I am finally learning to wear real, grown-up bras.
I say finally because I am twenty-fucking-five years old and I’ve had breasts ample enough to call for bra-wearing since not long after my eleventh birthday. But it is only now, after nearly fourteen years of evasive maneuvers, that I have started to make peace with the type of bras that most adult women wear: that is, bras with some degree of structure to them, usually involving underwire, particularly for the “well endowed”, a descriptor for which I definitely qualify. Up until this point, I have relied almost entirely on elastic and compression to manage the large lumps of fat hanging off my chest, despite the fact that this limits my clothing options significantly and isn’t generally the most attractive way to display a pair of boobs.
Why? Well, the short answer is that I’m just more comfortable that way.
The long answer, well…. here goes.
I was that kid who hated the seams in her socks and wanted the itchy tags cut out of her clothing. I didn’t willingly wear any jeans until middle school because I found the seams and waistbands and fucking stiff, scratchy denim to be unbearably uncomfortable. I may have never learned to like jeans, actually, were it not for the gateway clothing items that were the “jeans” popular at the time I entered middle school–soft, stretchy, ultra-low-waisted pants that looked like jeans but were made of material that only barely qualified as “denim”.
Basically, I was weirdly picky about my clothes. I didn’t care so much how I looked–spending my elementary schools wearing dresses and tights, jumpers/tunics/long t-shirts and leggings, and comfy cotton shorts and shirts didn’t exactly win me any fashion/popularity contests–but there was a long list of sensations I did NOT like feeling on my skin, and I simply did not tolerate them well enough to wear anything that violated my list of NOs for any length of time without complaining endlessly and/or engaging in very unladylike ‘adjusting’.
Clothes weren’t the only thing I was stupidly sensitive about either. For instance, to this day, being a little too cold, mostly when I have to sit still and focus on something, makes me so grouchy and irritable that by the end of a workday in an over-air-conditioned or under-heated building without proper clothing to compensate, I want to break something. Over the course of my life, I’ve probably acquired a dozen different overpriced sweaters or sweatshirts at whatever store was most conveniently located near where I was working because I just could not handle working over the constant din of “cold cold cold cold coldcoldcoldCOLDCOLDCOLDCOLDCOLD” vibrating through my nervous system for one fucking hour longer. Obviously, the first thing I learned about working in labs (which are notoriously over air-conditioned in most modern buildings) was that I needed a sweatshirt on hand at all times. I also own a half-dozen pairs of fingerless gloves, the only way I survived late nights typing away in chilly dorm rooms.
I know that all of this makes me sound like a whiny child, but the fact of the matter is that for whatever reason, my brain/body/mind is really bad at tuning out certain types of unpleasant sensations. You are supposed to ADJUST to the minute pressure of a waistband cutting into your soft belly just a tiny bit, or the scratchiness of rough fabric or rub of stiff seams, or the slight chill of a room just a degree or two off your ideal room temperature. That doesn’t make those things pleasant for anybody–I’m hardly the only person who is thrilled to take off tailored pants at the end of the day or leave the chilly aisles in the grocery store–but unless the discomfort borders on painful, most people don’t find such things to be unbearably distracting.
I, on the other hand, have been reduced to tears on numerous occasions over trying to go about my everyday life wearing bras with underwire. It’s stupid, it’s embarrassing, but it’s also true.
I hate having big breasts, I really do. I hate that I don’t have the option to go braless, because the sensation of weights attached to my chest swinging around when I move is even more annoying than most bras. I hate that even with heavy-duty sports bras, my breasts are pretty much impossible to hide in most clothing, and that many men (and even some women) seem to think that a) having visible cleavage, whether I asked for it or not, obviously makes me a slut and b) my breasts constitute an invitation for overly personal commentary on my appearance (Hell, MORE THAN ONE of my male professors kindly informed me while I was applying to grad school that I had better make sure I wore something high-necked and never bent over a desk or lab bench in such a way that my boobs might be visible, or I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Not that THEY felt that way of course, but you know, some older professors are less evolved, and apparently believe that the amount of fat around a human female’s mammary glands is OBVIOUSLY a great indication of her value as a scientist.) I hate that most bras in my size are marketed to older women and nursing mom’s, so finding an everyday bra that isn’t hideous and/or overcomplicated can be a challenge, and most of those involve underwire anyway.
And probably most of all, I hate that it’s a bitch to find bras in my size, because apparently in America women with large breasts and smallish ribcages apparently are so rare (or so unaware of their true bra size?) that very few brick-and-mortar stores feel the need to cater to them.
Which brings me back around to why, despite my sensitivity to uncomfortable clothing, I have started to warm up, a little, to the idea of wearing bras. Because see, though I am still sensitive to all the things mentioned above, I have gotten better. There are more things I can wear without significant discomfort/distraction, including jeans, though it did require a long time to get used to all the things I used to dislike and some things are still either for brief special occasions only, or strictly forbidden. And more importantly, I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with my discomfort when I have to. But bras for some reason I was just not getting any better about. Every year or so I’d spend a bunch of money trying to find THE PERFECT BRA that wouldn’t suck, but it was like a quest for the goddamn holy grail. I wasn’t getting any closer, and on the rare occasions that I wore underwire there was ALWAYS a back-up in my purse just in case I couldn’t make it through whatever fancy event wearing my boob-containing torture device.
It turns out, for most of that time…
I was wearing the wrong size bra.
Yes, I had been professionally measured, at more than one store that I could not afford. But guess what? Most stores don’t like telling women that they don’t sell a bra in the correct size, so even many high end stores deal in “equivalent sizes” for weirdos like me, and will bring those sizes and allow you to assume that what they brought you is the right size, rather than sort of close to the right size. And you guys, I just explained how stupid overly sensitive I am to ill-fitting garments, so you can just imagine how I feel shoving two of the most sensitive bits of my anatomy into a cloth and wire contraption that is “sort of close to the right size.”
Now that I’ve measured MYSELF and done some extensive internet shopping (barenecessities.com ended up carrying a reasonable selection in my size), I own half a dozen bras sized either 32FF or 32G, depending on the manufacturer. I used to wear 34s or 36s with smaller cup sizes, which sort of worked because cup sizes are not absolute–they are calculated based on how much bigger around your breasts are than your ribcage, and therefore a 36D is much bigger in terms of absolute volume than a 30D. The cups on the bras I was wearing did technically CONTAIN my breasts. However, wearing the wrong band size makes bras cut in in funny places and distribute the weight differently than the designer intended, leading to discomfort that most women just deal with and assume is a necessary side-effect of having large breasts.
I had also assumed that discomfort was my fate so long as I had these stupid lumps of fat hanging off of me, and to some degree that isn’t wrong–even perfectly fitted bras can annoy me after awhile, because by necessity they are tight-fitting and often stiff garments and that’s still somewhat of a challenge for me to ignore at times. But I now own bras with UNDERWIRE that don’t make me so grouchy I want to strangle someone after wearing one for two hours. A few of them I even kind of enjoy. And the comfy wire-free bras I always preferred are vastly more comfortable and more supportive when I buy the proper size.
Moral of the story? I’m still a weirdly sensitive human; I didn’t grow out of it as I used to hope I would. But I have learned how to adjust to some things, and how to deal with others.
Also, wear the right size bra, if you have the type of body that requires one. It makes life so much better.