The Gift in the Plain Brown Wrapper

The Gift in the Plain Brown Wrapper

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

The Gift in the Plain Brown Wrapper

At fourteen you don’t need sickness or death for tragedy.
~Jessamyn West

The ad jumped out at me from the pages of the teen magazine that had arrived in our mailbox that very afternoon. And suddenly, I knew I needed a fuller bust for the summer—just like the swimsuit-clad blonde in the ad proclaimed. From the looks of her, her wish for a fuller bust had already come true. All because of the fabulous Mark Eden bust developer.

I had a year’s worth of teen magazines stacked on my bookshelf—all of them filled with similar ads. Next to the magazines was a coffee can that held the meager amount of money I’d managed to save from babysitting and my weekly allowance. Not nearly enough to order a Mark Eden. Glancing at myself in the full-length mirror that hung on the back of my bedroom door, I sighed. Fourteen years old, stick-skinny, and still wearing a training bra. If anyone in the world needed a bust developer, it was me. But I knew there was no way my mother was going to advance me the money to buy one.

“You know times are tough right now for your dad and me,” she’d said when, months earlier, I’d tentatively broached the subject. “We can’t afford to throw money away on something as silly as a bust developer. And besides, honey, that thing can’t possibly work. It’s nothing but a gimmick.” She planted a kiss on my cheek. “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

“You’re wrong, Mom!” I wanted to shout. “It worked for Jan. She’s been wearing a size 36C ever since she started using her Mark Eden! And you’re wrong about me being perfect. I’m not. I’m flat as a pancake.”

Jan was my best friend. Last year, she’d saved up enough to buy a Mark Eden by skipping school lunch every day for weeks and pocketing the money. I was with her when she filled out the order form and was at her house the day the package finally arrived. With trembling hands, she tore open the plain brown wrapper to reveal a pink plastic clamshell-like device held together with a heavy-duty spring designed to provide resistance. Included in the package was a booklet describing in detail eight separate exercises that would soon result in a breathtaking bust line.

It wasn’t long before Jan’s body really was transformed. She and I credited her thrice-daily workouts with the Mark Eden, accompanied always by the mantra WE MUST, WE MUST, WE MUST INCREASE OUR BUST. Never mind that during that time, puberty hit Jan full force. Never mind that she quit the basketball team and gained ten pounds. Never mind that her grandma, her mom, and both older sisters were well-endowed.

Jan was a 36C because of the Mark Eden and we both knew it.

I, on the other hand, seemed destined to have a boyish figure for the rest of my life. Who could blame me for gazing longingly at the Mark Eden ad every time a new magazine arrived in the mail? And wishing that, just in case my mom changed her mind about it being a gimmick, Christmas and my December 29th birthday weren’t several months away.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived home from school one day in late spring to find a package in a plain brown wrapper, addressed to me, in the middle of my bed. With trembling hands, I tore it open. Inside was a pink plastic clamshell-like device and a booklet describing in detail eight exercises that would guarantee me new curves in practically no time at all.

I snatched it up and ran out of the bedroom. “Mom!” I hollered. “Where are you, Mom?” I found her in the backyard taking laundry down from the clothesline. “Look what I found in my room!” I said, waving the Mark Eden at her.

“Well, my goodness,” Mom said, trying her best to act surprised and knowing full well that neither of us was fooled. “I wonder where in the world this came from?”

I laughed and hugged her tight. “It’s the best present I ever got.”

Forty years later, it’s hard to imagine the stick-skinny girl whose reflection stared back at me from the full-length mirror in my bedroom. My mother is dead and gone now. My own two daughters are—thank goodness—so accepting of their own bodies that, growing up, they never once asked for a Mark Eden bust developer. Not that they’d likely ever heard of one. Because in 1981, amid allegations of mail fraud, the Mark Eden disappeared from the market.

But it will never disappear from my memory. Nor will the image of my mother standing beneath the clothesline in our backyard holding a pink plastic clamshell-like device at chest level, and squeezing with all her might. Say it with me, honey, she told me. WE MUST, WE MUST, WE MUST INCREASE OUR BUST.

Thanks, Mom.

~Jennie Ivey

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