Many works are set in a culture where the common assumption is that "Buxom Is Better". This standard of female beauty can be a challenge for women with smaller breasts, and while some wear the "ironing board" title with pride, others are plagued by problems of low self-esteem as a result of their... un-bustiness.
This can be for a variety of reasons, but the most common anxieties are that she'll look less sexy to a Love Interest, be mistaken for a child, or be treated as underdeveloped and immature because of her small chest.
In fiction you frequently see this with teenage and preteen girls, disappointed that they're not as "mature" as their older sisters or more-developed peers, before ultimately learning An Aesop to love their body no matter what final shape it takes. It can easily become Hilarious in Hindsight if the character or the actress portraying her grows up and becomes quite big-breasted as an adult.
Things commonly done by this type of small chested woman:
- Wearing loose clothing so that it's harder to guess the size of her chest.
- Trying to make herself appear more busty than she really is, possibly by using a push-up bra or Fake Boobs.
- Getting offended when other people comment on the smallness of her breasts.
- Jealously staring at another girl's huge breasts at the beach, at the pool, or in the changing room.
While the trope is named after one of the smallest standard bra cup sizesnote , for an Alliterative Name, the interesting thing is that a lady doesn't have to be "flat" or even remarkably small-chested in order to suffer from this anxiety. It's a state of mind that depends on what beauty ideal or peer group the character is comparing herself to, so even a girl or woman who fills a C-cup may feel inadequate in the presence of another who's an E-cup. Messages from the media, lack of self-esteem, or even just happening to associate with women who are bustier than average (sometimes the result of being the token average person in a World of Buxom) can give a female character a distorted image of what counts as "small".
Subtrope of Appearance Angst. Contrast Petite Pride for women who are small-breasted and proud. For "assets" on the other side of the spectrum, compare Big Breast Pride and D-Cup Distress. For the Spear Counterpart, see Muscle Angst. Anime Fanspeak refers to this type of character as a "Pettanko" (roughly, "completely flat").
- In Real Life this is common enough among Japanese girls that weekly or monthly shojo manga publications more likely than not include breast enlargement ads, or at least diet ads that promise to not take anything off the rack. Aside from the usual before-after photos, exciting exclamations and shiny products, there are specific ad mangas: 8 to 12 pages of A-Cup Angst and Buxom Is Better played straight enough to put a ruler to shame with no other content.
- Ad for Chasteberry E: Meet Miss Pettanko. Her life sucks. The boys don't even know she exists. She attempts to ask her crush out, he awkwardly evades. She knows the solution is to develop breasts. Cue desperate attempts, and finally success when a friend tips her off about the product. 3 months later she has gone from zero to cup E or so, attracts the Male Gaze wherever she goes, and is happily together with her crush.
- In Blue Beetle, Paco's younger sister.
Paco's mom: Doesn't [Mariposa] look good in Soledad's things? If Soledad had boobs, this is what she'd look like.
- In Danger Girl, Silicon Valerie suffers from frequent bouts of insecurity because she is nowhere near as well-endowed as her teammates.
- Ninjette's cheerily drunken confession to Empowered as to the reason she was in the employ of various thugs rather than a member of the Superhomeys summed this trope up (and unlike many artists, when Adam Warren invokes lack of the Most Common Superpower he does not use half-measures).
Ninjette: I can't be a goody-goody heroine 'cause I don't have a nice, big rack! *urrp* Can't be a good girl without a good set, right?
- Sophie Bangs in Alan Moore's Promethea is described by one of the past Prometheas as "flat-chested and neurotic," with the implication that that's what the typical candidate for Promethea-hood is like.
- When Henry Bendix first recruits Jenny Sparks into (The Authority's predecessor) Stormwatch, she agrees on the condition that she doesn't have to wear spandex, saying "I don't have the chest for it." Most artist renditions since have been faithful to this concept. This did not hamper her sex life in the slightest, though living 80 years as an attractive 20-year-old who loves to party surely helped her there. Swift (being a typical Tibetan) was pretty flat-chested during Warren Ellis' run/ending on Stormwatch, but when the artists for The Authority drew her, she was given a much more substantial rack that got handwaved into being a "20-grand boob job."
