(Suddenly) in the Land of the Less Endowed

There they are: racks of bras in cream, navy, black, and white, with flashes of brighter colors including yellow, pink, and peach. The rows of bras stretch across a wall, and there are clusters of bras in other, standing, racks on the sales floor. I look through them, admiring the lace, the satin, the soft curve of the underwire, the tactile pleasure of shopping, and then I begin to search for my brand, W_____, and size. I look through the sale rack first—ever hopeful—but no luck. I work through a regular-priced standing rack, and then I check on the racks extending from the wall, looking for my size. I check the tags, and then I check them again. Each row of bras begins with combinations of numbers and letters, but they are not the numbers and letters I desire, and as I move further into each rack, the numbers get higher and higher. Doing so, I progress into the alphabet, moving further and further from my hoped-for combination. As I search, and search, I feel like I am on an expedition to Jane Russell-land, taking a path towards ever more abundance: a discovery of greater and greater expanses of fabric and increasingly swelling cup sizes. Finally, I see one bra in my size and I grasp it eagerly, then the price makes me gasp—no, this won’t work. I find another, but it’s the same as a bra I already own, one that is not always ideal. I must continue to look, but as I survey the racks I realize that that’s it: there’s nothing more.

While I enjoy a treasure hunt as much as anyone, this is a deeply frustrating one, so I decide to give up and ask for help. Perhaps there’s some secret corner, some special cubby for the bras in my (apparently) small size, though this has never been the case before: I’ve always been told that I’m average-sized. I approach a petite young clerk and inquire about W____ bras in my size. The girl looks at me, a quick scan that may or may not take in my body, the evidence, under my cotton t-shirt, of where I stand in the abundance continuum. She tells me that only a few bras in my chosen brand come in my size, then she gestures. I look where she points: across the expanse of the lingerie department, the world of women’s (hidden/not-so-hidden) garments, towards a white and pink, brightly-lit land. “You might try Girls,” she says.

I am, momentarily, stunned, even as laughter, mixed with disbelief, bubbles up within me. “Thanks for your help,” I say. I turn away. The clerk is probably relatively new and inexperienced, which might explain her suggestion that I cross the seemingly vast gulf from the world of women, in which I’ve dwelt for many years, back to a world I never really inhabited, at least in the bright shiny pink aesthetics of the department store: girls. I look for my friend, eager to share the advice with her.

Girls, indeed; the suggestion, though well-meant, seems poorly-conceived on several counts. First, how likely is it that girls should share my size, which may, apparently, have somehow been banished from the W____ world of women, but is certainly capacious for a pre-teen. Second, if girls are, indeed, wearing my apparently-not-average-but-still-certainly-a-woman’s size, I can’t imagine the implications—social, biological, cultural—of this, the effect on young girls struggling to make sense of bodies so radically different than before and of a world in which breasts, on display, make one open to the gaze and constantly aware of a weight that both literally and figuratively separates one from childhood.

I wasn’t this size when I was twelve, thirteen, even seventeen, though the exact size at each age is lost to time. What I do remember is how I felt, first about bras, then about breasts themselves: grumpy and self-conscious. First, I was frustrated that I now had to wear one more piece of clothing, and one that was so darn uncomfortable at that, with falling straps and a back closure that chafed my skin. I felt like a filly forced into her first halter/bridle, aware not only of the physical discomfort, but that something had profoundly, disturbingly, changed: something out of my control. It didn’t help, especially in those early years, that people’s eyes swept my chest before my face, or that in those few moments of confidence walking down the street a whistle or a hoot or a few words focusing on my body would make all of that confidence drain out of me, replaced by anger, frustration, shame.

After years of wishing I could make my breasts disappear or just shrink down a little, I’m finally relatively happy with them, or at least I am used to them: to their presence under my clothes and the way that some clothes emphasize them, while others make them fade into nothingness. I’ve become accustomed to the weight of them as I try to run after my nieces and nephews, though I sometimes wish I could go back to my former, more streamlined, shape. I’ve become used to searching out my size and easily finding that size in the fancy store’s discount aisles, then decking myself in cream or blue lace, beige or black polyester: smooth, soft shapes over my skin.

And now, I must again think about my breasts, and not only think about them, but be self-conscious about them in a whole new way, set apart and upset not only by the lack of sale bras, but the choice of any bras, at least from my favorite company. Banished to the girls, I cross the store only to find that I am, as I guessed, too big, thereby making me some sort of Goldilocks of boobs, whose breasts are not quite right, however I try.

Apparently, I am no longer a customer of interest to the W____ Corporation, which is pursuing the more abundant shapes of my better-endowed sisters. Perhaps it is part of the shift in American shape, as we, as a nation, swell, becoming ever more capacious in our waists, our hips, and, potentially, our breasts. Companies move where the money is, and apparently my number/alphabet combo is no longer sufficient to gain big bucks for the W_____ Corporation, though many women share my size and I’ve always been told that I’m average, very average. Luckily, other brands exist that haven’t decided to ignore the lesser endowed, though decamping to them will be painful given my almost-superstitious dependence on the W_____ brand for comfort and support.

The issue of size reminds me of an earlier post, in which I complained about the manner in which I had been unknowingly downsized by a national seller of women’s clothing. That company has apparently decided that a size X is now a Y, sometimes even a Z. And while it is lovely to feel that I have somehow pulled off the remarkable trick of losing weight and accessing a lower size simply by being, I can let you know that even I, clueless as I can be at times, know that this is not so. Such size shake-ups make me feel that I can’t even trust the parameters of my body, which has now become a contested ground: the wrong size for the W____ Corporation, for whom I am too small, and the wrong size for the women’s clothing store, for whom I am, in a sense, too large (and in need of shrinkage, or something of that kind).

No, I will not be defeated by this silly size-ism, and certainly I will not be ashamed for being somehow wanting in the eyes of the W____ Corporation. Instead, far away from the land of girls, I shall laugh, write this post, and then craft an impassioned, impertinent letter to the W____ Corporation, who may have temporarily banished me from womanhood and neglected my cupfuls, but who will find that that I have similarly exiled them, from both my wallet and my good will.

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