Ask any woman, and she’ll probably tell you she has a pretty good relationship with her breasts. I think it’s a given, really; proximity-wise, you can’t get much closer. They’re pretty much front-and center for the majority of our lives. We live with them, grow with them, love with them, give life with them, lose life for them; it’s a whirlwind relationship that lasts from beginning to end and everything in between.
In addition to being close to our “girls”, most of us are intimately familiar with our current bra size (actual ‘correct’ sizing issues aside – we’ll leave that for another time). Though that size clearly changes over time — from puberty to adulthood, from childbearing to middle-age to maturity, and beyond — we generally have enough time in each stage to know our existing letters/numbers. I, myself, have clearly changed over my forty years in this body. I shifted quite a bit after having my daughter seven years ago and again after dropping weight about three years ago. Since then, I’ve been markedly consistent. I’ll even publish it (yeah, bold move, or maybe foolish? This is the webiverse, after all…); 40-C. Steady as a rock – nay, two rocks, maybe – for several years now. Or so I thought…
I’ve purchased my bras at the same store for years; Lane Bryant. Call me unadventurous (well, call me an accountant – sometimes the label really does fit the mold, I tell you), but when I find certain products I like, I stick with them. Like many women, I have the “work” bras, and the “relax” bras, and some “special” ones thrown in for good measure. But generally, I stick with the same styles, because I like them, they fit and they work for me. Recently I noticed a new style advertised that was particularly cute, so I thought I would check them out. Out doing errands the other weekend I wandered in, grabbed a few good colors off the rack in my size, and proceeded to the dressing room figuring it would be a quick trip and I would shortly be on my way several bras ahead and several dollars behind. However, when I tried the first one on, the fit wasn’t nearly what I expected; cup or band. Nor was the second one, in a slightly different size. Heading in I had noticed the “Free Sizing!” offer sign, so I decided to buck my normal process of eschewing the salesperson assistance and taking them up on it. After the sizing, the associate told me I was really more of a 36-38, and she brought me the new sizes to try. The 36 was far too tight; the 38 fit better, but the cup still didn’t work. Then I heard something completely unexpected. “Well, you must really be more of a true B-cup, and we really don’t carry many of those here.”
B-cup? I was stunned. I was able to mutter a polite “thank you” to get her on her way, so that I could process this information in private, as I stared at my newly labeled jewels in the poorly lit store mirror. I’d just been reduced by one cup size by some random department store clerk, and though it was completely irrational, I felt oddly…well…deflated.
It probably didn’t help matters that a mere week earlier I had been in the shower with my daughter (modesty is a far-off concept at our house) and at one point, she cupped my breasts in her little 7-year-old hands, pushed them up as far as they would go, and proclaimed “look, Mom, they’re YOUNGER now!” with this giant grin on her face. Then she laughed and laughed, because she clearly thought she was hilarious. I laughed, too; not because I thought her joke was funny, but because I knew how hilarious it was that my girls would really ever be that high again (without serious surgical intervention). The memory flashed again now, and didn’t seem quite so amusing.
Standing in front of that long store mirror, those lovely petals suddenly seemed much less supple and much more wilted, given my new size declaration. It took nearly five whole minutes for me to get dressed, mainly because I was still trying to figure out why it bothered me in the first place. Logically, it made sense. Age, additional recent loss of weight, child bearing followed by breastfeeding, all of these things are present on my frame. And really, the size of my bosom has never really been of issue with me. (To be honest, I recently started a birth-control regimen in an effort to assist with migraine control, and the temporary size-increase that came with it was a bit of a nuisance.) So why was I so stilted by these few words from some total stranger who knew nothing about me?
I knew everything about me. At forty, I can honestly and happily say that I’ve developed a healthy and fairly loving relationship with my body. Certainly, this was not always the case; I had some pretty strong self-image issues in my teens and twenties that it took a lot of hard work to overcome. They still rear their head sometimes – you can’t have a stilted view of yourself for 20+ years and not expect it to pop back up now and again. But truly, I’ve worked immensely hard to come to the root of those issues, shed the pain/guilt behind them to truly accept me for me, and feel fully comfortable in my own imperfect frame. The age spots on my hands that remind me of my father, and my father’s father; the stretch-marks left by my daughter as she grew inside; the puncture marks, left rear thigh that bring to the forefront the scared 5-year-old girl every time I see a large unfamiliar dog; the scar inside right arm from a screen door window accident at eight that reminds me of the bravery of my father when faced with blood and peril, and to be vigilant at what can actually happen to our children when they are not on our watch; the suture marks front left thigh where they (thankfully) removed the melanoma, that remind me how precious life really is; the softness of my stomach; the firmness of my upper arms; the left ankle that clicks when I walk; the fairness of my Irish skin; the blueness of my eyes; the grayness of some of my hair, these days. I know all of her; she’s carried me through this life, through love and loss and fear and joy and all the spaces in between.
