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.
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.
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?
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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.
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.