- Udda Von Schteppenslammer from Tank Vixens has "itty bitty mousie titties" and the members of the 101st battalion are well-endowed.
- Yelena Rossini from Transmetropolitan is just a bit touchy on the subject, which makes a certain amount of sense when you consider that she spends most of her time in close proximity to Channon.
- Wilhelmina "Will" Vandom, the teenaged leader of the interdimensional Guardians, is quite explicit about it. She frets about her scrawny appearance, and prefers to be in her older, more tittacular Guardian body. As most of the art seems to show her arching her back◊ and sticking out her chest◊ in Guardian form, you can guess why. Actually if you look at the second picture there, she's clearly staring down at her enhanced breasts with excitement in the middle image!
- Taranee and Hay Lin to some degree, implied by their Guardian forms being just as large-breasted as Will's and them liking it. She too shows she likes her Guardian form. This is driven home in one episode: Cornelia's mother embarrasses her in front of the others by jokingly implying she stuffs her bra after seeing Hay Lin transformed and buxom, believing it's a Halloween costume with false breasts. Hay Lin suddenly looks angry and humiliated, and puffs up her chest some more to (over)compensate.
- Subverted with Cornelia: while petite (and, in the cartoon, the first one to notice the breast enhancement of the Guardian forms), she's perfectly OK with her body. In the comic this is shown by her Guardian form being merely an Older Alter Ego, in contrast to Will, Taranee and Hay Lin having larger breasts (and Irma being slimmer).
- Vanessa, a teenage supporting character in Wonder Woman (1987), tended to bemoan her lack of breasts and was stated on one occasion to stuff her shirt.
- X-Men: Jubilee sometimes took this role back then, but she has gotten bigger as she grew up. In Generation X, which focused on the younger and less well-known of Xavier's students, her modest figure was used to contrast her against the model-esque Monet St. Croix. Sometimes Kitty Pryde takes this role, too. But much like Swift above, when Jubilee transitioned into the New Warriors relaunch, she lost her mutant powers, but gained two cup sizes in the bargain. (Granted, she was 13-14 for most of her comic history.) Entertainingly lampshaded◊ in Uncanny X-Men #268 — Jubilee is listening in to a conversation between Wolverine and the more commonly-endowed Psylocke and Black Widow. She glances up at the two women in their skintight costumes, peers down her vest to see how she matches up, and then drops her head in her hands with a frustrated expression.
- Breakfast on Pluto: Heroinne Kitten Braden, although she prefers to call herself a "svelte gamine", as she indignantly informs the peep show customer who complains about her lack of endowment. Although in Kitten's case, this is only to be expected, since she's a trans woman and not on any sort of hormone therapy.
- In Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, one of the town residents, Patty, is this. She uses a variant of bra stuffing (falsies) to make herself seem otherwise, and keeps her small breasts a secret from the entire town... until The Reveal at the picnic!
- Gidget: In the first movie, Sandra Dee is doing some sort of exercise to help pump her chest out.
- In the medieval comedy Gladiatrix, the heroine's newly acquired French husband is disappointed over her lack of breasts. When she magically acquires breasts during the course of the movie, she's able to return home and tell her husband to carry out numerous household tasks.
- Junior High School features the song "Itty Bitty Tittie Committee".
- Just the Way You Are: Susan's ballerina friend Lisa tells her that she used to stuff her shirt with Kleenex before each date and hope the boy didn't try to cop a feel.
- Look Whos Talking Now: A flashback has a young Mollie yelling at her mother "I'll never have breasts!". Adult Mollie, played by Kirstie Alley, did get them.
- In My Girl 2, Vada asks her stepmother Shelly when she got breasts.
Shelly: I was a very late developer, they used to call me "Shelly Two Backs". All my friends had real bras, not like the training ones I had.
- In Now and Then, Teeny stuffs her top with pudding-filled balloons, as they have a similar consistency to human breasts. As an adult, she proudly tells her friends that she is a "36D, and worth every penny!" On the other hand, tomboy Roberta is shown binding her breasts with masking tape while lamenting "No matter what I do, they just keep getting bigger!"
