Tuesday, July 7, 2020

I threw away ALL my bras!

Yes. Just now. I. Threw. Away. My. Bras.

ALL of them. They went straight into the garbage bin, and in that bold instant I said goodbye forever to straps biting into me, hooks digging into my flesh, baggy fit, too-tight fit, squashed uni-boob torture traps, and everything else that I have endured since the age of 14.

This is, of course, a pandemic thing. Trapped in the house, you let things slide a bit, so I’d pop something over my head, a bright Indian-print dress, maybe - braless – then found I was going to the grocery store that way, and the earth didn’t fall down.

Nobody was looking, for one thing, which is a real blessing at my age. Some older women complain that they have become “invisible", but I LOVE being invisible because I can go about incognito, almost undetected. The writer/observer/detective in me loves it.

The other thing that nudged me to this unthinkable act is the current war against body-shaming and the general fattening of the developed world, verging on dangerous obesity but fast becoming the norm. Women’s sizes have “sized up” for several years now, so the 10 you wear now is more like a 14 a few years back. It matters not at all, to anyone really, but somehow I hung on to the horror of gaining weight that was instilled in me virtually from childhood.

We were all on diets, all the time. None of us could enjoy food without guilt or saying “I’m being bad”. My older sister was so obsessed that she kept a chart beside her scale in the bathroom, which had a graph with date, time of day, weight, and measurements for bust, waist, hips and thighs. She ticked all those boxes daily, and agonized if she was up a few pounds or a couple of inches. Because she was supposedly my role model, I was expected to follow her, and did, damaging myself in ways I’m still trying to pull myself out of.

When I was 16 I went into a suicidal depression so severe that my parents actually sent me to a doctor. He said I needed to lose 30 pounds and dress the way the boys liked. That would cure my depression. (It hasn't worked yet.) I weighed about 140, and my sister described me as "enormous". These influences programmed and twisted me mentally in a way Nazi interrogators would have approved of. 

But things have changed, and so drastically. I see it every day. I went through a phase of exclaiming to my husband, “Look at that! Doesn’t anyone care any more? She must be 300 pounds!” He would say something like, “Why do YOU care?” It made me wonder. I began to notice women were letting it all hang out, mostly younger women who were quite obese, but middle-aged and older women too, wearing short-shorts and spaghetti-strap tops with no bra, no “underpinnings” like we used to wear even in the firmness of youth.

I was at the tail-end of the girdle era, though said older sister wore them even at her lightest (104 pounds, which she agonized over; she had an ideal of 100 pounds which she never attained, claiming that if she did, she’d be hit by a car and killed the same day). So I don’t remember wearing one. Panty hose was a new thing, so I didn’t have to deal with garters, but bras were another story.

Bras were a rite of passage, like your first period, and being busty at 13 was a good thing, but BOY did you need a lot of coverage and “support” (meaning, disguise and control). A girl friend of mine once made me do up her bra in back because she just couldn’t manage it herself. There were just so many hooks. She was a 36C and wanted me to know it. I was relatively flat then and very depressed. I couldn’t wait to wear those holsters the other girls were wearing, even under heavy sweaters and winter dresses.

OK then, THAT wasn’t healthy – was it? – but what we’re seeing now does shock me sometimes. When I see this let-it-all-hang-out bodily freedom,  I even resent that I was forced to torture and abuse myself just to attain the proper “shape”, which was then re-shaped even more, no matter how excruciatingly uncomfortably. It’s a whole new ballgame now, but meantime I kept on playing the SAME ballgame for literally decades, trying to find something that fit me and supported me (never mind comfort) as my body changed and changed, weight surging up and down, ashamed of it, appalled at myself, covering up, but still wearing the holsters, because. . . I guess it was unthinkable NOT to.

You couldn't go around without a bra. Jesus!

In my day, my deluded, frightening, astoundingly ignorant day, the only people who went braless were rabid feminists and little old ladies who had given up. Drooping breasts were like having a rat’s nest for hair – just so ugly it wasn’t thinkable, not in public anyway, where appearances had to be carefully kept up. My mother wore house dresses around the house, but put on a much more formal kind of dress to go to the grocery store. That's how it was.

The “fat woman” in our neighbourhood was heavily stigmatized, and my mother (who didn’t have friends but “caseloads”) was basically the only person who associated with her. Her friends were blind ladies, ladies with “retarded” or “mongoloid” kids, people no one else wanted whom she adopted, thereby assuring they would be beholden to her forever. So the neighbourhood  “fat lady” was in the same category. She might have weighed 250, not more than 280 tops, and in this era of My 600 lb. Life, that’s almost thin. (People on that show talk about "getting down to 500".) She did wear the requisite confining bra and was cruelly girdled, making her look like a sausage in what must have been torture in hot weather.

Well, all that’s gone now – isn’t it? – so why did it take me so long to dump these things, these things that dug in, cut my flesh, didn’t support me anyway because they never fit? We still hear that shaming statement, “80% of women wear the wrong-sized bra!”, no doubt perpetrated by the bra industry and meant to make women scurry to an expensive specialty shop to be “fitted”. Never do they mention that there is NO SUCH THING as the “right-sized bra”, unless you have them individually tailored to your body, which none of us can afford. Not only that, but they never tell us exactly how they arrived at that 80% statistic. It seems it was plucked out of the thin air, but no one thinks about that. Stats are intimidating and generally designed to induce shame and the consumer response which is the only way to relieve it. So we skulk about knowing we’re wearing the wrong size, depressed about it, but unable to fix it. Nothing is more cruel and nasty and self-punishing than trying on bras, spending a fortune, and finding deep red lines and welts all over your body the next day.

So the bras are in the garbage, but I did make one small concession. I have never worn anything like a sports bra, and thought they were only for young women who jogged, but had the thought that if I walked briskly it might be uncomfortable for me with no support at all. I also jounce violently in the car.  I am 66 years old, breast-fed two babies, and need tell you no more about gravity. Cautiously, I experimented. I ordered  two lightweight sports bras online, and pulled one on – no hooks, no clasps, no underwiring, no plastic or metal or anything at all but soft, very forgiving fabric.  To my amazement, it felt GORGEOUS. Nothing cut. Nothing bound. It felt like a comfortable tank top and actually lifted me up like two cradling hands. (Excuse me for that.) 

I would not wear these every day, in fact I may not even wear them at all, ever. But it made me realize I could have spared myself a lot of distress for a lot of years just by wearing something that looked good and felt nice under a clingy blouse (which I never wear anyway). The sports bras went into a drawer for now, until the pandemic passes, during which time I will do what I swore I’d never do – just throw on one thing, an Indian-pattern dress from China ($20 on Amazon), and be “dressed” – dressed enough to GO OUT. 

What does this mean? I don’t know, but I DO know you will never catch me pulling and twisting at circles of wire under my breasts, and yanking on metal hooks that leave little holes in my back. For these things are now where they belong, in with the garbage and the baggage and all the other things I am shedding and throwing away, in the bittersweet realization that I never needed to torture myself like that to begin with, and never will again.

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