INTERVIEW: Leslie Lehr, Author of A Boob’s Life

Shows a woman from lips to mid-torso wearing a 1950s style red, pointy bra Author Leslie Lehr wants to talk about boobs.

She’s gone from size AA to DDDD and everything between, from puberty to motherhood, enhancement to cancer, and beyond. And she’s not alone – these are classic life stages for women today.

At turns funny and heartbreaking, A Boob’s Life explores both the joys and hazards inherent to living in a woman’s body. Lehr deftly blends her personal narrative with national history, starting in the 1960s with the women’s liberation movement and moving to the current feminist dialogue and what it means to be a woman. Her insightful and clever writing analyzes how America’s obsession with the female form has affected her own life’s journey and the psyche of all women today.

From her prize-winning fiction to her viral New York Times Modern Love essay, exploring the challenges facing contemporary women has been Lehr’s life-long passion. A Boob’s Life, her first project since breast cancer treatment, continues this mission, taking readers on a wildly informative, deeply personal, and utterly relatable journey. No matter your gender, you’ll never view this sexy and sacred body part the same way again.

A Boob’s Life is currently in development for HBOMax with producer Salma Hayek.

About the Author

Author Leslie Lehr sitting on pick couchLeslie Lehr’s books include What A Mother Knows, a Target Recommended Read, Wife Goes On, and 66 Laps, winner of the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize. Her nonfiction books include Welcome to Club Mom, Club Grandma, excerpted on FisherPrice.com, and Wendy Bellissimo: Nesting, featured on Oprah.

Leslie’s personal essays have appeared in the New York Times Modern Love column (narrated by Katie Couric on NPR), HuffPost, Yourtango, and in anthologies including Mommy Wars, The Honeymoon’s Over, and On Becoming Fearless. She wrote the original screenplays for the indie romantic thriller, Heartless, and the comedy-drama, Club Divorce.

Leslie has also worked in film production, including Prince’s “Sign ‘O the Times,” Charles Bukowski’s “Barfly, “and the cult thriller, “Witchboard.”

She has a bachelor’s degree from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she won a student Emmy, and an MFA from Antioch. A breast cancer survivor, she is “Chemo Chick” on Sickofpink.com.


Lara Lillibridge:  Your book is really well researched. You have a lot of facts, a lot of footnotes.

Leslie Lehr: I cut so much. I really tried to minimize the footnotes, because the research is just endless. And I was always updating them. But I really feel that memoir is women’s history.

Lara: Yes. 

Leslie: It’s the only way we get representation of the majority of Americans.

Lara: I completely agree. It’s sort of the untaught history.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Lara: So tell me how this book in this particular form came to be? Because you’ve written movies and scripts and novels. And another memoir, right? Welcome to Club Mom?

Leslie: No, well actually Welcome to Club Mom was personal essays, really. It was my first book. And it was really just a reaction of ‘Oh, my God, I’m at home. What is this life?’ The subtitle was called The End of Life as You Know It.

Lara: Which I love.

Leslie: Yeah, the publisher was like, no, that’s too negative, we have to change it. So the subtitle is Now The Adventure Begins, and of course, it did. And I do start with personal essays before every book, but I much prefer the fiction forum, I had no intention of writing a memoir.

Honestly, with this book, I had been sick. After chemo, the right side of my brain came back pretty much within months, my analytics were sharp. I work with other writers—I’m a structure diva, you know, and but the wellspring of ideas was just gone. And I really wasn’t sure if I would write another book. I went to experts at UCLA and they said, it’s like an athlete with a muscle, you’re the only one who feels the difference in that muscle, but it’s a critical muscle to you.

And so I had no idea what I was going to write next. But if you read the beginning of the book, that night, I got out of the shower, and was so upset that my boobs were crooked—and I knew I should just be grateful to be alive [after breast cancer] and my husband accused me of being obsessed.

I was just insulted. I am a feminist. How can I, a woman, be obsessed with my boobs? And yet why did I feel like that?  I was so desperate to call my doctor. He had to fix them, then I thought, are they broken? Then we heard this joke on TV, and it was David Letterman, who I wasn’t allowed to put in the book because I was told to be distracting. And, you know, he got the Mark Twain Award for Humor. He’s the intellectual comedian. And he made this boob joke about J-Lo, who was the producer of this new hit show. And it just made me so mad.

