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How Susan Sarandon Helped Me Reclaim My Cleavage

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about breasts. Actually it started as a conversation about dresses but quickly became, as they so often do, a conversation about breasts. What would I do with my breasts in this dress I wanted to buy? Where would I put them? Could they go under my arms, like saddlebags on a pack pony?

“You’ve got great boobs!” said my dutiful friend. “Go with it.”

“The thing is," I sighed, as far as it’s possible to be wistful in a WhatsApp chat, “I just can’t do cleavage. I wish I could, but it always makes me feel like a middle-aged barmaid.”

“I love you, but that is nonsense,” she replied. “As well as offensive to middle-aged barmaids.”

And she was right.

In theory I have always been stridently pro-cleavage. I’m stridently pro-cleavage just as I’m pro-uterus, pro-vagina, pro-doing whatever the hell you like with your pubes, pro-confidently carrying tampons to the toilet in public and anti-anything that polices women’s bodies and makes us feel sexual when we are not, or shameful when we are.

And gender politics aside, I still love cleavage – as art, as a kind of lovely fleshy sculpture, as a handy place to store your cloakroom ticket or discreetly drop popcorn for a snack later on. I’m a cheerleader for friends’ cleavages. I’ve winched them into wedding dresses, and used them as a comfy pillow when drunk. I always, always like them on Instagram.

But at the same time, I’ve been quietly fighting a battle with my own boobs that flies in the face of everything I feel about other peoples’ (mainly that I’m happy for them to fly in my face). Ever since the days when my mum would sew hidden bras into my tutus for ballet exams, my breasts have been a frenemy. They were an obstacle, not just to sleeping on my front, but to trapeze-line vintage dresses, tops with complicated straps and coats that did up without gaping.

More ‘ooh, matron’ than anyone’s hot mate, my E-cups left me destined always to play ‘second buxom wench from the left’ but never the gamine ingénue. And while my bountiful cleavage can make me feel sexy, pretty, womanly, powerful, any number of other nice adjectives, it has never once made me feel cool. Or chic. Or stylish. It is perpetually off-trend.

In recent years, with the triumphant rise of the poloneck and the backless everything, I realise I've been treating my cleavage more like an old, temperamental relative. Disguising it, distracting from it (look up here at my enormous hat!), binding it into submission with a series of increasingly medieval corsetry, in case it bursts out suddenly and embarrasses me at a party. Fashion magazines could champion Lara Stone’s and Kate Upton’s assets all they liked, but I never looked at those photos – always hyper sexed, always showcasing the cleavage like a gaudy Fabergé egg they weren’t sure what else to do with – and saw myself. I saw a fashion industry that would still rather my tits didn’t get in the way.

Last summer I finally found the answer to my pancake-flat prayers in the form of Next’s Jamie Minimising Bandeau bra – a serious piece of engineering that does the opposite thing bras are supposed to, squashing them down and smoothing them out so that I could finally wear form-fitting jersey without feeling like a walking seaside postcard. I gave it a rave review on the website; it gave me friction burns under my arms.

But the scars were worth it, I thought, to be able to wear a scoop-neck top to my friend’s wedding with only the merest shadow of cleavage. By forcing my breasts into hiding, I finally felt acceptable. I finally felt fash.

Until last month, that is, when Susan Sarandon schooled me. When she stepped onto the red carpet in that jacket and bra at the SAG Awards, every inch magnificent, she looked sexy, pretty, womanly, powerful, all the nice adjectives – but she also looked the things I never thought I could look with my breasts on parade: cool. Chic. Stylish. Also, carefree and comfortable. I looked at those photos and felt my minimising bra spontaneously (metaphorically) burst into flames.

Suddenly I realised my hypocrisy; that while I fight the good fight for body positivity and style being accessible to every shape and size, I also seemed to have deeply internalised fashion’s message that I can only be hip if I keep my boobs under wraps. Or cashmere scarves. All my dreams of uber-stylish Scandi minimalism have been resting on keeping those clean, tailored lines unbroken by breast at all times. And that, frankly, is balls.

The theories around fashion’s problem with breasts are numerous, all of them ugly. That the industry wants to infantalise us; repress us; chasten us; dress us as boys (this one especially grim when it comes with a side of homophobia); even just save money on those extra few inches of fabric. And when Piers Morgan jumps out from under his bridge to label a radiant, successful 69-year-old “tacky”, it throws up many of the same issues. But in telling my poor cleavage that it's naff, uncool – a bit basic – I'm no better than him. All these years, I'VE BEEN PIERS MORGANNING MYSELF.

So, no more. The day after Susan tweeted her gloriously defiant Throwback Thursday to Piers (if a picture speaks a thousand words then 500 of these were “fuck” and 500 were “you”), I put on the most plunging of my dresses and headed out, me and my cleavage against the world. I bought the dress, as well as a clingy v-neck and a bra that does nothing minimising whatsoever, but might just looking banging with a white jacket on top.

So I salute you, Susan. Breasts aside, you took a look popularised by Dane Bowers-era Victoria Beckham and made it a fresh red carpet option for 2016, a feat alone that deserves an award. And cheers to you too, Piers – in making a massive tit of yourself, you helped me learn to love mine.

Morgan insists that his issue is not with Sarandon's age or "fantastic" cleavage but rather her choice to wear the bra while paying tribute to those celebrities who have died. The British columnist has since been bombarded with photos of women showing off their cleavage in solidarity with the Thelma and Louise star. Sarandon also joined these "feminazis" (Morgan's word) in speaking up.

Here's her response, dedicated to Morgan. Simple, but effective. Can we leave her boobs alone now?