As an extension, I have a similar relationship with my breasts. From being a little girl, admiring the women in pretty lace and wondering if I would look like that someday, to being the awkward but somewhat giddy adolescent getting her first training bra (though really, why are they called that? What are we ‘training’ them for, anyway?). Then, when they really finally came in, trying to decide what my “style” would be; did I like lace? Silk? Certainly it needed to be “modest”, right? I was really only in junior high, after all. Then on to high school when style was replaced by the boldness of patterns and colors and the realization that breasts could equate to power, if I wanted them to. That power was wielded well into my twenties; everything was still in the right place then, so perky and full and supple and alive, just as I felt, discovering new worlds and new parts of myself, and who I was to become. In my thirties my breasts took on a whole new role; life. I had my daughter then, and was content to fully give them over to providing for her; though I was surprised to find that something I assumed would be so natural, breastfeeding, would prove to be so difficult for the both of us. My daughter didn’t latch properly; something that baffled and frustrated us both to the point of weeping exhaustion, and I came to blame myself and my breasts as defective and sub-par; it was truly a blow to the psyche, that one. I sought help from female friends, family members, practitioners, the LaLeche League, the internet, the library, basically anywhere I could find it. Finally, with the help of a shield, my daughter finally found a comfortable norm and began eating like a champ, but we were both worse for wear. At that point, I relegated the girls to one job only; sustenance. If I wasn’t home feeding her directly, they were subjected to the pump so that I could nourish her as long as possible. Amongst all the planning for a new bundle of joy, you somehow don’t land on preparing yourself to feel like a feed-cow strapped up to industrial-strength suction several times a day while cowering in the tiny “mother’s room” at your place of business, but it happens. And you endure it, for no other reason than that tiny miraculous beautiful face that greets you when you walk in the door. I will say that I did eventually reclaim my own territory on my breasts after my daughter no longer needed them, but it was never really the same. I don’t know if it was like that for other women or not, but I’ve always since felt a bit detached; I still love them, but it’s hard to overlook that at the moment I needed them most, they betrayed me in some way. I agreed to forgive, and they agreed to be repentant; but neither side ever really forgot. Sounds odd, I know, but that’s the best way I can think to explain it.
Today, the effects my forty years are evident; the girls have long since stood where they used to; they are truly reflective of the life I have lived with them. And for the most part, I’m okay with that. So why did all this knowledge and comfort suddenly fly out the window at the mention of a decreased cup size? Why was I standing in a poorly lit dressing room scrutinizing myself in a way I hadn’t in years, and questioning my self-worth again? Where was all this coming from? It might have something to do with recent realizations of many life-questions popping their way into my conscious (you can read about it here), but I’m still trying to figure it out. I will say that I completely abandoned any further bra shopping that day. I am a creature of habit, and on top of the chest deflation I couldn’t deal with trying to figure out the intimates section at a completely new store; it was really just too much for my overloaded brain. I did venture into a different store about a week later, only to find that their brand of bra was sized “S, M, L, XL”, which clearly didn’t help me in any way since I had so recently been given my correct band/cup size in letters and numbers. I gave up that day too (does it really need to be THIS complicated to buy a bra? Sheesh.) I fully intend to brave the bra-world again; I just have to work up a little stamina for all the trying-on that I suspect it will take. If I’m really feeling adventurous, I could always take my daughter along with me; I’m sure she’d be good for a little comic relief. After all, what better way to get over yourself than to laugh a little, right? Regardless of the letter or the number or any of it, I’m still me at the end of the day; just blood and bones and body. I’m not a number or a letter or a size or a section. The label is just a means to an end, really; I may as well embrace it for now. It’s changed before, and it will change again, I’m sure. So in the mean time, I think I’ll take the girls shopping again – bring on the B-cup!