- Singles: Bridget Fonda.
- Sixteen Candles: Samantha "Sam" Baker. According to his little brother, she's "only eating carrots to increase the size of her breasts." Sam later says about her bridesmaid dress: "I don't have one-tenth of the bod to fill the stupid bust up."
- Slipstream (1989). A beautiful girl is griping about the ennui in her Gilded Cage life to the adventurer hero.
Owens: You're bored with this? (cups her lacy bra)
Amanda: [pouting] Too small.
Owens: Bore me to death!
- Special Female Force: During the Designated Girl Fight between one of the protagonists and the Dark Action Girl, they both strip down to tank tops in the middle of the fight, and the heroine takes note of how much the villainess is lacking in the chest area, which noticeably pisses her off.
- They Call Me Bruce?: The title character comments on the fact that the nude woman sent to massage him has "breasts like a boy". She seems rather embarrassed by this.
- The To Do List: The main character often laments her lack of large breasts. At one point, she tries to get her crush's attention by swimming in a pool while wearing a bikini. The top falls off, but she does not realize it at first, so the entire pool gets an eye full. Her crush turns away in embarrassment her Jerkass boss starts making fun of her, and the kids in the pool steal her top to join in on the mockery. After that, she has no recourse but to just walk away from the situation, completely topless while shouting at children and horrified mothers in impotent rage.
- Wanda the Wicked Warden (one of the sequels to Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS): The main character checks into a mental health hospital. The nurses begin undressing her and start mocking her small breasts.
- There's a mean-spirited joke that plays off this trope in Real Life:
"I just heard a joke so funny it'll knock you flat! (looking at chest) Oh, I see you've already heard it."
- A woman is looking at herself in the mirror, sighing about her breasts being too small. Her husband overhears and says he has a solution. "What's that?" "Rub 'em with toilet paper!" "Toilet paper? How will that help?!" "Well, look at what it did to your ass..."
- Queens of Comedy: There was a form of this joke where Sommore (who admits she's blessed with a C cup and a flat stomach but lacks the weight on her behind) tells of a flat-chested and stomached woman with a generous posterior asking her about how she can make her "titties grow without silicone" and Sommore recommended toilet paper.
- "I Must Increase My Bust", by Lords of Acid:
There I found out that I'm not alone
Suffering from this flat chested syndrome
- Averted in "Whenever, Wherever" by Shakira, who doesn't mind her small chest size and in fact takes pride in it:
Lucky that my breasts are small and humble
So you don't confuse them with mountains
- Then, in Objection (Tango), Shakira oscillates between this trope and Petite Pride:
Next to her cheap silicone, I look minimal
That's why in front of your eyes, I'm invisible
But you've got to know small things also count
- nWo Girl April Hunter said that growing up, she was teased for her barely visible bust. Then after she was all grown up, Hunter was teased by the likes of Alere Little Feather for the exact opposite reason.
- Alere Little Feather herself tends to accuse anyone with breasts larger than her own of having "fakes". That's as a face too. As a heel she tends to make these accusations while also padding her own singlet to make her boobs look bigger(it's a legit skill taught in beauty school!).
- HBIC switched her second sport from body building to cheer leading in Ultimate Pro Wrestling because she didn't like how the combination of developed chest muscles, low body fat and regulated water intake necessary to win body building contests made her breasts look.
- Psycho Beach Party Parodied when the female lead laments her figure to the audience while topless ("It's like I have the body of a boy!")... when the actor is a boy.
- A Chorus Line
- "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen" has lines like this.
"Tits! Where are my tits?"
"Honey, you're too young to wear a bra - you've got nothing to hold it up!"
"Having to go through high school without growing tits"!
- Val gets a song all about this ("Dance: Ten, Looks: Three"). She never grew the womanly attributes necessary for Broadway success, so she went to a plastic surgeon and got them installed. One dancer says she wishes she had one breast just like her. Val's advice, "Have 'em all done!" (In the film adaptation, she advises, "Well, go out and buy them!")
Flat and sassy,
I would get the strays and losers.
Beggars really can't be choosers.
That ain't it, kid. That ain't it, kid.
