The lingerie shop is run by a heavily made up 70-something Israeli woman who measures my bust through my clothes and clucks her tongue sadly. “We only have a few bras in your size,” she says. I have never been to any shop where they carried more than a few bras in my size, so I’m not surprised, but I’m still bummed. Cute flirty bras are everywhere in this boutique, but I am led to the back and handed four options.
“Do you know how to put the bra on?” the woman asks me. I look at her. I am 31 years old, with a house and a job and a dog and a partner, and I have been wearing bras for 20 years. Yes, I know how to put one on.
But no, it turns out, I don’t. She shows me how to bend over, letting my breasts hang down as I scoop the bra around them. This way all of the breast tissue ends up in the cup, not trapped under the wire. There is an underwire, because when you are wearing a 40F bra, that is the only kind of bra you get.
After I have the bra on, the Israeli woman examines me from the front and back, and I try to act natural even though I would really prefer never to have anyone thoughtfully scrutinizing my half-naked body. “Are you in college?” she asks me when I have the second bra on. I laugh. “No, I haven’t been in college for almost 10 years. I work down the street. What made you think I was in college?”
“Your breasts just seem very… youthful.” This is not delivered as a compliment. My breasts, she implies, are immature.
I spend over $300 on four bras that day. When you have big boobs, the only options are insanely expensive. The most comfortable one, naturally, has already been discontinued when I buy it, so I will never be able to find it again, and anyway, it is beige, a color that makes every bra look matronly (even on my apparently immature boobs).
Every year and a half or so I have to embark on a new shitty adventure of finding a bra that fits. I have read approximately 10,000 articles about how we’re all wearing the wrong size bra, and given how good it feels when I take my bra off at the end of the day, I absolutely believe it. So I brave the ladies with the tape measures who thoughtfully assess my chest.
I have been quietly struggling with this problem for nearly a decade, forming and then breaking allegiances with bras that seem great and then suddenly turn into torture devices, intent on wrapping a ring of fire around my ribcage, stabbing me with underwires that come right through the fabric to actually pierce my skin. (RIP Le Mystere Tisha, Prima Donna Madison, Chantelle Essential T-shirt bra, and Simone Perele Delice. Thank you for your support.)
I have spent thousands of hours fantasizing about the moment I will get home, give the dog her bedtime walk, and then, finally, take off my bra. I have told my partner that I am a little bit sorry for him that he will never get to experience the moment of absolute and utter relief that floods over you when you take your bra off after a long day.
So when my Facebook and Instagram and podcast feeds began to fill up with ads for bra disrupters, I was cautiously optimistic.
These new bras promise the ultimate comfort. You will forget you’re wearing it at all. There is memory foam and an online fit guide. There are half sizes. Everything is going to be amazing.
But it turns out Thirdlove—of the podcast ads and the memory foam and half sizes—don’t even make a bra in my size. Neither does their competitor True & Co. Lively had one that seemed like it might work, and I tried it on with so much hope, but it was a huge NOPE. There is nothing attractive about having 20% of your boob hang out of the bra from every angle.
The only real bra disrupter that seems like it might work for me is made by Knix, a brand whose ads remind me that they had the most successful fashion Kickstarter ever. Their 8-in-1 bra claims to be the world’s “most comfortable, versatile and technologically advanced bra.” It is not particularly cute, but at this point in my life I don’t care. A comfortable bra that claims to fit me is enough. I am also charmed by seeing models on their website who look like they might be my size. I try, unsuccessfully, not to get my hopes up.
When the Knix bra arrives it looks ridiculous, and again, there’s boob spilling out the top. I wear it a few times anyway, because their web copy claims the bra will stretch a bit, but wearing a noticeably too small bra is not something I’m willing to do anymore.
So here I am, still waiting for my bras to be disrupted. I want something new, a way to shop that doesn’t involve any strangers touching my breasts or making bizarre statements about my chest. I want life without underwires. But what I want most of all is to be able to continue to complain about uncomfortable bras for another 40 years.
My mom did not have big breasts, but she did have very aggressive breast cancer. After her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she went back to see the plastic surgeon for a check-up. In the car on the way home she sounded disgusted with him. “He looked at them and said, ‘I did good work here.’ He never even looked at my face.”
I should have asked my mom what she thought of her breasts before and after surgery, but I never did. That surgeon’s work didn’t last—within a month the breast cancer had already spread to her brain, her bones, her lungs. Just a year after she was first diagnosed, we buried my mom. A few years later the same cancer came for my aunt. Once, their breasts fed children. Later, their breasts went on the offensive.
While I don’t have the BRCA gene, which carries with it an extremely high likelihood of developing breast cancer in the future, I no longer feel like I will have these breasts forever. Right now they turn me and my partner on. One day they’ll turn on me.
I want so badly to find a bra that will help me feel good about my breasts while I still can. Comfortable and cute and not beige is all I’m asking for. So for now I’ll keep clicking on the ads that pop up in my feed for new disrupters who claim some amazing new technology or old school retro secret. My time with my boobs is probably limited. And we deserve better (even if they are immature).
Top image via Flickr/Classic Film