By Gretchen Knapp
As part of my research for a new book on bras and self-image, I chat with women every day about how bras have shaped them, inside and out. So far, over 600 women have filled out the survey I created to learn more about the variety of women’s experiences. Whether busty, flat, or in between, most women share one feeling about bras: frustration.
They don’t fit. They’re expensive. They’re uncomfortable. They’re tricky to wash. The big ones aren’t pretty, and the pretty ones itch. The first thing many women do after work is take off their bra—sometimes on the way home, in the car!
A bra is one intimate example of the many ways we shape our private selves for public life. Besides reducing back pain and nipple chafing, a good bra also reduces bounce and unwanted attention. A bra makes clothes fit better and provides modesty under today’s thin fabrics.
But a bra is more than just another piece of clothing. Many women carry emotional burdens in their bras: “Are my breasts too big? Too small? Too droopy? Too uneven?” Many of us feel we don’t measure up to the standardized vision of beauty modeled on the Victoria’s Secret runway.
In fact, the runway shows us only a sliver of the real range of women’s bodies. In my survey results to date, women reported over 150 different combinations of band and cup size! What store carries more than a handful of sizes? No wonder more than 80% of women wear the wrong size—it’s all they can find.
Finally finding a bra that fits can be life-changing, especially for busty women. A good bra relieves so much physical discomfort, and it really does take off ten pounds in the mirror. More importantly, it can transform how we feel emotionally. The right fit, at last, proves that our bodies are not “wrong,” and they never were. We just needed different clothes.
It’s not a sin to have bountiful breasts. It’s not unfeminine to have petite breasts or a scar where a breast once was. It’s not a crime against beauty to have aging breasts that show we’ve nourished children and lived a full life. Ultimately, whether you wear a sports bra, a miracle of engineering in steel and lace, or no bra at all, what shapes you best on the outside is what’s on the inside: confidence in your own personal, unique definition of what it means to be a woman.
And yes, a good bra is worth the time and money it’ll take to hunt one down. But a good relationship with yourself is the best beauty secret of all.
Gretchen Knapp is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant. Her current work focuses on collecting women’s oral histories around their experiences with bras, the body, and self-image. She is the moderator of The Bra Project and administers the Bra Project Survey. She holds an MFA from Indiana University, where she served as editor of Indiana Review and won an AWP Intro Award for her fiction. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.