It was my rookie year in womanhood. At age twelve, with my babysitting money stashed in the back pocket of my dungarees, I walked into Ruth’s Shop of Corsetry to buy my first bra. Not even my mother knew I was there. (She’d have told me to save the money for something I really needed.) A tall saleslady with a memorably large bosom greeted me at the door, foiling my plan to grab a pretty bra, buy it, and bolt. Exactly as I’d feared, the saleswoman took one look at my flat chest, heaved a sigh, and led me to the training section. The store was full of lovely, lacy, feminine items. The training bras looked like two infant washcloths stitched together. No glamour, no oomph, no cup size. I bought one anyway. I was desperate to have my bra snapped by a boy, like the popular girls.
If my titties were in training, they didn’t know it. The bralette failed to coach them to the next level. So much for player development. I moved up from the instructional league in my teens, but only to Double-A. By college, I’d made it to the minors but still didn’t feel like a real woman—defined in some pre-adolescent corner of my mind as someone in possession of a full rack. Not even Twiggy’s fame could sway me. While she was modeling her sexless body for Vogue, I was stuffing my bra with tissues and toilet paper.
Finally, gloriously, I was called up to the majors when my first child was born. My milk had come in. Voila! Breasts! Sizeable beauties worthy of a racy number. Alas, the Filene’s saleswoman led me to the maternity section. As a nursing mother in 1971, my only choice was an industrial-strength cotton number with peek-a-boo flaps at the front. I needed liners to prevent leaks from staining my blouse. Ewww. Instead of feeling like a babe, I felt like a boob. An engorged wet boob. Make that a double. Even more dismaying, after weaning my daughter I found myself back in the minors. Talk about a baseball bust!
Years later, ever in search of the perfect bra, I visited Lady Grace, an intimate apparel shop known for its unrivaled collection: “If Lady Grace doesn’t have it, nobody does!” The professional fitter, a short elderly shaky woman, followed me into the dressing room with a handful of bras. She instructed me to lift my boobies, lean over, and let them fall into the cups. There was almost nothing to lift and certainly nothing to fall. Though I was married and the mother of two, I felt inadequate as a woman. Lady Grace may have had it all, but I didn’t. My mammary glands needed to step up their game. I wanted hooters.
For all the benefits I’d imagined of being a buxom woman—feeling more feminine, sexy, desirable, even powerful—I’ve learned from friends that being fully endowed has its drawbacks. Heavy breasts strain backs, bra straps chafe shoulders, underwires poke rib cages, high-impact exercise wreaks havoc on chests. Adding insult to injury, men often leer at cleavage before looking at faces. Regardless of bustline measurement, we all have bra and tit stories to tell, some humorous, others heartbreaking. Media images may pressure women and girls to make comparisons or compete with one another, but in truth we’re all on the same team.
Over time, with extra estrogen and pounds, I gained enough flesh to feel I had real breasts. I also gained enough maturity to understand it was a foolish way to measure my selfhood. Real breasts had gone out of style anyway. If you don’t believe me, go to a lingerie department, peruse the bra displays, examine the push-ups, demi-cups, balconettes, racerbacks, and plunges. You’ll see most of them are padded—in all sizes, from AA to DD and beyond. Myriad women augment their breasts for myriad reasons, even those who already have huge knockers.
Not long ago, preferring to be a natural (at least that day), I asked a brassiere consultant for something without padding. She led me to the sports bras. The stretchy item she held up had an achingly familiar look, not exactly two baby washcloths, but not I-am-woman-hear-me-roar either. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was nearing the winter of my life, and I was being sent back down to the instructional league for spring training!