As a 34AA, I wouldn’t bother wearing a bra, except that my work as a yoga teacher requires some modicum of discretion and containment. So the last time I went bra shopping, I bought half a dozen stretchy microfiber pullover bras that were breathable, wicking, and just supportive enough. But now that it’s time to replace them I find myself in a deluge of uniformity.
For an entire desperate hour, I go through rack after rack of identical bras with stiff underwire and foam padded cups. Aha! I realize, this is why everyone’s breasts look exactly the same. Haven’t you noticed? Maidens, mothers, and crones now all have the same gently rounded, uplifted look, shaped and molded by hard plastic, foam, padded inserts, or even water. I need underwire like I need lead in my drinking water, and pads only highlight my lack of chestal adipose.
Some long-ago saleswoman told me that when you try on a bra, you’re supposed to lean forward and pour your breasts into the cups. I try that, but as soon as I stand up, my breasts just cling to my ribcage. Then I remember a Japanese lingerie store in Manhattan where they tell you to scoop and scoop and scoop the skin, muscles, and tissue from your back forward to your chest where they will be put to good use as the basis of your cleavage. But I’m 110 pounds in my bathrobe and slippers. I have nothing to scoop.
One of my daughters inherited the Krishok stack, the other the minimalist Hong look. When we were negotiating curfews a while back, Katja complained that her older sister Meiko got to stay out later than she did. “And Meiko has boobs!” she exclaimed, her crowning argument for an earlier curfew.
Implying… what? Maybe Katja is on to something here. Hmmm…breasts connote fertility, which attracts attention from potential mates, thus a woman is sexualized, and when she is sexualized, is she more vulnerable? Should Meiko come home earlier to protect herself and her breasts? Or does she need to protect herself because she has breasts?
And what does this reveal about the cultural preoccupation with breasts? The only time I’ve ever had cleavage was in the early, engorged months of breastfeeding. Does society want us to look like we’re always lactating, like hormonally enhanced dairy cows?
My relationship with my breasts has evolved through many stages. I remember studying my silhouette in the bathroom mirror when I was in seventh grade, proud of the gentle bulge in my red sailor sweater. I remember swelling to a B cup when I went on the pill in my early twenties. I remember watching in horror as my breasts defIated after breastfeeding like empty balloons. I remember accepting and learning to appreciate my streamlined figure when I started practicing yoga.
My first bras were from the Sears girls department, wisps of white nylon that my brother pulled out of the bag to his astonishment and embarrassment. They were my entry points into a grown-up world, a foreshadowing of my future as a woman. The nursing bras I wore in my years of lactation were built like tanks with flaps and hardware. They privileged my breasts as fundamental, and honored my hormonal function and my life-giving role.
But while I buy discount bras in quantity, my daughters exercise their more refined tastes at an obvious place I do not deign to name. Their shop windows take feminism back at least thirty years, and their ads and catalogs are best described as soft porn. My girls spend their hard-earned babysitting money on bras that cost four times what I spend. After a recent visit, Katja cringes as she tells me about the “old” lady she saw taking a fancy bra with fringe into the dressing room.
We want our bras to serve us on a soul level, to fulfill some deep need. I want my bras to affirm and uphold my shape even though it doesn’t conform to societal ideals. My daughters seek some confirmation of femininity and beauty. And the old lady with the fringe? She needs a party bra.
Meanwhile, I’m still searching for simple cotton bras with a bit of stretch. Finally, I find a nylon bra with no pads, no wire, just a little gather at the center and a single hook. It’s so different from other bras, so shapeless and lightweight that it’s not even called a bra. It’s a “bralette.” I Google it out of curiosity and find padded bralettes as small as a girls’ size six. Is it never too early to train a girl to want more? What would it take for us to truly love our bodies, regardless of cup size and brand names?