And I really had to prove why I wasn’t obsessing, or—if I was, that it wasn’t my fault. Everyone was obsessed with boobs and [I wanted to know] why. Also, originally the book was to decide whether I was going to go ahead and fix my boobs or not. It originally ended in 2018 when my mom turned 80 and kind of turned things over to me. And then politics kept going so the book funneled even more into that political angle

But honestly, I just knew that night, getting out my scrapbooks, that from the time I was three—the picture is in the book—this first memory I have were these tiny little bikinis.

 

a woman in a red one-piece bathing suit holding hands of two girls around 3-5 years old wearing tiny bikinis

Leslie: I cannot look at that picture without laughing because my sister couldn’t keep that strip of material over her nipple. And I thought, oh my gosh, this started when I was three years old—breasts are taboo. And if that’s true, something’s wrong.

And then I just knew that that was my next book. It was just the perfect blend of a real story and all this research that was fun and interesting to do, because my scrapbooks were newspapers and clippings and song lyrics, and it all was about beauty, women, and breasts.

It seems really obvious. In fact, I think the reason this book got rejected so much at first is because people just take that for granted. But then I discovered that I was born exactly at the time when our country’s culture shifted because of television and advertising, and Playboy, and all these things came together—and baby formula that was pushed on mothers rather than breastfeeding. Biology was co-opted for money really. And men’s eyeballs, I found out, look at women’s chests within 200 milliseconds of entering a room, that’s biology. You can’t fight that.

But when advertisers are using that to sell space on this new television that overnight went from, thousands to millions of TVs—in every home. They supported that by showing things to get eyeballs to their shows.

So every show that I watched when I was little, like Petticoat Junction, it was all girls with big boobs, and that’s when Playboy started. And that was really revenge porn by Hefner. He was a Puritan guy, a white man whose fiancé cheated on him. And my dad had Playboy in his college library [Princeton]. It was just what men did.

So my life, just by weird coincidence, completely paralleled the objectification of breasts, which had nothing to do with how much milk they could produce. And it’s an organ, you know, it turns blood into this customized immunity, but there’s no medical specialty for breasts.

Lara: That was outrageous to me. And I had never even thought about it.

Leslie: I hadn’t either until I got breast cancer, and then the doctors are so specialized. There’s not one doctor who cares for you: there’s one for surgery, one for medicine, one for radiation, one for your general mammograms and stuff. I mean, it’s crazy.

Breasts are something that feeds our children, and then can kill us. And every single day we get up and deal with the question of whether we going to show our breasts or hide them. And even the whole gender thing—these days, the people who are changing gender, the first thing they do is get top surgery to create breasts or to get rid of breasts.

It’s still the most frequent elective surgery—getting breast implants is—and yet women are still dying. And it wasn’t until the 80s and 90s when the laws came in effect, and instead of being the hush, hush women’s disease, it’s breast cancer because women became doctors and got to say ‘no, this is real, it’s not embarrassing.’

And yet, it is humbling because nurturing is our biological role, right? And so to be attacked for the breast, I mean, you know, it’s just it just was this weird thing that my life paralleled exactly.

Lara: So much of this conversation is interesting to me, but one thing that really struck me really deeply was this quote:

[Jessica] Valenti, admitted that breast cancer supporters were shouting Save the Tatas instead of save the woman. It sounded like breasts were our priority, the part worth saving.

And that hurt when I read that. I was like, wow, absolutely—that never occurred to me. I found that to be a devastating quote. You know, the, the whole save the boobies, save the tatas—it was cute. It was fun. But it never occurred to me it was prioritizing a body part over an actual human being.

Leslie: Right. On Google, I have a boob alert. You know, anything that says the word boobs or breasts in it, I get a ding and there are still, you know, Boobs and Bikes, Save the Tatas.

People don’t realize that that’s what it does. That’s why I think it’s so insidious to us that we accept it. You know, it’s normalized.

What I’m trying to do and, it’s going to be a comedy TV series, so there’s a lot of humor in the book, but I really want people to just—you can’t fight biology—but if we can just be aware of how we are completely commodified by these body parts, not for what their function is really, but in this defining way. It really minimizes women and also hurts men.

