On Not Fitting In (to a bra)

My breasts showed up at the party unfashionably early. By third grade, my mother had already taken me to buy my first trainer bra from Limited Too because my nipples were starting to be too obvious through my tshirts. By fifth grade, I was a solid B cup and somewhere in the middle of middle school, I skipped C, D, and went straight to a double DD. Not only did I have breasts at a young age but I had relatively large breasts for my young age. My peers eventually caught up to me but for a while, I was one of the few who actually needed a sports bra for gym class instead of just keeping my tshirt bra on. I needed underwire bras, not just shelf bras. I always had to think through just what I would do on sleepovers when it came time to put on pjs – keep my bra on or off? – so that my friends wouldn’t notice how my breasts change shape without the support of undergarments. While some of my friends jokingly sang about how the Boob Fairy never came for them, I was crowned, albeit unwillingly, the chair of my local chapter of the Big Titty Committee.

I come from a legacy of strong women with large cup sizes and I have taken great solace in that from a young age. Still, I had a hard time navigating bra fittings and body shaming as a young person. Every trip to a bra store left me feeling inadequate in one way or another. Trips to the Nordstroms’ bra section made me feel like I was being shrouded in burlap while visits to stores like Aerie or the Gap told me that something was wrong with my body because none of their bras fit. Desperate, I sought supportive and affirming undergarments from the one store that seemingly all of my peers turned to: Victoria’s Secret. Every single one of my girl friends found their best bras there so that was were I ventured.

My trip to Victoria’s Secret started out fine enough – I found some underwear that my mother would approve of – cute and covered enough without any risqué writing on the butt. Then I moved on to bras. I avoided all their frilly nonesense, looking for a standard everyday bra that would do its job and little else. Once I found the simplest version of the t-shirt bra, I began looking for sizes. At the time (mid-high school), I was a solid 34DD – a fact I hated admitting to myself, let alone anyone else, even though Oprah claims that’s the bra size most desired by women – and I made my way through the drawers for my size. I found it and headed to the fitting room where I took off my shirt, my bra, and clasped on theirs. With the straps on, I maneuvered the standard scoop, lift, and center in one swift motion. The girls were where I thought they should be so I took a look in the mirror to see how things looked.

I’m pretty sure I let out an audible gasp. Everything was wrong – gaps on the sides, overflow on the top, digging at the bottom, not enough strap, too much band. Alone at the time, I figured I must have mis-sized myself and I poked my head out to ask a sales associate for help. She came, took a peak at my top, and made a face like she just smelled something offensive. Flippantly, she stated that I definitely needed a bigger size and asked what I currently had on. When I told her, she responded that that was the biggest size they had – with a tone half aloof and half embarrassed for me, she there’s nothing she could do for me. And with that, she let the fitting room door slam shut, leaving me and that terribly made and ill-fitting bra all alone. Before and since, I have never been made to feel so out of place, shamed, and ugly.

I took of their bra, threw it on the floor, got dressed and practically ran out of the store. I have never stepped foot back into a Victoria’s Secret again. This experience, while it lasted probably all of twentyfive minutes, had a lingering impact. In a time and place where media, pop culture, politicians, and clothing stores all have something to say about how women’s bodies should look, Victoria’s Secret told me that my body would not only not fit in their bras, but it wouldn’t fit in their version of womanhood. As arguably the most ubiquitous lingerie company in this country, they set the standard in the industry, which is turn has a huge impact on the conception of bodies, sex, and sexuality for young girls and women. If I couldn’t shop at Victoria’s Secret, where did my body and I fit into these bigger ideals?

At the end of the day, undergarments should serve one purpose and one purpose only: to line/lift/shape/support breasts and vaginas (the fact that we live in a world where women’s bodies even need to be shaped/lifted/covered is yet another fucked up way society patrols the female body, but that’s a topic for a later post) and the companies that manufacture these pieces of clothing should provide ample sizes and cups/band combinations to fit the widest swathes of women. How dare a company whose sole purpose is to support the female body shame a body for falling outside of their limited sizing palette?

It took a while and many trips to amazing empowering bra stores for me to relearn to love my body and my breasts. Sure, my breasts are on the larger end of the spectrum and I will always wonder what it feels like to walk around on a hot summer day with no bra on, showing just enough side boob. But as long as a company tells any body that there’s nothing they can do for them, I will refuse to support them with my patronage, and more than that, I want to publicly throw shame on Victoria’s Secret for their sizist bullshit. From their manequins to their models to their fashion show, Victoria’s Secret promotes one version of the female body as the idealized version of the female body, excluding and implicitly devaluing any other form of the female form. I refuse to shop there and I urge all of the breast-baring people in my life to do the same. Because at the end of the day, anyone – whether a human or a clothing store – that shames bodies and their breasts is no friend of me and mine.

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