The Body Public: Talking About Lingerie

Since I started writing Sweet Nothings, I’ve found myself thinking and talking about lingerie more than I ever imagined I would.  I’ve learned a ton over the last 7 months, and I want to share it with everyone I meet.  Unfortunately, this means EVERYONE.  It is embarrassingly, horrifyingly easy to set me off on a dissertation.  I get louder, my voice drops into a stentorian Gandalph register, and I start talking very, very fast, eager to cram as many salient, important points about lingerie into a single discussion before my poor, captive interlocutor escapes.  How bra sizes ACTUALLY work!  It’s about fit, not size!  Victoria’s Secret isn’t actually great for “big” boobs!  Everyone deserves pretty lingerie!  It’s not you; it’s your bra!  For this situation, try this bra!  Or this one!  Luxury lingerie!  Bargain lingerie!  Cup construction!  Breast shape!  Body Shame and Body Acceptance!  Tissue Migration!  Bravissimo!  BOOBS BOOBS BOOBS!

I mean, Sweets. Honey, rein it in.

Photo: Lillian Bassman

Photo: Lillian Bassman

I see misinformation about bra sizes EVERYWHERE.  I see it in fit guides.  I see it in snarky gossip magazines.  I see it in the Google searches that bring people to my blog.  I overhear it in restaurants.  I even got the sadz when I read it in Mindy Kaling’s otherwise enjoyable Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, when she referred to an unusually (and, she suspected, unnaturally) full-busted woman with an otherwise very slim frame as “32D”, like her (alleged, likely inaccurate) bra size was her name, her being, her whole identity.  I try to respond tastefully, sensitively, and politely when I hear these things, but brevity quickly goes out the window.  Pull up a chair and grab a drink, friend, because Sweets is about to talk your ear off.

Daily Mail

I’m generally a very private person.  There are certain parts of my life that I keep to myself.  I’m even writing this blog with some anonymity measures in place, and I don’t really share it with anyone at work.  And yet on New Year’s Day I found myself blathering on about my lingerie and shopping preferences with a man I’d just met over black-eyed peas at my cousin’s apartment.  On the train on the way home I started berating myself for monopolizing the conversation.  Dear God, he had absolutely NO NEED to be on the receiving end of a lecture on bra sizes and the different size markets.  What on earth was I thinking?

I felt a little embarrassed for hijacking the conversation, but I quickly realized that it wasn’t so much my manners; I was ashamed of the SUBJECT.  “Oh, hi, there is this thing I care about, I actually think it’s kind of a big deal, it’s underwear, and– oh god don’t look now but I’m about to TELL YOU EVERYTHING.”  I felt ashamed for caring, ashamed for speaking up, and embarrassed for deciding that I was going to be the one to tell people that “yes, actually, bra sizes are a pretty big deal for lots of women, and can carry a lot of psychological and emotional weight.”

This man, though?  Turns out I really had no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed (as my cousin later reassured me).  In fact, he was mostly curious.  The idea of having enough to say about lingerie to warrant a few posts a week genuinely intrigued him.  WHY did I have so much to say about bras?  WHY were most women wearing the wrong size?  WHY was Victoria’s Secret actually not great for big boobs?  WHY were bra sizes this great mystery that it took a know-it-all to explain?  Good lord, there were really a sizes that a lot of women wear that aren’t readily available?  He was ready to believe me when I said it was an emotionally sensitive topic, but he genuinely didn’t understand why.  How could he?

*     *     *     *     *

Women’s bodies, boobs, and bra sizes are in such a weird place, public-relations-wise.  There’s a very popular editorial cartoon making the rounds on Facebook featuring a mall cop chastising breastfeeding mothers for their brazen flaunting of their naked breasts, against a backdrop of an enormous, sultry, bare-all, come-hither lingerie ad in a store window.  I sometimes feel like 25% of the internet is made up of articles speculating on celebrities’ bra sizes, breast sizes, and the fluctuations thereof.  If our boobs are showing, we’re “flaunting” them, if they’re not, we’re “prudes” or “frumpy” or “cold”, if our breasts are visible we’re bimbos, if they’re not we’re nerds, if our breasts are noticeable at work we’re trying to use sex to get ahead, if they’re not we’re trying to be “one of the guys”.  They should be perky like a teenager’s and full like a mature woman’s, but woe betide us if they respond to, you know, gravity.  If we contradict someone in an online forum, it’s “Tits or GTFO”.  Some men’s online dating profiles specify a range of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” cup sizes for prospective partners.  There is so much public scrutiny of women’s breasts and what we do with them and how we dress them that we internalize a LOT of it, whether consciously or unconsciously.  The way we feel about our breasts can so easily become the way we feel about ourselves.  The divide between what’s public and what’s private totally breaks down.