You know, it hurts our relationships and it’s very weird for me, as an aside, when my ex—he had clearly other issues, but to realize that a lot of his insecurity and mental health issues probably stemmed from the pressure—that he was raised to do everything and be responsible for everything.

And it’s really difficult for men, but then they’re the ones who make the money. And so, [my ex] felt it was his manly duty to keep me in the kitchen, even though we met when I was an executive. I was so flattered, he considered me differently, because I was so working hard, you know, to be manly executive.

When I think about it from a cultural standpoint, that to minimize what women can do, aside from their childbearing abilities, it really puts everyone in these roles that are holding all of us back. The need for childcare and equal pay just cannot be overstated. And self-care sounds so trendy, but it’s life or death for women, we’re doing too much.

I originally wrote the book before Trump went in office. Boobs? No one ever really talked about them.  Then suddenly, oh, it’s pussy—boobs were nothing. I kept shifting the tone of the proposal. And then it just got crazy. But to be able to really analyze how we went through #MeToo, and #TimesUp, and Black Lives Matter. And it really all is this same subject of how everyone needs to be equal, everyone—men and women, all races and [people with] disabilities and mental health. Until we can stop the majority of women being placed in this role, it’s just going to be hard for everybody.

Lara: We’re seeing that we are not as equal as we thought. When the pandemic hit, women were instantly thrust back into the traditional roles.

Leslie: Absolutely.

Lara: It was self-defense, or family defense, but it really highlighted and exacerbated just how far apart we were to begin with, right?

Leslie: The person who makes the most money is the one who needs to keep that job, you know. That’s men, and women are still dealing with more of everything else. And it’s really difficult to have childcare, even if you can afford it, during something like this. So it puts everyone on that level of Oh, my God, I’m supposed to be doing all this.

The New York Times called it the first month—they said the pandemic is moving feminism back. And I feel like, ‘oh, we all know now,’ but knowing isn’t the same as changing laws to make it different.

Lara: You wrote “my ability to feed the baby was not equal to his ability to feed me.” And I really didn’t understand that until I was a stay-at-home mom. Because, like you, I worked full time, my ex worked full time. And we used to argue, like our favorite fun argument was about which ruled the world: sex or money.

And I always said that a beautiful woman—someone with that hyper-sexualized Bond girl type of beauty—can get anything they want. And he said, no, money could always buy a beautiful woman. And, you know, we used to fight about this just for fun.

Leslie: No, it’s a great argument.

Lara: But you are right—in the end, as you wrote, “money is where the power lies.” And absolutely, it is not an equal equation because beauty is ephemeral. And, you know, what happens to that beautiful person when they nursed for years and have crow’s feet?

I didn’t really understand the true dynamics of money and power until I gave up my job. I have to say, I related to your daughter in terms of not identifying as a feminist when I was younger, because I didn’t see the inequality. I took it for granted that everyone was equal, that women could do anything that men could do. 

And another part that I loved was when you talked about the power of nursing and just the absolute joy of your early motherhood. And in my life, that was the first time that I really felt feminine power.

Leslie: You felt like a grown up.

Lara: Not just a grown up, but like, I had grown a human body and sustained it with nothing but what came out of my body. And what really made me a feminist—I went back to work when my first child was 12 weeks old. I worked for a few months, and then I quit. But when I went back to work and I was still nursing and this 25-year-old guy offered me his seat in a meeting, and I turned to him and I’m like, I have grown a human child in my body, you think I can’t stand for 15 minutes? And the poor guy was just trying to be polite.

Leslie: And yet, it’s kind of nice to sit down too. (laughs)

Lara: I know, right? I look back now, and wonder what was I even thinking. I wasn’t—the baby wasn’t—sleeping through the night. Sitting would have been nice. But I just felt so strong, that I didn’t like anything that implied that I was weaker, particularly due to my gender.

Leslie: Right.

 Lara: But then, and you wrote about this, that changes. You have the pre-child body and boobs, whether you like them or not. And then you have the nursing boobs, and then you have the post-nursing boobs. And now suddenly, you look back at your pre-nursing boobs, perhaps—at least I did—with more appreciation.

Leslie: Oh, yeah. Definitely.

Lara:  But my aging body helped me realize how society views women.

You have this whole section about Hillary Clinton showing skin and what’s appropriate for a woman in what roles.

