Last November I bought the best bras of my life. I was a late bloomer; I didn't get my first bra until the eighth grade, unless you count the training bra that my busty friend Tracy McTeague gave me long after she'd outgrown it. I tried it on once, and then crumpled it into a ball and hid it in the back of my closet. My older sister and her friend Nell discovered it while cleaning one day months later, long after I'd forgotten about it.
"Whose is this?" Nell asked, holding the item up to her bosom, where it looked like two squares of bath tissue.
"I don't know, J's?" my sister said. I sat perfectly still on my B. Kliban bed sheets; hoping that if I remained motionless neither of them would see me. Nell caught my eye and then looked away quickly, a moment later my sister did the same. I pretended that nothing had happened, and none of us ever spoke of the incident again.
It took a long time for me to come to terms with my late harvest melons, my body image having been permanently set at nine years old, when I barely cleared four feet and weighed in at sixty pounds. My friend Annie had a Growing Up Ginger doll, rotating her arm forward caused her to grow boobs and get slightly taller, and the process reversed when you rotated her arm back. Some of the girls at school seemed to develop just that quickly, but Annie and I retained our childhood figures longer than most. Once I started developing in earnest, it seemed I might never stop. I was never professionally fitted, and for years stuffed myself into bras that were too small. Sometimes I'm still genuinely surprised at how busty I look in photographs. I've spent a lifetime trying on cheap bras in poorly lit dressing rooms, so when M mentioned that his high school friend Sue was now a professional bra fitter and Essential Bodywear representative, we got in touch. After several failed attempts at scheduling a time that worked for both of us, she offered to do a fitting at my workplace.
"As long as you don't mind doing a fitting in an office," I said. I work in a small office with about a dozen people, mostly women. It's pretty easy to tell when we have visitors, and at the time I sat at the front desk, so I couldn't hide Sue's presence very easily. I sent an email to my female coworkers asking if they might be interested in a bra fitting, and the response was overwhelming. By the time Sue got there, eight of my coworkers had signed up, and Sue spent four and a half hours in a sequestered office strewn with bras, panties, shape wear and festive decorations. We consulted her services in small groups so as not to attract too much attention, and from my desk in the reception area I could hear the sound of raucous laughter every time the door opened. Things got especially loud with the trying on of bras; there was much shuffling through corridors with concealed undergarments, opening and closing of doors, and coos of amazement as women emerged in new garments and new silhouettes. Sue the Bra Lady arrived at the office at noon with a trunk full of gear, and spent half the day with us. The women who purchased her wares all look much shapelier as a result, and unless any of them happen to read this post, the men in the office are none the wiser. It remains my single proudest moment at that office.
As fabulous as my new bras are, and they are fabulous, they have limitations as far as transportation is concerned. Sue explicitly warned against folding them in half, but it's hard to fit them into bike panniers, and packing them in suitcases is like playing 3-D Tetris. I really love them, but decided it was best if I had a couple second rate backups I could keep at work for days that I bike in, that don't require such special care.
And so, on a recent lunch break, I walked into my local Lane Bryant store in search of a bra that was good enough. I was greeted by an unabashedly large and friendly associate named Natasha, who measured me and brought me a few samples. Hoisted above shelves of underwear were white plaster midsections that started just above the knee, ended above the navel, and were dressed in sensible underpants. Along the length of an entire wall were half a dozen headless, armless torsos with one shoulder tilted up as if reaching for something, dressed in bras. They were considerably curvy and commanded presence. They evoked self-confidence, and had bellies, which I'd never seen on a mannequin. I found a bra that suited my needs, and Natasha went to the stock room to look for it in the colors I wanted. I waited in the lingerie section, lost in a cavern of boobs and asses. The mannequins in underpants were set with one hip jutting out, striking a pose that said "here I am world; take it all in, because I'm delicious." It took a while for Natasha to come back, and while I waited a male security guard walked through the aisle I stood in. I pretended to look at bras, and then became embarrassed by the thought that he might be trying to guess my size. I circled the entire lingerie section three times before Natasha came back.
Bras in hand, I approached the cashier. They were already on sale, buy one get one half off, and the bespectacled cashier asked me if I'd like to apply for a Lane Bryant credit card today and save an extra fifteen percent.
"No thanks, I'll just use a debit cared," I said. But I was the only customer in line, and the cashier was in no hurry. Store credit cards are such an easy way to get suckered in, but I was eventually won over, if only so I wouldn't hurt the cashier's feelings. She became visibly more relaxed once I caved in to her sales pitch, and introduced herself as Geri.
"It's nice to meet you Geri," I said. Geri went on to tell me how much she loved Lane Bryant bras, and then gave me a brief history of her health complications. I looked over the paperwork that came with my purchase; I was now the proud owner of a one thousand dollar line of credit at Lane Bryant. Who knows, maybe with this card in my wallet I'll carry some of the attitude of those fabulous mannequins.