Girls, women, boobs, bras, and the march of time

A flat chest and smoking ... two things that are not as stylish today as they once were.

A flat chest and smoking … two things that are not as stylish today as they once were.

This post was inspired by a new event at the local arts center that seeks to collect new bras for women living at the local YWCA. I know some of those women, and I think it’s a great cause. Although I clothe myself largely out of thrift stores, I know that the chance of ever finding a bra I’d want to wear in a thrift store is pretty slim.

It got me thinking about my own fraught relationship with support garments.

Today I have what doctors call “medium-sized breasts” on their mammography reports. But I’m not really a fan of what they call medium. They seem annoyingly big and floppy to me, especially now, as middle age and gravity set in.

I wish I were smaller. Like I was in junior high. Except not really. Because I hated being as small as I was then — smaller than EVERYONE ELSE. Once in seventh grade a girl sitting behind me in music class tried to flick my bra and realized I didn’t have one on. Or maybe she’d already known. “Why aren’t you wearing a bra?” she asked — loudly.

Everybody’s head swiveled our way. This was meant to shame me, of course. Who can resist a good public body shaming in seventh grade?

“Because I don’t need one,” I said, my tone pitched to suggest that she was an idiot.

“Oh,” she said, and dropped that line of attack completely. I had successfully faked her out. Because, of course, I was only pretending that I wasn’t horrified at being called out to the whole class for my bra-less state.

Seventh grade was when we first started changing for gym class and realized that we were in a grim race to develop just enough at just the right time to avoid the shame of being too big, too small, too flat, too busty, too tall, too short, too fat, too hairy, or not hairy enough.

And I was way, way behind. A boy who had a tube draining fluid from his brain was the only reason I wasn’t the shortest kid in the whole junior high school. And he was of no help at all when it came to me being the flattest.

So I didn’t need a bra yet, not at all, but I went home that day and told my mom I wanted one. It would, of course, be a training bra, which is a really weird term, as if breasts need to be trained to grow into the right shape, or putting on bras requires balance and skill. I suppose it’s really about training us into the idea that we’re probably going to be wearing one of these contraptions every day for the rest of our natural lives.

I stayed in training bras for a while. My height shot up in eighth grade, but my breasts took longer to develop. I actually grew almost inch in height my freshman year of college and I think I grew one or two cup sizes then, too. It was more than I was willing to admit, so my bras were too small for a good part of my life.

From what I’ve read, cup size denial is a major force in the universe. It’s why women are often urged to get expert bra fittings. I once tried to seek help at a Victoria’s Secret when I needed a foundation undergarment for a fancy dress that just wouldn’t work with any bra straps. It was awful. The clerks were young and had tiny perky breasts and had no idea what to do with a woman who didn’t know that she should have gone to Macy’s and thrown herself on the mercy of some older clerk who really knew her way around mommy boobs.

Through trial and error in that Victoria’s Secret dressing room with those terrible strapless foundation garments, I did finally discover that I was a whole cup larger than I thought. Apparently straps can let you get away with a really bad bra fit, or at least allow you to think you’re getting away with it.

In the back of my mind I also thought that when I got older, all bra-related angst would disappear. Why would I even need a bra? Who’d care whether I wore something under my frumpy old lady clothes? There would be no more gym classes, and no more mean girls.

But I wasn’t counting on gravity. Now, when I sit around the house without a bra on, I get boob sweat under them. And I once saw a boyfriend’s frail elderly grandmother’s breasts when I was helping her get dressed. They were long and skinny and so pendulous she probably could have thrown them over her shoulder. She was in her nineties and she still needed her bra.

That’s why I applaud the organizers for putting this event together, and why I contributed some money towards bras myself (they’re getting a good wholesale rate on them). I’m not going this year, maybe because I subconsciously associate formal dinners with things like that closet at Victoria’s Secret. If you’d like to hear other women’s tales about their bras, though, it should be quite entertaining!

In other news….

MissionaryDatingfinal“Missionary Dating and Other Stories” has been free for the last month, but I’m about to either price it up or take it down. It’s not doing much but serving as a distraction. I’d say the market has spoken on that one. So if you ever wanted it, now’s a good time to grab it.

You may wonder why I don’t pull down “The Short, Spectacular Indie-Publishing Career of Matilda Walter” while I’m at it, since it only has two Kindle reviews, but I’ve noticed that after someone downloads that one, a paid purchase is like as not to follow. So Wally and Jonathan and their little romantic comedy are at least earning their keep.

Coping with the pathologically entitled

A couple of years ago I was reading a cookbook I had borrowed from the library and there was an interesting seafood recipe that referenced a “corn meal bath” on another page. I went to that page … or, rather, I tried to. The page was gone – expertly razored out.