For instance, Zoom. It’s like now a whole new world because you see someone only from the nipples up. I feel more of the need to keep my neckline high and to make sure my bra straps don’t show, which they always do. There’s no context, there’s no, ‘oh, you’re wearing a drapey skirt along with this neckline.’ It’s just all right there on camera, and you’re staring at yourself all day, which is terrible.

Leslie: Yeah. But now we can see the former first lady naked. We can see her boobs anytime. That shift was so radical, I’m sure that if we saw the chests now any of the women in power, we will be back to ‘oh, that’s a bad thing.’

It goes to the Madonna/whore thing only, you know, men like having the sexy versus the Madonna. Women aren’t allowed to be complex. And I know when I decide what to wear, and I think, ‘I want to wear my prettiest dress and I want to maybe show my boobs. And then then it comes down to, ‘no, you can’t have any distraction.’

Really, let’s just focus on what it’s about—because people are going look at us and judge us. You know, I’d like to have a no judgment zone for ourselves as well as other people. But you just can’t fight the biology. So it’s a really tricky thing.

Lara: You wrote a lot about the smart versus pretty dichotomy. And I think that what you’re saying is exactly that, like it was okay for Melania to be naked, because that was serving the male gaze, but if you’re supposed to be smart, then you can’t “lower yourself” to that, or you won’t be seen as smart. Right?

Leslie: Exactly.

Lara: So I was raised by a lesbian couple. And so I had kind of the ultimate feminist upbringing on the one hand, but then I also had contact with my biological father, who was very boob focused. And anyway, that’s another story. But although I didn’t have the traditional upbringing, I still had all of the television and  the US culture of the 1980s.

And my mom would always say, ‘You’re so smart. Pretty is as pretty does but you’re so smart.’ And I took that to mean that I couldn’t be pretty, right? Like, if you’re smart…

Leslie: Yeah, like, there’s no way to be both. Yeah. And, you know that goes back to Freud, he was a creature of his times, and he really defined that dichotomy of Madonna/whore. And it goes back to the Bible—either you have a child and you’re the virgin or your wanton and take the apple. There’re some great books actually. Wordslut is this great book. I don’t know if you’ve seen it?

Lara: No.

Leslie: It’s called Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language by Amanda Montell. In it she talks about how our language is so sexist.

And then there’s another one about the root of stories, from the Bible, how even the classic literature—everything from the Bible and the legends—they’re all written by men. So they all have this perspective. And so all of our writing and our worldview has this lens of the male gaze.

In the first couple of podcasts I did, I wore a Rolling Stones T-shirt. I was dying to have somebody asked me how I can still like the Rolling Stones, knowing now what I know about their lyrics, which are so misogynous. For me, I just always feel like it’s like watching movies and TV. We take on the male gaze, we’re the ones singing the lyrics. We’re the one who has someone under our thumb. We’re not thinking that we’re that little girl. No, we have we take that on ourselves as women to be the one in power. And then we realize in real life, oh, no, we’re just women.

You know, Mother’s Little Helper. I mean, this whole generation of women who took drugs to chill out. So it’s not a new thing. But I think that since media has risen, and all the technology and stuff that happened in the 60s, I mean, for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to be able to get a law approved through the FDA that small breasts are a disease, I mean— 

Lara: That’s ridiculous.

Leslie: Ah, but it opened up a huge business, you know, for the insurance companies and for plastic surgeons. And no one looks back at how those things happen. That’s influenced us up to today, you know. It’s still the biggest surgery—300,000 women a year.

Lara: Several of my friends who have had implants had a very similar experience to yours in terms of going in and saying, I want to be one cup size bigger, or I want to be no more than a B or a C. I have a friend who was getting a reduction. And she wanted to go from a DD to a B, and these friends all woke up much bigger than they had intended. And the surgeon said, ‘well, that’s just what looks right on your body.’

And apparently a D cup is what looks right on everyone’s body, because that’s what everybody I spoke to wound up with.  I wonder, if we had more female plastic surgeons, would it change things?

Leslie: I think for sure it would, how could it not? In my case, it had more to do with the fact that I had all this skin that they needed to fill up or otherwise I would have had smaller implants and still skin hanging down around them.

Lara: I want to clarify that you did not say anything critical here about your surgeon.  You said he was he was wonderful.