Vintage ad

I want DESPERATELY for women to feel okay about their boobs.  I want every stranger I see on the train to feel okay about her boobs.  My coworkers, my friends, my family, myself.  I hated mine for such a long time.  I wanted to be a ballerina, after all, and then suddenly along come these things I NEVER ASKED FOR and ruin my line and throw off my balance and fuck up my arabesque and get in my damn way (there is also the matter of the flat feet and above-average height, but guess where I channeled all of the blame?).  I wanted to die whenever someone noticed them or talked about them: they were out of my control!  No fair!  My brain!  My heart!  Stop looking at my fucking boobs!

Here’s the deal: your fucking boobs are great.  They really, really are.  They are part of you, but they do not define you.  As hard as it sometimes is to believe, you can do whatever you want.  Wear the lingerie you want (even though I really, really want you to wear pretty things, you’re even allowed to wear beige if you want), draw attention to them if you want, find clothes you love, hang out with people who love and accept them too.  I’m not sure when or why a woman’s breasts became A) public domain and B) the physical manifestation of her character and worth, but that shit is bananas and illogical and silly.  It’s totally fine to find boobs sexy and attractive, but it’s not fine if that’s all they’re allowed to be.

As long as lingerie, women’s breasts, and their sizes are discussed publicly, and discussed with judgment and shame, I’m going to keep discussing them too, without self-censorship and (hopefully) without shame. The idea of the “right” size, shape, and silhouette is almost purely an artificial construct, created for the benefit of manufacturers and retailers. I didn’t pull this very private thing into public, but I’m going to keep it there until the misinformation and judgment have been replaced entirely with love, appreciation, and honor. Every time someone hears that her breasts are too big or too small, or that her proportions are weird, or that she needs corrective lingerie for figure flaws, she’s hearing someone tell her that her body, the personal one she carries around with her, has been found faulty, or worse, that her body is all she is, discounting her talents, her soul, her spirit, and her intelligence.

25 Comments on The Body Public: Talking About Lingerie

  1. thelingerielesbian
    January 8, 2013 at 11:53 pm (6 years ago)

    Such a good post! I agree with everything. I also talk about lingerie embarassingly loudly and everywhere. And it makes me so made when a piece of clothing is described as “hiding your flaws”– I think “flattering” is a perfectly good way to put it. There is a huge difference in saying “we need to cover what is wrong with your body” and “this piece of clothing positively highlights your body’s shape.” Also, why is it that NO ONE knows how a bra should fit? Everyone I speak to has a saga about how their bra hurts or they hate underwire or whatever. A bra is not supposed to be uncomfortable! Every person has a right to wear clothing that fits them and feels good. ARRGH.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 12:00 am (6 years ago)

      That’s such a good point! It almost seems like we’re supposed to EXPECT bras to HURT. It’s like how movies went on and on and on about how corsets were painful and deformative and you can’t breathe in them, and now every single actress I’ve ever worked with is all “lo, corsets, I had to SING in them, they’re such drama, I suffer, etc.”, when in fact if the darn thing fits you it’s really . . . not a big deal. Ladies, just because you’re ladies and have to wear ladies’ underwear, you can still be comfortable!! And I so, so agree with you on saying “flattering” instead of “flaw-hiding” or whatever. I’d much rather focus on getting a look I like than hiding or camouflaging something lest someone else see it and RECOIL IN HORROR.

      Reply
  2. Allie Duthie
    January 9, 2013 at 8:03 am (6 years ago)

    This is a great post, totally agree with you! Why on earth should we invest so many emotions, particularly negative ones, in a specific body part, especially on the whim of a load of people who should have no right to pass comment!
    Keep up the good work!
    Allie

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 9:34 am (6 years ago)

      Thanks Allie! I always think it helps to recognize the external forces that can affect how we feel about ourselves. It’s nice to be able to step back and say “hang on, just because that ad says I should wear a minimizer/ push-up bra/ “flaw-concealer” doesn’t actually mean that I’d need to or want to. Thanks!

      Reply
  3. Erica of A Sophisticated Pair
    January 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm (6 years ago)

    Like you, I find myself going off on boob/bra tangents, and I’ve started a chain reaction with my family. Now my brother and dad are little mini-experts who want to spread the word too. I hate how there seems to be this emphasis that the only acceptable way to discuss breasts/bras/lingerie/etc. is through a sexual context. It’s not “Celebrity X wears a 30G and encourages others to get a fitting,” but rather is “Celebrity X puts girls on display in sexy dress.” Even in normal life, I’ve seen a lot of women make judgement calls about other women based on the size of their breasts or make insensitive comments. You’re right: Our boobs are okay! And it’s time we heeded your wisdom. 😀

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm (6 years ago)

      You’re so right. I really wish there were more articles in the Celebrity X-encourages-others category. I get so depressed by the omnipresence of the other kind. And bless the men in your family for taking up the cause!

