It’s a waste of emotional energy to focus on such a superficial thing; doing something about it made your life better. The good news is that it’s not too late to begin this conversation. But don’t start by saying, “To celebrate your college acceptance, I want to pay for a set of new breasts.” Start by telling her your secret. You also note that you waited until you were done breast-feeding to get enhanced. That is an important consideration. While it is possible to breast-feed after implant surgery, it is not guaranteed, and it’s too much to expect an 18-year-old to be able to adequately grapple with these considerations. In addition, although the risk is low, such surgery can also affect feeling in the breast. Your daughter should experience pleasure with her unadulterated breasts before even thinking whether to alter them, and from what I hear, college will give her ample opportunity to do so.

Dear Prudence,
I am a mid-30s educated black woman with a bachelor’s degree. I am engaged to a wonderful man who has a past felony conviction, and we have an extremely loving, rambunctious, highly energetic 5-year-old son together. I majored in communications and HR, but I have been unsuccessful in finding a career in my field and am in an entry-level administrative role. My fiancé is working for a very low wage due to the felony conviction. I would love to expose our son to so much, but the finances are just not there. I am disappointed in our local school district ratings and have decided that for kindergarten I will send him to a charter school. I worry about our son’s future constantly as I see that the opportunities for our young black youth are severely lacking. I feel that we have brought this child into circumstances that are not conducive to his living a better life in the future, and I feel so much guilt because of that. My fiancé is of the mindset that he will do fine without our putting a large amount of pressure on him and that our income level will have no effect on him. But at work there are young people who are doing extremely well in life, and they all came from affluent families who could afford for them to live in areas where the school districts are high-performing. I want my child to have the same opportunities. How do I get rid of the heartache and guilt I feel at not being able to give our son the best?

—Frustrated Mother

Dear Frustrated,
Your concern about your son and his opportunities, even though it is a source of anguish for you, is a wonderful thing for him. He has two parents who love him more than anything and are focused on giving him the best life possible. That makes him a lucky boy. So it would be a relief for you, him, and your fiancé if you could let go of some of the psychological baggage you are carrying. Of course you want to maximize your son’s opportunities, but dwelling on your anxiety degrades your ability to enjoy being a mother and will affect your son. If you can give yourself permission to be happier about what you’ve accomplished and the family you have made, that sense of joy will be its own reward. Putting aside what you want for your son, let’s address your career difficulties. There is no easy fix, as you know, but please read the suggestions in my answer to this letter from another young person stuck at work. As for your son, I recommend that you read Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and Life. The book is filled with practical and philosophic insights. The authors, Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson, wisely emphasize the importance of play and nurture. You have a high-energy son, and unfortunately kindergarten today has been turned into an academic boot camp where he’s going to be expected to sit still and wield a pencil. So make sure there is plenty of opportunity for him to get exercise. Organized sports are useful, but also important is free play in local parks and playgrounds. Do not overlook the crucial effect of your daily interactions—you and his father talking to him, reading to him, and playing with him are not only free, but they are the building blocks of his emotional, intellectual, and physical development. There are going to be a lot of resources in your community that you can take advantage of, from the YMCA, to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, etc. Expose your son to different things—art, chess, music, sports—to see what sparks his interest. While you look for enrichment programs for him, find a parenting class for yourselves. This will offer support, good ideas, and reassurance about how you’re doing. Remember that feeling that raising your son is one of the greatest sources of joy in your life and communicating that to him will be priceless.


Dear Prudence,
Five years ago, I married the love of my life. We did not invite my older sister, from whom I was estranged at the time. My older sister has a history of making public scenes and has repeatedly refused psychiatric help, despite the many entreaties of our family. The wedding was attended by both of our families, and we had a lovely time. This year, my sister is getting married. In spite of the fact that we have resumed a relationship (of sorts), I am not invited to the wedding. I am hurt and want to ask my parents not to attend. How do I deal with this, and can I ask my family not to go to her wedding?

—Something Blue

Dear Something,
You say your sister has a history of untreated mental illness, which helped cause her estrangement from you, resulting in your not inviting her to your wedding. Now you have a tentative relationship with her. But she’s paying you back for your snub by not inviting you to her wedding. Sure, it’s not very mature on her part, but this is something you’re just going to have to understand and suck up. Your desire to destroy her nuptials by launching a familywide boycott says to me that your sister is not the only person in your family prone to acting out. You need to tell your family that you want them all to have a good time at the wedding and that you and your sister are slowly working your way back to having a relationship. Then send her a lovely gift with a heartfelt note of good wishes. Add that when they get back from their honeymoon, you and your husband would like to take them out to dinner to celebrate this happy news.


Dear Prudie,
When I started dating my husband seven years ago, he was always the guy with the latest gadgets. As the years have gone by, this interest has become an addiction, and he is now always glued to something. In our wedding photos, he’s using the phone at the reception for Facebook and Instagram updates. On our honeymoon, he wanted to stay in the room and watch YouTube videos on his tablet. He can’t eat a meal without the TV on. When I was in labor, he spent the entire time playing Clash of Clans. I drive because he uses the devices while driving. He complains about our sex life, but it’s hard to initiate foreplay while he is playing games or watching videos in bed. We have arguments about tiny things because the devices get in the way of effective communication. As our baby grows, I’m worried that he will neglect him as well or impart this addiction to him. What should I do?

—Tech Widow

Dear Tech,
Was he watching porn when your child was conceived? You need to take the tech out of his hands and say you two need a half hour of face-to-face conversation. Explain that while you appreciate having your own personal IT department, you are lacking a husband, and your child is lacking a father. Perhaps you should record this conversation on your phone, because his agitation at being devoid of devices will be a helpful video to show your marriage counselor. Tell your techie that because he has effectively withdrawn from your marriage, you two need professional intervention before there’s no marriage left to save.


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