Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Bras, Breasts, and Being Normal

maidenform vintage bra advertisement by Tricia Wang, Flickr
Since I was a teenager, I've been hearing the same refrain that the majority of women are wearing the wrong bra size. So let's talk about this, shall we? It might not seem like a "simple living" topic, but I'd argue that having a healthier relationship with my body image qualifies, and that's really what this is about. 

Note: In a perfect world, women wouldn't need to wear bras because society wouldn't care what women's breasts looked like. You can call me when that happens. In the meantime, I'm going to wear a bra.

First, a little background. Why are so many women wearing the wrong bra size? Because retail establishments have made us believe that there is a very narrow range of normal or average sizes, and we all want to believe that we are normal. Additionally, these same companies disseminate the same flawed measuring directions. I'll admit it's possible that women consumers are driving stores to act this way, that stores are only doing this because "this is what our customers want," but I kind of doubt it. 

In your typical Victoria's Secret store, you might notice that there isn't actually a ton of space devoted to bras. I'd estimate that at my local store the bras only take up about a quarter to a third of the entire merchandise space. Think about your local Target, too. Sure, they have a lingerie department, but not much selection of bras. The places where we tend to go first when buying bras are places that don't have the space to offer a ton of sizes and styles. Better choices would be large department stores like Macy's or online stores. 

Okay, let's get to the sizing and my story. If you want to skip my story, here's a link for an online shop I recommend with good directions for measuring. Before continuing, I want to warn you, especially if you have a larger bust: You might not want to believe what the sizing tells you. Yes, you might be wearing a C cup when you really need a DD.

At age 26, I wore a 36 C. I was pretty confident about that. After all, I put on the bra and it stayed on my body, so what else is there? But after years of wearing sports bras that didn't do the trick, being unhappy with how I looked in clothing, and of course hearing that bit about women wearing the wrong size, I finally searched for the "right" way to measure myself. 

I came across a site that gave drastically different measuring directions than all the others I had seen. Most sizing charts will tell you to measure around your upper ribcage, under your breasts, where the band goes. Then, add 4 or 5 to that number to get an even number for your band size. This site, though, said not to add the 4 or 5. Just stick with the band measurement as your band size (imagine that!) or add 1 to get an even number. From there, the directions were similar: Measure around the fullest part of your breasts. Take the difference between the two measurements. The difference tells you the cup size, and they gave a chart something like this:

1" = A
2" = B
3" = C
4" = D
5" = DD

Based on these directions, I arrived at a bra size of 32 DDD. Whoa, right? That's like Dolly Parton or something. And that's what the comments on the site said. Yet, no one said they tried it and it didn't work; they just didn't like the idea of wearing such a big cup size. I decided to give it a shot and headed to Macy's. 

Stardust Life-Insured Bra 1949 by Nesster, Flickr
They didn't have this size, but I did find a 32 DD, so I figured I'd try that. It turned out that 32s were way too tight, so some quick math (go up a band size and down a cup size) led me to a 34 DD. I tried it on and...

I swear I heard angels singing.

The underwire actually went all the way around my breasts. I didn't know it could do that. The shoulder straps rested comfortably on my shoulders. No digging anywhere. I put my shirt on to see what it looked like, and I actually looked lighter and, well, normal. I didn't feel like I had big sandbags weighing me down anymore, and my shirt fit far more comfortably than before. I snatched up a bunch in that size, and when I got home, I tried on every button-down shirt I owned and rejoiced.

It's true that the site I was reading didn't give me perfect directions, but hey, I got it on my second try. It's also true that not every 34 DD fits well. Breast size is not the only factor; breast shape is important too, and not every bra is appropriate for every shape. 

Since that year, I feel a lot better about my breasts. I don't really feel like they're abnormally large or a burden anymore. They're just part of me. True, "DD" sounds enormous compared to "C," but once I understood how the measuring really works I began to see that there are a lot more of us DDs and Es and Fs out there than I first thought. I saw that there was no such thing as a normal breast size; we have what we have. 

Overall, the lesson I learned and am still learning is that clothing doesn't make or break me. If I don't fit into something, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with me; it means the clothing is wrong for me. 


Catherine Particini said...

Kate! I love this entry, and it cannot be coincidence that I just visited Victoria's Secret yesterday...and that I had a less than satisfactory experience. So, here goes:

I rarely ever shop at VS. I only do so if there's a sale that peaks my interest or if I have a gift card. This visit was because of the latter. You're right---there are, actually, very few bras within the whole godforsaken store. Unlike you, I'm at the other end of the bra-size spectrum (thank you for posting the link to that site! I'm going to try to find a truer size after I type this), somewhere in the range of a 34 to 36A. VS, in its infinite support for smaller-chested women, either a) has no such size out for display or b) has no such size in their cockamamie drawer-organization system. Upon being approached by a sales clerk/asked if I needed help, I explained what size I was looking for in a particular bra style. She proceeded to, very loudly, open and close drawers labeled DD and say things like, "Well THIS certainly won't fit you!", or "Hah, THAT won't work either". At some point, I just started laughing.

If this was me a few years ago, I would have taken great offense. Sure, I'm a little perturbed at the blatant lack of tact by this girl who is supposed to be gaining my business, but I think I was more distracted by the surreal-ness of the experience. After she did one final look-over of my chest, she said, "Mmmm, you're wearing a sports bra, aren't you? Are you SURE you know your size?" and then recommended the most ridiculously padded bra they have.

So, what did I learn?
1. I probably don't, in fact, know my "true" size. However, I do know that most A-sized bras (particularly at VS) have a cup that could practically cover everything from my breast up to my clavicle.
2. I feel really good about whatever size I am (a major improvement from years ago)!
3. Screw mass media.

Thanks for sharing this!

Domestic Kate said...

Not a coincidence! You and I were separated at birth (and by a few years...)!

I suppose when you're surrounded by thongs all day, tactfulness goes out the window :/ I should mention that although VS doesn't have a great variety, they do offer fitting, which is nice. But every person I've talked to about it has said, "They told me what size I am, and then they said they don't carry that size." Also, VS in its infinite "support," seems to only carry ridiculous, push-up/padded bras. I really don't need cleavage up to my neck, thank you very much.

I hope you find something that's comfortable for you! Herroom is a pretty neat site.

Laura said...

Thank you for this post. Herroom looks like an infinitely helpful site. I love the history lesson about World War II and the ideal hourglass figure.

I'm also glad they say you can wash a bra in the washing machine. Finally! The truth comes out. I can't tell you how many times I've read that if you don't hand wash your bra the fires of hell will fall upon your household, as if anyone has time to hand wash their bras.

Domestic Kate said...

I didn't read that part about WWII! I'll have to check it out. I machine wash my bras, but I put them in a separate mesh bag, and then I hang them up to dry. Works just fine for me. Hand washing doesn't work great for me because it takes way too long for them to dry!

Laura said...

The part about the war was in the video after the part about how to measure your band size.

I also wash my bras in a mesh bag in the washing machine and then hang them to dry.

rockygrace said...

Thanks for this info, Kate!