Leslie: I do know women who’ve had very small implants with women surgeons who are kind of mixed about it. But definitely men always think that you want to be bigger, because that’s what they want. I mean, that’s what they expect.

That’s why most women get implants, they think it is to please men, when actually has a lot to do with our insecurity, of needing to feel beautiful in this culture that values that. I don’t have a solution to it. I’m certainly just part of the problem as well, because I want to look pretty, too, I think we just need to know what our goals are and what we’re dealing with.

Lara: Which segues into something else I wanted to talk about. You had a line:

“Women have always had to be pretty to be heard.” – Leslie Lehr

And I feel like attractiveness bias is a huge component of our culture, but no one talks about it. If you are considered pretty I think that you can go farther. I know that there’s a lot of anti-fat bias out there and there certainly ageism, and all of that. But then there’s also the double standard of if you’re too pretty, you’re not going to be taken seriously. And it’s so complicated.

And men, I think, wear a clean shirt and shave and they don’t spend nearly as much time agonizing over how pretty they should be in a job interview, but it’s something I’ve certainly thought about.

Leslie: Absolutely. Body positivity is big on Instagram. I thought, oh, everything’s better. And then I thought, No, that’s just the feed I watch. 

Lara: Our filter bubble.

Leslie: Yeah. And then I think there is a lot of pressure on young girls now to be both smart and pretty. But it also works against you. If you’re too pretty, then it’s threatening. And so I don’t think that there’s anything that’s been solved about it at all. It’s just really complicated.

And the whole thing about how we look and getting ready for meetings, I mean, just to go out to dinner, I need at least a half an hour, my husband like, showers in five minutes, we’re out the door—not that we went out to dinner for a year. But now, but in meetings as well, I listened to the Skimm’d from the Couch podcast, and they were talking about the money that they spend and the time needed to get blowouts and look good and feel good to go to a meeting, and how that cuts down on their business time, where the men can just do back-to-back meetings and they don’t need to look a certain way.

There’s certainly this pressure on women to look groomed. And that takes so much more for women to look groomed than for a man who just have to shave. So yeah.

Lara: I read this article at the beginning of the pandemic about a man who kept his Zoom shirt on the back of his chair, and he put on his Zoom shirt for his meetings, and I thought a woman could not wear the same shirt to every meeting. That would never fly.

Leslie: No, right? My older daughter works at Adobe. And she said she just orders shirts, all different shirts. Because, you know, you can’t look like yesterday. So it’s a really tricky thing.

Lara: Now, how do your daughters feel about the book, and about being in the book?

Leslie: Good question,

Lara: If I’m allowed to ask.

Leslie Lehr in wedding gown with two young adult daughters

Leslie: I’m still waiting to hear, actually.  My older daughter, I actually ran stuff by her that had to do with her father mainly. And the parts she was in—a couple scenes talking about her feminist stuff. And she had, you know, some wage disparity that shocked her because I was, as you said, she refused to be a feminist. She thought things were better because I taught her that.

Lara: We believed you—we believed our mothers when you said we could be anything.

Leslie: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So she’s fine with it. But I would bet you that she hasn’t read the whole book. And you know, in my first novel a baby died. And she says I killed her. And so she’s always wary. And she’s never let me read anything of hers, even though she’s a copywriter. But I think she’s fine.

I’m wary of my younger daughter. Initially when I told her I was writing this book, I gave everybody the option of changing their names. And because she was the one who had wanted breast implants, she changed her name. I’m really hoping she reads this and identifies with some of the stuff and learns from it, stuff that I can’t really tell her directly.

I don’t know that she’s read it, and it’s tricky, you know, with your own kids. But she’s the one I really want to read it. Yet she’s very enthusiastic about the fact that it’s being well received. So she supports the book without wanting to get too deep in it. We’ll see.

My mother, I did not let her read the book until a week before it came out because of the stuff without her suicide attempt early in the book, and I had at one time tried to write a little bit about that but she had a fit. And now she’s really pleased with the book—really happy about it.

My dad—I haven’t heard from him. I didn’t get him the book early. He represents the culture that has held us down and yet, he also is a victim of the culture and I tried to make that clear at the end.

Lara: You were really kind to him, particularly with the politics and the Trump stuff.

Leslie: Yeah.

