I bought a new bra this week. I had to, I've lost some weight and I was swimming in everything I own. I had already shrunk out of most of my normal bras and the only one that fit me ok was a padded bra. So, I was wearing it everyday.
Yeah, I have a padded bra. Let me tell you more about that.
A while ago, when I first started noticing how beautiful I am, I decided to experiment with adorning my body. I like appearing sexy, and I have fought like hell to get here to Sexytown. And I don't mean worked out, and had my tits put back where they used to be, or bought lots of expensive makeup, I mean I have worked hard inside my heart to allow myself to feel and look sexy.
I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and teenagehood sexual abuse, and the general abuse that comes from being a woman, and the special type that comes from being a woman who is a survivor of specific abuse. I was made to understand for my whole life, both in words and actions, that it was my very body that was a threat to me. It was my body, the thing I could not escape, that attracted this terrible danger. Being appealing made one vulnerable, and being vulnerable got one very, very, hurt. Even when I was old enough to see that I had my own sexuality and wanted to put it out in the world, I understood it as an offering to another person. Like live bait. It get's them to you, but then they swallow it.
For this betrayal, I hated my body. I was internalizing the blame for someone else's horrific actions, punishing my body for forcing me to be a target. I have abused my body out of anger and revulsion. The anger and revulsion of a society aimed at girls and women that I took into myself--and believed was deserved.
Claiming my attractiveness, the adornments I use at times to make my body look even more beautiful, and the pleasure I sometimes get from the attention I receive--all of that, takes my radical courage. For me to feel sexy and to know that the beauty I have is mine, that it is inherent regardless of how I look physically, and isn't owed to another simply because they like it, takes fierce concentration for me to remember sometimes. It's not what I was taught. The reclamation of my own sexy self, my exploration into what that means, and the tools I use to discover that (including, but not limited to: makeup, heels, stockings, long hair, short hair, sports bras and push up bras, dresses and jeans, and a thing for aprons) is part of my journey. These implements are here for me to use to see myself, to heal myself and to grow beyond the barriers pre-built for me. And why not? I have used these tools against myself. Used them to make me into every kind of “sexy” that can be wanted--for others. I have changed my hair, size, dress, and attitude to be acceptable to all kinds of people. There is power in beauty. It is a power I have wantonly and consistently given away to the people I was aiming to please.
Now, don’t let me fool you, I don’t always look good. Most of the time I’m covered in glue and feathers in jeans and a fleece, and my hair is tangled and matted together in some kind of bun that appears semi-presentable. I mean, of course I still look pretty great, but not fancy. Maybe “fancy” is a better word than “sexy.” But to be honest, when I think of a fancy woman, it’s a pretty traditionally sexy dame I’m imagining. There’s no way around it. I think of my padded bras, the occasional bit of makeup I might wear, or my strappy stilettos like costume pieces. I am trying on these symbols that mean specific things, and it changes the way I interface with the world, or the way people interact with me. It’s an experiment, of sorts, and I have discovered a lot of fascinating things.
Once, I found a great shirt at the thrift store that was shaped kind of like a corset. It zipped up the back and was black with big hot pink roses. I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, but it was summer and it was only a couple of dollars. With the addition of a padded bra, there was a healthy amount of cleavage; but it really wasn't too risque, just a little low cut and form fitting. Not thinking too much about it, I put it on and went out into the world to run the sort of errands a mom in the suburbs runs. After a few stores, I noticed that women were treating me in a mildly hostile manner. I’m pretty friendly, so this isn't a normal experience. When I realized it was happening repeatedly, I began to try and figure out why. It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that it must be the shirt. It was the only thing that was “different” about my day. I must have looked trampy or something, and women at stores don’t like tramps, I guess.
When I bought a pair of 6-inch stiletto heels, I had to learn how to walk in them. The trick with heels, apparently, is to make it look like your skeleton is not a nearly finished game of jenga, and look good doing it. I decided to practice at the mall, it was small and I figured it would give me plenty of space to maneuver, or fall over. I put them on and sauntered through the doors. Well, I imagined sauntering through the doors. What happened was a kind of bow-legged stilt walk. I was awkward but not in pain, and before long I was able to almost appear like a person who was walking around normally. I did notice men looking me over, vendors at kiosks jovially calling me over and being more flirtatious than they are normally. A few times, the attention was so intense that I felt very vulnerable, because, you know, I was in heels. Which are like two, tiny, mobile, woman-prisons you wear on your feet. You can’t get away. Other than these heels I was dressed like I usually do, jeans and a t-shirt. Maybe I was putting off some kind of “I’m in heels energy” that attracted attention, but remember I was learning how to walk in these things...It wasn't pretty, trust me.