      Reply
  4. Butterfly Collection (@bflycollection)
    January 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm (6 years ago)

    This is an extraordinarily well written post (the increased use of expletives even made me giggle as you got on a roll!) Every woman in the bra/breast world knows the moment that her enthusiasm bubbles over into a full-blown fit/stereotype/media/choice/confidence/feminist/shape/emotion rant! But we need to make noise around these subjects because the norm is still that boobs are never good enough (too on show, too hidden, too sexy, too milk-laden!) and that women are to blame. I still have times of utter frustration that there is so much bra and breast ignorance to face but every time someone gets it or is freed from hating their breasts I feel a huge sense of achievement and am encouraged to go on. So, Bravo! on your resolve to keep flying the flag for breast equality, bra knowledge and body love. I’m with you xx

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 2:23 pm (6 years ago)

      Thank you Claire! You, your store, and your blog are such a huge inspiration to so many women. I’m with you too xx

      Reply
  5. Fussy Busty
    January 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm (6 years ago)

    Love. Love. Love this.

    And you’re so right… When I was visiting my parents in November, my uncle’s sister (who is no blood relation to me) was sitting on the couch and she asked me what was new with me. I sat down next to her and all of my enthusiasm about bras just kind of exploded on her. I was giddy and happy to be talking to someone – who at least feigned interest – about my passion! You really just can’t help it!

    I was even at the gym yesterday and there was a woman with a clearly ill fitting bra on. I had to sit on the bench for a good 3 minutes and talk myself out of going up to her and saying “you know, there’s a bra that exists that will do so much more for your boobs!” But how do you say that to someone with the huge stigma that exists???

    And so we just keep plugging along, spreading the good word.

    I’m going to reblog this because that’s just how great it is.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm (6 years ago)

      Yep! We just have to keep spreading the good word, and it seems like 2013 is going to be an amazing year for you in particular!! I can’t wait till you’re the bra queen of the US. Keep it up!

      Reply
  6. Fussy Busty
    January 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm (6 years ago)

    Reblogged this on Fussy Busty and commented:
    The best thing I have read in 2013. Please read and share with everyone you know! 🙂

    Reply
  7. Boosaurus
    January 9, 2013 at 4:30 pm (6 years ago)

    I don’t know if I can add much to what others have already commented, but I just wanted to say – Amazing post! I can really relate to everything in this post (and you say it so eloquently!).

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 4:32 pm (6 years ago)

      Ha, you’re so sweet, because this was one of the ones that made me want to pull my hair out while I was writing it, wishing I had an editor 🙂 I’m really glad it resonates with you! I think it’s a good sign that there are so many women who want to spread the good news about boobs and bras.

      Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 4:59 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks so much, Amelia!

      Reply
  8. trialblogk
    January 9, 2013 at 6:17 pm (6 years ago)

    Once I discovered how to fit my bras to my boobs and not the other way around, I wanted everyone to discover the magic of a well-fitting bra! I know that feel of wanting to share all the bra knowledge you have ever learned. Anyway, love this post — the message is an important one to me.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m so glad you like it! I had the same feeling when I was younger:”What’s wrong with my boobs that they won’t fit in bras?” Let’s keep spreading the good bra news!

      Reply
  9. trbobitch
    January 10, 2013 at 9:31 am (6 years ago)

    Isn’t it funny that boobs can be “displayed” and talked about – lingerie fashion shows and speculation as to sizes – until said breasts are being used for what they were intended?? I mean, let’s face it – we are mammals and we have breasts to produce milk to feed our young – that is their biological purpose. Yet, that is exactly when they become taboo. “How dare you feed your child the way you’re supposed to?!?! Why can’t you be a decent person and hook yourself up to a machine before you go out so you can feed your child from a plastic device?!?!” I was less self-conscious of my boobs before I started breastfeeding (They’ve always been big and I always had them on display, now I feel like I have to hide them)!

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 10, 2013 at 9:46 am (6 years ago)

      I agree with you: there’s a lot of weirdness about boobs in general, and for some totally bizarre reason, maternity sends the public-behavior police into hyperdrive. I think it’s always a shame that women have so little control over the public perception of their bodies, and to have the scrutiny amplified simply because they’ve chosen a certain way to raise and nourish a new human life is pretty disgraceful. It’s fundamentally, deeply unkind, in addition to being unfair. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.

      Reply
  10. Jacqui
    January 21, 2013 at 6:39 pm (6 years ago)

    Thank you for this! I have recently (in the past year) begun my journey into holy-cats-bras-that-fit because all I ever knew was VS. (Also, can I just say that American sizing is whack and Bravissimo has been a REVELATION.) From being an early-bloomer into a perpetually self-conscious and uncomfortable teenager onward into a slowly less so adult, I so wish that everyone could have THIS POST. Your positivity and clever voice not only make this blog a great read, but it reinforces ideas that are super important to girls (or 20-something women) who are trying to make peace with their boobs.

    Reply
    • Sweets
      January 21, 2013 at 6:59 pm (6 years ago)

      Thank you so much, Jacqui! I really appreciate your kind words, and I’m so glad you’ve found the right bras for you! Bravissimo is a godsend 😉

      Reply
  11. Jadekitty
    May 4, 2013 at 2:21 am (6 years ago)

    Amen, sister!

    Reply

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