I weirdly remember being 13, facing the flag for the pledge of allegiance, placing my hand over my heart, consumed with the thought that I could still feel my ribs through my shirt. Wondering- when they heck are my boobs going to come in. It seemed that everyone was buying their first bras and moving on up with their life. Middle school popularity was centered around who’s body started to bend and curve first. Well, I was over here wearing a meager training bra from target well into eighth grade. I folded my arms or tucked my binder close into my chest while walking through the halls, it seemed like I was the only one in the whole school without tits. I’m laughing as I write this- because of how painfully true it is. How worried I was about developing. It was a daily thought, and probably included in every other diary entry alongside doodles of my first name + my crushes last name.
I remember asking for my first push up bra. I’m not exaggerating when I say I had NOTHING to fill it with. But I wanted to have two cute little lumps under my tight Aeropostale tees (yup I’m cringing right with you now). I remember getting eyebrows raised when I went to school and over to friends houses; overnight gaining two trophies of womanhood. What did breasts mean to me at the time? I didn’t think too much into it besides the fact that I WANTED them. Being liked by boys perhaps, being a cool kid, or just not being a kid anymore. The desperation to grow up quicker. To sexualize myself before my time and be a woman, worthy of attention.
High school hit around the same time as the Wonderbra. You know- that thing from Victoria’s secret that painfully pushes your tits together and up, and adds two cup sizes? At this point I maybe had double A’s, that I could now convert to C’s. Because obviously, bigger boobs meant you were hotter. My body had never felt less like mine. It felt like I was being looked up and down, judged, and scrutinized. I overheard a few boys joking that the Wonderbra got it’s name because after you take it off you wonder where the tits are. So now on top of the fear of not having big enough boobs, I was most definitely never ever going to let anybody see me without a shirt on. They would know that I was a fraud. I would be less liked in my true form.
The women I wanted to imitate- the 10 foot tall posters of Victorias secret models, the 22 year old actresses playing 15 year olds in TV shows, the popular girls at school- were only really desirable to me because they were desirable in the eyes of men. A bra never made ME feel confident, if anything I felt inadequate and uncomfortable. Without even being fully aware of it, I was altering my body for the male gaze.
Coming home from a long day and discarding my bra on the carpet, I was left with a body marked with creases, aches, and pains. Wires poking into my flesh red lines perpendicular to my spine.
Free People came into fashion, and I would cruise the store. I could afford the little lace bras but little else. I tried one on and it had the opposite effect of the push up bra. It flattened me out, tucking everything in and together instead of up and out. Summer came around and they started styling the mannequins with sheer white tank tops with lace bras peeking out underneath. So I went for it. My silhouette that summer had changed into a more natural one, closer to how my body actually looked. It took some getting used to, but it left less lines stitched across my skin. It was more comfortable, and I started to get more comfortable with my physical form.
Push up bras are trendy in today’s society because that silhouette is most accepted in media. A female form of round, perky breasts, small waists, and even hips. Looking back through the decades, the ideal female form has changed drastically. In the 50s it was cone-like breasts, bigger hips, and soft waists. In baroque or rococo eras women’s bodies were altered with corsets for impossibly tiny waists and breasts almost fully pushed up out of blouses. There is this weird underlying theme of not accepting women as their natural form- and transforming them into sexual objects in order to dehumanize them. Once you recognize these patterns of what is accepted of the female form are ever changing, you can focus on the only opinion of your body that matters: your own. That’s why now I don’t wear a bra anymore. I don’t need one to be honest. Of course, it could be different for you as we have different bodies.
The bottom line is accepting your body for what it is and not what it isn’t.
You don’t need to change and conform or alter your physical state. If you do feel the need to- just sit back and ask yourself why. Why do certain alterations to your body make you feel more valued? Is it through the male gaze, or is it through your own?