For a while I tried to keep my nails painted. But I have really strong hands (read: slightly mannish) and wearing nail polish makes me look like a drag queen. That in and of itself is fine, but I'm bad at applying makeup and my wardrobe is relatively dull, and I don't want to give anyone a bad name.
But, about my breasts. They’re great. They are mine and they kept two humans alive, practically all on their own, for like 18 months each. But, well, they used to be bigger. And they used to be different in configuration. Such is life, I’m getting older, my body is changing. I get it. I don’t feel terrible about it, but do I imagine myself with bigger breasts. So, with all this self-love adornment I decided that I would add fake boobs to my arsenal. Not the permanent kind, just the ones you strap on for a day. I have breasts in all sizes! I was wearing them mostly at parties and gatherings, but, as I said, I had one that fit at this point. I went into the Big Pink Bra Store (you know the one), and asked for a bra that was my real size, without padding or cleavage. A young lady with a measuring tape around her neck pulled some bras out of drawers, some with pads, some without, and ushered me into a dressing room. She let me know she’d be back to check on me and to ring the bell if I need any help. I took off the breasts made of tempurpedic mattress I had been wearing, and tried on one of the new bras. It was so cute and seemed so tiny. It was incredibly comfortable by contrast. I felt strapped in there and secure. I felt like I could move around freely and leap if I wanted to. I felt all held together and purposeful. It was such a relief. I threw on my t-shirt to check out the full effect.
It was a shock to see my figure. I have been rolling in fake D cups for a few months now, maybe longer, and I was so disappointed with what I saw in the mirror.
The disappointment was my second shock.
I was experiencing a disconnect, while standing there in front of the mirror, between being comfortable with the way it feels to be in my body and the way it appears on the outside to myself and others. I had truly thought I was wearing that sort of bra because I really liked the way it looks. And I do. But clearly, and without even noticing, I was putting myself in a (mild) daily discomfort in order to present myself to the world in a way I (and plenty of others) find appealing. The image I was presented with sans huge fake boobs, was so disappointing to me that I thought for a moment that I would just buy a new, better-sized, fake boobs bra.
I didn't have much time for contemplating, I had stopped off to quickly buy a bra on my way to a meeting and needed to be on my way. But I haven’t come this far not to notice some lurking self-rejection. So I made up my mind.
“How is everything fitting?” the young woman with the measuring tape called over the door.
“Uh..good. Ummm, can you take these back, please?” I said as I furiously handed over all the padded bras like someone who just realized cigarettes are bad for them and then break all their smokes in half before they change their mind.
“Do you need a different size for these?” she asked.
“No! Uh, no. I’m fine, this one is great. Thank you,” I replied.
I hauled up my old fake boobs and strapped them on, got dressed and picked up my tiny, comfortable bra. I felt a little confused and a bit dejected. Here I was, nearly 33, a strong woman, upset about a part of my body that I can’t really change. I was also upset that I would be upset about something like that, that I would be bummed out my body wasn't a little bit different, a little bit "better." I wasn't experiencing the result of a simple choice to look one way or another, I was experiencing the effects of the belief that it is better to look one way over another. I know the difference, because I make a choice to wear makeup or not (most often not). I make a choice about whether or not I feel like shaving my legs or under my arms. I have no qualms about wearing skirts or shorts or sleeveless dresses to weddings with my unshaven self. Or leaving the house without makeup. But, it looks like, when it comes to breasts, some of that kool-aid slipped between my lips when I had them closed tight, just pretending to drink. I’m going to explore that, find out where it comes from and where it takes me.
Once, when we were first together, I asked my husband if he wished some part of my body was different, I don't remember which one. He looked at me a little confused and said, "It's all just you, I don't look at your body in pieces. You're the one who does that." Being a woman, is often like having your body chopped into pieces, and served on a platter, where you're supposed to join in the fun, deciding what's good enough for desert and what should go in the compost. I'm trying kick this habit, but I think the real trick to to remember that a body is not supposed to be served. It's not supposed to be consumed.
Do I think my traditionally sexy experiment is a bust? No. Someday I’ll tell you all about how I feel about judging the virtue of a woman’s feminist values by such superficial things as how hairy her legs are or not (Spoiler Alert: I think it’s shitty). But for now, I’m living life with my real breasts, held in place firmly so I can accomplish all the things I normally do in a little more comfort. I’m getting as used to the way my true figure looks as I did with a pretend one.