Lara: I mean; I have had those people I just could not speak to after the election for sure. But while definitely you don’t apologize for him, and you’re clearly angry, you also allow room to see that there was love and there was a relationship. I think that you did it nicely. And I was impressed by that.

Leslie: Thank you. I’ve sent him letters that say, ‘Dad, you’re on the wrong side of history, how can you be so against us, blah, blah, blah.’ And I really feel like he’s not going to change.

I just did a thing yesterday with Facebook group of writers mainly from the south. And it’s very tricky, because the book does get very political at the end. I’m from Ohio so most of my community—a lot of high school friends who are now really excited that I have this successful book, and I haven’t really been in touch with a lot of them—but they are Republican.

And so I’m just trying to have a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. And I know that if I can just focus on the funny and the good, and get them to the last chapter, then maybe the ship will move a couple of inches. I didn’t want to do anything that will completely alienate anyone. I really think inclusive feminism means everybody, both sides.

I felt that if I could just be understanding, that it would help all of us get together and that my anger and horrifying feeling of betrayal with my dad wouldn’t help anything. And I just needed to stick to, ‘here’s the situation, here’s how it affects me. I love you, you’re my dad. And yet look what’s happened.’

He’s excited—he thinks it’s going to be a great book. His wife liked it. And she had ordered it way before and send it to a lot of her friends for breast cancer. And I kept asking my husband, ‘Should I warn her? Should I tell her you know, it’s not just about breast cancer?’ Only two chapters are about breast cancer. But he said, ‘No, let it sit and see what happens.’

I haven’t heard anything bad. He must have read it by now. But I still oppose his politics. And I just hope to open people’s eyes. So for me, that kindness was calculated in a gentle way, you know, I really want to invite people to read my opinion and not have people rebel from it.

Lara: And we’re at that place in the country, I think, where we are trying to find ways back to each other

Leslie: I hope so. I don’t know. I mean, it’s a really scary thing. It’s hard. And I have trouble now on Twitter—I react to something and I think, ‘No, I want them to read my book, and maybe they’ll get the message that way.’

You know, it’s very tricky.

Lara: You know, we say that over and over that the personal is political. But it’s so true. I mean, the best way I think, for people to understand what it’s like on the other side of the group you don’t belong to is to read that personal story. So your combination of the facts and your personal life I found very compelling.

Leslie: Thank you. That’s definitely my goal. I really think we hear all these phrases, and they become so cliché. And the definition of a cliché is something said so much, that it’s a truism and yet we don’t even think about what it means. You know, when I work with other writers, I’m always like, get rid of this cliché, because the reader will just graze over it, and they aren’t really getting it like the personal is political.

In my proposal, I said nowhere is the personal more political than insides of our lacy bras. And until you really stop to think what that means, you just take it for granted. Of course, it’s political. Every minute of our lives are affected by what’s going on and this last election was a really good example of it. We don’t need to say anymore.

And maybe it’s good that these divides are out in the open, I don’t know, but it just seems like we need to reel back everything that happened in the last four years. And people still like to side with their perceived power. And as I said at the end—that was a tricky thing, too—because I really tried to explain why I think many so many white women voted along that line. And it really is because they don’t have access to equal pay and childcare and they are dependent on these men. And so they have to believe this, you know that men are in charge and need to be in charge. And it’s just a shame. It’s a catch 22.

Lara Absolutely. Now, let me shift—I’m just watching the clock and I don’t want to keep you too long.  How did this HBO series come about?

Leslie: Total luck. I was working on this book and I was working with a friend, just for free—I was helping her with some writing she was doing. I only knew her by her first name. She was just someone I knew from a parenting group. And she said, ‘Can I just shop this around? I know some people.’

And you know, I had to change agents. My other agent said, ‘I’m a flat-chested granola Berkeley girl, I don’t care about boobs,’ so I had to get a new agent. Also, she was moving to CAA and handling Kamala Harris. I wasn’t in the celebrity league. I had breast cancer, my last book—it did fine, it earned out the advance, but I wasn’t able to promote it. I wasn’t a big shot she could take with her.

So I got a new agent, and she had trouble selling it from the proposal. Everyone was like, oh, maybe write a magazine article, I don’t know if there’s an audience. So what boobs? I mean, that response is evidence of my point, really. But so I went ahead and wrote the whole book.

