Every day of the fifth grade, I wore two sports bras at once because I thought they’d keep my boobs from growing. Four years later, I walked into high school sporting a 34DDD bra, a t-shirt almost long enough to be a dress and my mom’s old jeans.
Eleven years after that, I went to my first bra fitting at a local boutique. There, I learned the importance of luxury for my titties.
The process began with a nascent desire to level up my undergarment game and attempt self-care. I took to the internet to search for small bra boutiques. I found Eileen. After a 40-minute car ride, I knocked on the door and walked into the land of lace and silk. Eileen—the town’s bra expert—greeted me. With honorable efficiency, she ushered me to the fitting room. Along the way, I admired the rainbow of panties fanned out on the tables. A mannequin wore a lingerie set too medieval for my taste, but I commended her commitment to character. With the drape pulled back, Eileen gestured for me to enter the four-by-four room and asked me to take off my shirt.
She left and closed the curtain behind me, so I got to work. I piled my purse, jacket and t-shirt on the chair in the corner. With my bra exposed and ready to be inspected, I called for Eileen. Regardless of context, I never felt comfortable with my shirt off and shoes on. Eileen joined me in our close quarters and proceeded to point out everything wrong with my bra. She pulled on the band to show its lost elasticity and turned me to the side to detail my breasts’ unflattering silhouette. I never knew my nipples should line up with the midpoint of my upper arm when wearing a bra. Within thirty seconds, I learned things I wish I had known as a teenager.
A complicated history
Before my boobs made their rude arrival in grade school, society labeled me a tomboy. Pink was my least favorite color. I had the same shoes as a boy in my class, and makeup never intrigued me. Of course, a girl who wasn’t always feminine had to be differentiated. I always felt uncomfortable inside the box society put me in. I couldn’t comprehend why others had the right to categorize my appearance for their peace of mind. Despite my wishes, my body decided to sexualize itself before I was ready, ending my era as a tomboy.
My mother dragged me to Victoria’s Secret to get “nice bras” for my larger-than-average chest, a repeating occurrence of pummeling embarrassment and teenage angst. The sales associate whipped the measuring tape around me twice, scribbled something on a pink piece of paper, and prescribed me a 34DDD. My mom flew through the store’s drawers. I rejected all the push-up options, resented her for making me try on bikinis, and left with more tissue paper than pride. For many suburban families like ours, Victoria’s Secret was deemed a lingerie leader—despite its attempts to sexualize underage girls. At 14 years old, I was advised to push my tits together and display the very things that would be used against me, my career, and my safety.
I did not accept or respect my boobs until Eileen talked about them as if discussing the weather. Before this epiphany, my breasts were objects of unwanted attention. My teenage self believed boys were incapable of making eye contact. At 15 years old, I let a classmate motorboat me on the bus and name my boobs. We never kissed, but I still remember the nicknames. For years, I reprimanded my tits for sagging. Nowhere did I see weakened breast tissue except as the punchline of jokes. My hunched back like Quasimodo’s made me hate my front-heavy frame.
As a teen, I dreamed of having my breasts surgically removed. My tits were my pain point, staring back at me in the mirror before every shower and reminding me of the femininity I was afraid to express. I was cursed with a body sexualized and governed beyond my control. I would conceal my curves for the chance of being more respected. The world told me to look pretty and not slutty – at least not in public. As a teenager, I had to decide what to do with unwanted attention in a sea of societal hypocrisy.
When I tried on that European black lace bra and marveled at my reflection, my womanhood and I were finally friends. My tits looked how I wanted them to look for me—not for my boyfriend or my womanly “competition.” I was my own muse, and I looked sexy as hell. Then, Eileen read the $150 price tag, and even though I once tried to salvage jam from a broken glass jar, I made that purchase like I was breathing air. Not only did I accept my body, but for the first time I felt what it was like to love my reflection without wavering.
When I got home, I didn’t wear the bra for ten days. I didn’t want to risk ruining such an expensive item. Part of me believed I wasn’t allowed to feel sexy outside of that boutique. However, I did share the news of my purchase with loved ones. It was not a mistake but a triumph. Once so scared of being on the receiving end of sexual violence, I went years without purchasing a nice bra and settled for outstretched garments. I absorbed the misogynistic rhetoric that if I never looked attractive, then I’d never be raped. When I understood I was not responsible for predators, I began to unshackle myself from negative beliefs. Once a baffling notion, I understood that I was not an ornate sex doll, but rather a human being who deserved a full life unburdened from the worry of what men could do to me. Now, I invested in myself. I repaid myself for all the restrictions and suffering I endured. Years in the making, my boobs were now strapped in and ready to inspire.
This purchase may be a casual errand for some women, and it could spark financial envy or disapproval from others. Womanhood takes on different forms and is as diverse as our bra sizes. Some of us wear minimizers, and others don’t wear anything at all. May freedom not be constrained to the image of fewer garments. Instead, may we reimagine a black-lace, full-cup, three-hook brassiere as an option for feminism, showcasing our bodies for ourselves and love for our own reflections.
However, I must ground myself and my dreams. Not every day will I ride the sweet sexy-bra high. Beliefs are ingrained, unable to be destroyed in a day. Unlearning the pressures of the society I inhabit is a slow unraveling: taking two feminist steps forward and one conditioned step back. I try to convince myself that my inner child no longer exists, but the girl who hated her body has morphed into a cracked woman. I have yet to see beauty in my stretch marks. I spackle my voids, hoping to believe I am sexy more days than not. The girl who cried when trying on her first training bra will not stop screaming until breasts can exist unsexualized. I bought the bra (and a second one) for her, to rewrite ownership and to forgive self-hatred.