My life changed in the dressing room of a lingerie store.
It happened one day when I was at the mall with a humble sum of disposable cash and an equal amount of free time. It wasn’t in the itinerary to be fitted that day, but with the tug of my best friend who frequently lost herself to retail therapy, I suddenly found myself being sized by the experienced hands of a nice old lady. Behind the dressing room curtain and under a violent white light, I slipped on the most modest bra, and turned to see my reflection.
My eyes widened.
I gazed at my body as if I were seeing it for the first time. My breasts were two gorgeous mounts of perky flesh encased in the prison of high-quality underwire and lace. Each vertebrae had aligned with the next and I swear I stood an inch taller. It was as if the entire universe had lifted me up.
“Holy shit,” I said out loud.
“Everything alright, dear?” the bra lady asked nervously.
I tore the curtain aside and came out, loud, proud, elevated.
“This is fucking amazing.”
My breasts have always been some sort of a nuisance – I avoided wearing a bra when they started sprouting when I was ten. I remember mother tossed my first set of the Fruit of the Loom cotton training bras from Walmart onto my bed with a look that just said, “It’s time”.
They sat there, unused, for awhile.
Reality hit one day when I was running around my neighborhood with the kids on my street. My mom, horrified, caught sight of my untamed chest, plagued by gravity and the energy of an eleven-year-old, and forced me to wear one to school the next day.
They grew pretty fast. Within a year I went from Fruit of the Loom to a Wonder Bra. Those sad looking, menopausal bras that were always colourless, thick strapped, fastened by hooks, that sucked in the ever-growing things on my chest. The underwire would always tear through the dull fabric into the sides of my rib cage.
While the girls at recess adorned acute little bejeweled La Senza bras beneath their Abercrombie tanks with spaghetti straps, my chest was impossible to subdue. In the summer months of seventh and eighth grade, my ill-fitting bras would barely lift, barely contain, barely even support my preteen body.
Growing up in a Catholic school, girls are taught to cover up their robust bodies. And from a young age, those girls are taught to make others more comfortable by hiding the parts that are soft and protrude. It was in eighth grade that I got sent home four times.
My adolescence was filled with cycles of fad diets, exercise programs, an absurd level of calorie restrictions, even consider a line of weight loss shakes. None of it was sustainable. None of it was ever enough. The world didn’t seem to like those who could pinch more than the skin at their abdomen, whose thighs rubbed together when they walked, and whose breasts didn’t fit into cute little bras. So, I started not to like it either.
By the time I was a teenager, I had perfected the art of camouflage. My underwear drawer was filled with bralettes and sports bras that either binded my chest flat, or let everything hang loose. All my outfits were carefully curated to do the opposite of accentuate.
Through my bras and my clothes, I made the choice to have a barrier between my body’s true form and the rest of the world.
I walked out into the lingerie shop to the floor-length mirror and touched my chest as if I had never felt it before. It was a marvelous revelation, all tightly woven in the fabric, straps, and lace.
I turned around and looked at the bra lady.
“Can I try on another?”
That day I left the lingerie store with a bag full of (incredibly expensive) bras that I charged impulsively to my credit card. I immediately went home and tried on all of the clothes in my closet. It was the first time that I was unsatisfied, not with the way my body looked, but at the way my clothes clung to it.
I quickly realized that I had been buying things too large and too black. My wardrobe consisted of an impressive collection of extra large black t-shirts and bulky sweaters. Nothing in there accentuated the curves of my body. Everything was meant to disguise.
Over the next few months, I went on a hunt to develop my style. While it had progressively evolved over the years, it was never able to reach its full potential. I began to try on things I would’ve never thought to try on before. And since I was starting a new job right out of University, it meant I had an excuse to invest in some trendy office clothes; the clothes I had once only dreamed of wearing when I had lost a bunch of weight.
But, it was just the bras that changed my life. At some point, I had gotten fed up.
I had spent too many years dealing with a grueling relationship with the very thing that let me walk, run, swim, jump, kiss, hug, and taste. I can’t remember the number of times I’d walk by a mirror and say “ew” under my breath, or how many times I avoided the direct line with a camera. It makes me wonder how many spaces I avoided to not feel like my flaws were under a magnifying glass.
As an act of rebellion, against the things I was taught about myself and told myself on a daily basis, I had also slowly developed a habit of going to the gym – not as a punishment, but because it made me feel good.
I started reprogramming my brain to walk by a mirror and think something nice like I would a friend.
Slowly but surely, it’s working.
If only I could tell my eleven-year-old self how a bra could make me walk down a street with back straight and my head held high. And the relief that comes every day by taking it off.
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Image 1: https://weheartit.com/entry/68504005