And so my friend, Melissa, was actually the first person to read the whole manuscript—before I even sent it to my agent. And she loved it so much. It actually gave me faith in the project. I decided that I’m just going to keep trying, I’m going to publish it myself if I have to.

And she had a friend who was an agent at CAA, and they shopped it around and my agent told me, ‘No, you wait until the book sells and then you do it in the proper channels.’ But I just trusted Melissa—she gave me such confidence that this was an important book. And she gave it to Salma [Hayek]. Salma just immediately said, ‘I am obsessed with this book. I’m gonna make this.’

Salma is this brilliant producer—she’s produced Frida, and Ugly Betty, and Monarca. Like Dolly Parton, they use their boobs as power, they get people in—kind of like I’m trying to do in this book—they get people in for the va-voom and then they use that power to really say good things. And she had this vision for this book. And I actually talked her on the phone she said she was obsessed with it. And she had a first-look deal at HBO max. And we are working on the pilot now.

I’m hoping people read the book, and are inspired by the book. In the series, my boobs are going to talk and certainly they don’t, but they will be the voice of hmm, really? It should be funny. My character is named Leslie and I’m an executive producer, so I have some say.

So it’s very exciting. And I think it was luck and just trusting the right people, you know, and she [Melissa] had never produced anything. But she was surrounded by people who are very involved in the business, and I had no idea. She just so cared about the book.

Lara: I have heard that women are really lousy at promoting their own stuff, but exceptional at raising other women’s voices. That that seems to be our superpower—going to bat for someone else: for our child, for our mother, for our friends. You know, that seems to be something we are really good at.

Leslie Lehr with daughter and neice at Women's March, 2018

Leslie: I think the only way it works, I mean, the whole Women’s March and everything. That’s the only way we have power is to band together. And I think it’s pretty recent. I mean, we can always vouch for one person or another person. But for all of us to get together like we are doing kind of as a rebellion is the only way that there will be change.

And also it feels safe. We need to band together to have this power. And we’re 51% of the country. It’s hard. We’re focusing on so many more things than men are. And so we need that togetherness. So I think that’s a really valid point. Even me, it’s really hard for me to promote this book until somebody else says, ‘this is an important thing.’

Lara: And your cover—did you have input? I love the cover.

Leslie: It is a fabulous cover! Originally it was pink and green. And I said, ‘No, we’re trying to talk about Americana.’ This vintage picture represents everything in the book. But it was my publisher who said, ‘this is the image,’ and I was like, ‘Yes, thank you.’

So that’s really a lucky thing too. And I think it goes a long way not just to say what the book is, but to attract eyeballs to the book. So hopefully it’ll help get the message out.

Lara: And it has such a historic vibe. You know, it’s definitely iconic and you talk so much about that particular shape.

Leslie:  And you know that that’s where it all started. So it’s it was a perfect cover. I’m thrilled with it. Yeah.

Lara:  Well, it’s a smart read, and it’s entertaining. It’s funny, and it’s touching. I’m so excited to get to speak with you. And I’m excited to see that it’s going to be reaching an even larger audience. And that has to be a little terrifying on a different level.

Leslie: Now, I’ll deal with that when it comes.

Lara: Yeah, just push that down.

Leslie: Right now I’m recording the audio book. So it’s all these little stages. And hopefully, all this publicity will just roll over into making it be an important book, not just a fun March Must Read  but something that’s really important, that will help women and men—help our country move forward and be aware of where we are.

Lara:  I saw on Twitter today something about when women are seen not as daughters, wives, mothers—only in relationship to their roles in regard to men—but as fully formed human beings, then the whole world will be a different place.

Leslie: Absolutely. We all are women. We all have to deal with this. My message is love your boobs, practice self-care. Don’t judge other people or ourselves and just be aware of how things are because of our bodies.

Connect with Leslie on her website for more pictures, an excerpt from the book, and a book club guide.

Headshot of Author Lara Lillibridge

Lara Lillibridge

Interviews Editor

Lara Lillibridge is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama (Skyhorse, 2019), Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home (Skyhorse, 2018) and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility (Cynren Press, 2019). In 2019 she judged creative nonfiction for AWP’s Intro Journal Project and currently serves as a mentor for their Writer to Writer program. She also writes for children under the name L.B. Lillibridge.

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