Browsing further, I discover at least 10 more pages missing.

This was not the first time. Other cookbooks I’d borrowed from the library had been pilfered in this way too – sometimes even new books still on 14-day loan. The pages had always been removed very neatly. This particular thief must read with an X-acto knife sitting nearby.

I still wonder – was it so inconceivable for this person to make some twenty-five cent photocopies? Copy down a recipe? Buy a copy of a book? Why must this person steal from the public library, rendering the book incomplete for anybody else?

How did this person come to feel so entitled?

I sometimes also run into this at the thrift shop/food pantry where I volunteer once a week.  We sell donated items in order to fund the food pantry, which exists to provide food for the hungry in our community.

Most of our items cost a dollar or two. It may be the best deal in the entire Northeast. Yet there are certain customers who find it offensive to pay even that little.

They have their own little systems for obtaining what they want for free. One likes to dump the clothes she wants in the dressing room or the elsewhere in the store, buy one small item, then come back through another door and grab the rest.

Some brush things into their pockets or bags, or stuff them under their coats. They open their bags on their way out and add more to them. They do this in front of their own kids, sometimes. Heck, their kids do it, too. Sometimes they come in pairs – larcenous friends like to shoplift together, apparently.

One woman stalks quietly around the shop, her pretty face deformed by a permanently suspicious expression. She always seems to think that what we ask for an item is too much, on the occasions when she buys something instead of stealing it. But of course she thinks we’re out to cheat her – she probably assumes the rest of the world is just like her.

I also can’t get over the guy who used to use our dumpster as his free trash service. He’d come in and buy something small – a book, a gadget. He’d spend maybe fifty cents. And just about every time he came, there was suddenly a bag of kitchen garbage in our dumpster. I caught him in the act once and stopped him and explained to him how much the dumpster costs us (hundreds of dollars a month). He was extremely contrite. But he went right back to doing it.

This was a guy who owned two houses and a brand-new truck. But he felt entitled to steal trash-dumping from an operation that exists solely to feed the hungry.

But there’s another area where things can get dicey.

Most of our clients are truly in need. Most are very grateful. They may be temporarily disabled, or working low-wage jobs, or between jobs, recently divorced, or suddenly supporting grandchildren or elderly parents. They won’t show up until they really need it. Some volunteer themselves. Some struggle to find stuff they can donate to us.

Others seem less deserving. Some are clearly alcoholics. (Of course, even alcoholics and their kids need to eat.)

But some of our clients simply seem to feel we owe them. Their families get suspiciously large. They try to tell us they have guests, so they need more food. They never miss a month. When they call, they don’t ask, “Is it okay if I get some food today?” They say, “I’d like to pick up my food today.”

Sometimes they watch greedily while we pack their groceries and ask for this rather than that, do we have any coffee, what about pet food, what about toiletries, what about ______? They call up and say their friend got a ham, why didn’t they? They never miss signing up for anything they can get, from Thanksgiving dinners to Christmas presents.

They don’t say “Thank you.”

gimme gimme gimme NOW.


The great temptation of volunteering in an organization like this is to begin to suspect everybody of scamming you. And if that happens, you become pinched yourself – grudging with the food, hostile to well-meaning people who donate stuff that just isn’t salable, curt with customers. You burn out. If the organization is lucky, you take time off, or quit. If it isn’t, you make everybody else miserable.

The organization I volunteer for is a local ecumenical Christian organization, and I do happen to be a Christian, though nobody has asked to see proof of that. Jesus certainly promoted charity. If you have two coats, he said, give one to the poor. (My closet wouldn’t bear examination, that much is certain — I pick up too many bargains at the thrift store.)

Christian though I may be (multiple coats aside), what keeps me going best when I am tempted to give in to cynicism is a little scene in a trilogy of novels by Thalassa Ali that she set in Victorian India (future Pakistan).

In one of these novels, when an especially observant child in a Sufi family asks the family matriarch why they must give alms when many beggars don’t truly deserve help, she tells the child that God may also give her something she doesn’t deserve.

Think about that: God may also give us something we don’t deserve.

I find that very useful and sobering to reflect upon whenever I start getting snarky about some of the less grateful or deserving recipients of charity.

After all, we all need charity of one kind or another, even if it’s just the charity of being loved despite our faults.

So I thought I’d share it. Maybe it’s a concept that will help you, too.

When I first published The Awful Mess I maintained a fundraising page for Feeding America (which helps support the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, from which we get a great deal of our pantry’s food, as well as logistical support). I did this partly because the heroine of my first novel The Awful Mess depended on her neighbors for her survival — and embarrassed me by doing more for the hungry of her town than I was doing. I still volunteer, but I give my donations differently now, so they can be matched. You can do that, too (or find a food pantry, if you need one), at Feeding America.