The XX Factor

I Hate My Boobs But I Love My Bras

All I can say about the following piece by Emily Piacenza is that if it doesn’t make you want to race out and get fitted for a bra, I don’t know what will. Have a great weekend, everyone.

In my own defense I would like to clarify that I am not obsessed with boobs. My younger brothers are. Many of my friends are too. My students talk about them constantly, and I laugh at their ever-evolving mammary euphemisms: tits, totes, chesticles, gazongas, fun bubbles. I actually detest the word “breasts,” always tripping over it clumsily or unintentionally emphasizing it. But I am not obsessed with boobs. I am interested in well-supported lady lumps, though, and the way that women become happier when theirs are comfortably secure. I am interested in feeling strong and sexy, and having my friends feel that way, too-all of which, I guess, is to say that I am actually obsessed with bras.

When I was 10 or 11, I wished very sincerely not to have breasts. They seemed inconvenient and unfair. My well-endowed soccer teammates looked ridiculous when theirs bounced painfully down the field. I watched mine grow against my will, charting their progress in the bathroom mirror, and hoped that maybe they would stay small and get in my way as little as possible. I was angry that one was larger than the other: At the very least, if they were out to ruin me, they could do so symmetrically. The idea of wearing a bra filled me with dread, and when I finally did graduate all the way up to underwire support, I cursed the daily discomfort, the slipping straps, and the permanent red marks left on my ribs. My mother and sister could never really relate, tiny-titted as they are. (“You clearly get those from your father,” my mother even once observed, to my great confusion.) I knew I should appreciate my icons of womanhood, but I did not love them. Eventually I learned to overlook the itching, sticking, and digging because I realized that my breasts looked better supported than they did just hanging free on their own, and though I felt restricted, I knew I appeared more attractive and more professional when harnessed in-and suffering.

But two years ago, a friend changed my life by telling me that she had been fitted in a fancy store in New York City and that her bras never rode up or down or anywhere that they weren’t supposed to be. I didn’t really believe her. She said people had started telling her, “You look great!” as soon as she bought her new bras. “Eighty-five percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra,” she told me. So it came to pass that, skeptical but vaguely hopeful, I headed to Madison Avenue on a Saturday afternoon, figuring brassieres certainly couldn’t get worse and hoping to at least acquire something sexy in the process.

Inside the store, I was seated briefly in a tight corner, surrounded by lingerie and hosiery, and there I filled out a questionnaire about my goals. I was interested in comfortable, everyday bras, not “special occasion” lingerie. Yes, I often found that my straps slid down and that underwire left marks. I did not have a problem with bras being too tight. I wasn’t sure if they were too loose. No, I did not need a lot of padding. Yes, my breasts were two subtly different sizes. In the space marked “other concerns,” I wrote, “I am a schoolteacher and cannot have my nipples visible at any time. Thank you.” A small bespectacled woman eventually approached me through the screens of silk and lace, collected my paper, and glanced over it quickly. “OK, Emily, please follow me into the dressing room,” she said, not really smiling, and back we went.

In a small, curtained cubicle she asked me to take off my top and bra, and I stood uncomfortably aware of my boobs as she looked at them quickly and quizzically and then left. Alone, I gazed at myself in the full-length mirror, but before I could do a thorough analysis, she was back, armed with twenty bras. She chose a plain black one with lacy straps, held it up in front of me, and then with one swift movement hooked it around me. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had actually helped me put on my underwear, and so distracted was I with that thought that I didn’t even really notice that she was tugging at the bra and adjusting the straps, the band, and my breasts. She stepped away to give me a glance into the mirror. I stared.

My gazongas looked gorgeous. The bra felt a little bit tight but my new mentor explained that the band should be bearing almost all of the responsibility for supporting the bust. Most women, she said, relied heavily on the straps for support, and they shortened them when the bra felt loose. The tightening in turn caused the back of the bra band to ride up, which tipped the breasts forward and thus actually helped them droop. She showed me that the bra should be worn down lower than I thought, across the smallest part of my back. “You’re a 32D,” she told me. “And here you’ve been wearing a 36C all these years.” Fascinated (a D?!) I tried on the rest of her selections for an hour, ultimately choosing just three practical bras and one fancy one. Choosing was difficult. The ones I bought were expensive. I didn’t care.

The next day I wore a new bra to school and two colleagues asked if I had been working out more lately. At first I thought they were joking. When I took my new acquisition off that night, I had no red marks on my body where the bra had just been. I felt sexier. I was converted.

Some people didn’t believe me. (“Your boobs are way too small to be a D!” they said, and “A bra? That changed your life? What about your education? Please.”) I guess it seemed too easy. But women wear bras every day, and bras should not, therefore, be an afterthought, picked up off the floor and donned in haste. They should be as comfortable and as attractive as possible. We don’t settle for terrible haircuts, and we wear those every day, too. Why should we settle for ugly, poorly cut underthings?

These days, my friends call me the Bravangelist and roll their eyes when I start talking about underwear. One has accused me of having a breast fixation and has even bought me an erotic magazine as a joke. But several of them have been fitted and have discovered that their daily comfort and quality of life has been improved with this one simple change. My cousins have purchased new bras. My roommates have purchased new bras. Some of my colleagues have sought their true size, at my urging, and not one person regrets the experience. (“I’m so ashamed that I can’t even clean my bedroom!” one friend wailed recently. “My floor is just strewn with ill-fitting bras!”) Now I walk straighter, feel happier, and love myself more. I like my fun bubbles buoyant, thank you very much. And recently when a creepy male friend of a friend approached me at a bar and drunkenly said, “Hey, you. Listen, I have a special gift. I can guess cup size from just a quick breast squeeze … let me try yours and show you!” I was able to tell him thanks but no thanks. 32D. And yeah, I’m sure of it.

Emily Piacenza is a writer and teacher living in Connecticut.

Photograph courtesy of Emily Piacenza.