Fixed the chassis; "How do you do!"
Life turned into an endless medley
Of "Gee it had to be you!"
- "Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen" has lines like this.
- Raised in Funny Girl as part of a litany of attractiveness tropes women are subjected to in showbiz ("If A Girl Isn't Pretty"):
When a girl's incidentals
Are no bigger than two lentils
Then to me it doesn't spell success!
- Shortly played with in this episode of Captain Disillusion, in which Lauren, the actress who plays Holly, said "What? It could've been!" in response to doubt that the boobs of the actor who'd played Mickey Mouse in an earlier episode didn't seem to be anywhere near hers. In real life, she has actually jocularly tweeted that the Captain himself had bigger boobs than she did.
- Ruby from Ruby Quest is flat as a board.
- In the videos she uploads on YouTube, Tess Masazza - creator of the Italian webseries Insopportabilmente donna - seems to have a bit of a complex for her small breasts. The only moment when we see her happy during her period is when she realizes that as a side-effect they have spontaneously inflated (and she immediately starts shooting selfies in her bathroom).
- Heather Foreman on The War Comms is one of the few A-cups over 13 in the entire cast and as a result feels ugly compared to the other girls. Inverted with Lucy, who thinks breasts are ugly and freaks out when other girls tell her that she'll have "big lumpy things on her chest" when she gets older.
- Foxy from Zorak's let's play of Pokémon Quartz after a certain trainer told her to take off her pants and jacket and then losing:
Roker(sic) Travis: All the small things...
Foxy: Hey, Im not that old, I know Ill fill out later.
- American Dad!: This is one of the reasons that Hayley is such a bitch, as she's apparently bitter about not "filling out" the way she wanted. The episode "1600 Candles" had a flashback to her early teens when she angrily screams at her parents "This is as big as they're gonna get?!".
- As Told by Ginger:
- An episode revolves around Courtney Gripling taking a high-school French class. She wants to get closer with an older boy who she has a crush on but doesn't want to look too young, and her breasts make this obvious (she is 12 years old at the time). She stuffs her breasts to make herself look older.
- Another episode has her stuff her bikini top for a pool party. Ginger knows that some other kids are planning to steal her top, and the fact that Courtney stuffs is treated as at least as humiliating as the possibility that she could wind up flashing everybody what she does have
- Braceface: Title character Sharon Spitz is constantly and excessively insecure about her chest, being completely flat-chested. So much so in fact that she tried on one episode to increase her breast size with a pneumatic pump.
- Cow and Chicken: Done in a metaphorical way in the episode "Horn Envy". In this case, Cow is bitter about her horns not being big enough to get the attention of the boy she likes, but the whole thing plays out as if she was a human girl who's unhappy with her cup size. It's made particularly obvious when one of Cow's friends encourages her to wear a bra padded with toilet paper over her head to give the illusion of bigger horns.
- Connie on King of the Hill is revealed to be jealous of Luanne in "Naked Ambition," to the point where having apparently caught Bobby and Joseph trying to peep at her, she's disappointed to learn that Joseph was trying to see Luanne instead.
Why would anyone look at me when they could look at her?
- Subtly done in Phineas and Ferb. Candace goes to Jeremy's pool party, but when she sees him there, he's chatting with a blonde, busty, curvy girl who's wearing the same swimsuit as her. When Stacy tries to calm her down after she freaks out, Candace responds with "She wears [the swimsuit] better!".
- A throwaway line hints that Angelica is this on Rugrats: All Grown Up!. Apparently, she's a little bitter that her bra-stuffing campaign didn't turn out the guys like she wanted. Considering she practically has no breasts even when she stuffs her bra, one wonders if her chest is concave without it.
- Despite not being flat-chested, Jen is this (especially around her sister, who is much more buxom).
- Conversely, Caitlin is flat-chested, and is revealed to pad her bra.
- South Park: Parodied (what else?) in the episode "Bebe's Boobs Destroy Society" when the underaged Wendy gets jealous of the male attention Bebe's receiving due to her early breast development. Wendy goes as far to get implants, but unfortunately for her, the boys get over their preteen obsession at the end of the episode and she's laughed at.