Boudoir Photography Week: My First Boudoir Shoot

I’ve so enjoyed sharing some of my favorite bloggers’ photos this week, but what was it like when I finally saw MY photos?

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings.  Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography.  Lingerie: Bravissimo, Malco Modes.

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Lingerie: Bravissimo, Malco Modes.  Shoes: T.U.K. Shoes.

OH MY GOD Y’ALL, I WAS NOT PREPARED.

Let’s back up for a sec.  Caryn was amazing, first of all.  She’s warm and funny and positive and creative and enthusiastic and an absolute pro.  We’ve been friends for a while, and I loved my headshots she took for my press kit a while back, so when she suggested doing some boudoir sessions I knew I’d feel confident and comfortable shooting with her.

But just because it’s comfortable and fun the day-of doesn’t mean that all of my thoughts and issues and emotions and hangups just magically went away, either.

[TW: Discussion of body image]

Here’s the thing: I find it really, really hard to look at photos of myself, and I always have.  I’ve talked about my not-so-great relationship with my body before, in reference to pole-dancing  and in reference to bikinis and in reference to ballet dancing.  Photos usually make me cringe and peek at them through my fingers, scared of what I’ll see.  When I look at the big picture of things, I feel like an asshole for even having body image issues: I’m healthy and able-bodied and my gender identity matches the gender I was assigned at birth and my body generally doesn’t attract comment or criticism as I go about my everyday life, apart from the catcalls and annoyances lots of women are subject to.  So, what, boohoo, I have big boobs and I’m carrying extra pounds?  Suck it up, Sweets.

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Swimsuit: Pour Moi?

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Swimsuit: Pour Moi?

Still, when I saw my photos for the first time, it was with a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I didn’t see the pretty colors, or my awesome lingerie, or how well Caryn had captured the looks I’d wanted.  I saw a fold of skin where I thought there “shouldn’t” be one.  I saw arms and thighs that looked “too big” to me.  I saw cheeks that were fuller and a waist that was thicker than I thought I wanted.   I saw skin that wasn’t perfectly magically clear and hair that wasn’t as shiny and bouncy as I wanted (note: I first saw the photos before they were retouched, which I’ll talk about it in a sec).  I felt a little like my worst fears had been realized: there wasn’t enough makeup or natural light or awesome lingerie in the world that would make me look “good” or “acceptable.”

Model: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography.  Lingerie: Elomi (c/o). Peignoir: Dottie's Delights. Hold-Ups: Gaetano Cazzola.

Model: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Lingerie: Elomi (c/o). Peignoir: Dottie’s Delights. Hold-Ups: Gaetano Cazzola.

So, first of all, there’s obviously some body dysmorphia going on there, as well as maybe some unreasonable expectations.  I acted like if I didn’t walk out of a boudoir shoot magically looking like, say, Ashley Graham, then I must look like, say, Gollum.  It was an either-or thing.  Because that’s totally reasonable.

Secondly, I should have learned this from every acting-headshot-session I’d ever had, but it is pretty much a sure thing that you will look like a goof in 50% or more of your unedited photos. This is why some photographers won’t allow you to see all of the session’s photos, and instead will curate a much smaller group of proofs for your review.  A hand will be strangely close to the camera and look disproportionately gigantic, you’ll laugh genuinely and one eye will crinkle up more than the other, you’ll discover that your pouty/sultry/sexy face does not look the way you think it looks (note: it actually looks cranky/sleepy), or everything will be absolutely perfect, except you’ll have a giant smear of lipstick on your face.  I KNOW that this is the case, and yet every time I get a bunch of proofs back I decide to be DISTRAUGHT that not every single picture is an A+.

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings.  Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography.  Lingerie: Fantasie, Kiss Me Deadly (c/o)

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Lingerie: Fantasie, Kiss Me Deadly (c/o)

Also, there’s SUCH a big difference between seeing raw images and seeing a final, edited proof.  I will never say that retouching and Photoshop are Evil.  Obviously there are extremes, like the time Ralph Lauren made their model’s waist smaller than her head, or when perfectly lovely bodies and skin colors and faces are manipulated past the point of recognition or reality.  Those extremes are terrible and deserve all the indignation, scorn, and rejection they receive.  But just like makeup, retouching can help a photo show us what we actually “see”, rather than what the lens happened to capture.  When we see someone in real life, we don’t register every slight change in skin tone or every stray wisp of hair.  In photos, however, equal weight is given to the large details as well as the tiny, so some subtle retouching can help “correct” the image to match our real-life perception of the object.  [Also, for fuck's sake, it's a boudoir shoot, not a photo-documentary. It's about fulfilling a fantasy, and if your fantasy involves erasing the zit that decided to pop up with a vengeance the day of the shoot, then who has the right to judge you?]

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings.  Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography.  Lingerie: Bravissimo, Malco Modes.  Shoes: Tuk Shoes.

Model/Makeup/Hair: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Lingerie: Bravissimo, Malco Modes. Shoes: T.U.K. Shoes.

So I got my photos, told Caryn they were beautiful, and vowed never to show them to anyone.  And then two weeks later I went back and looked at them again, and whether time heals all mental wounds, or my self-perception filters had re-calibrated themselves, or I’d womanned up and gotten a grip, I’m not sure, but I felt better about them.  It’s like I’d been scared that the camera was mercilessly revealing all of my “flaws” to the world, when in fact it was just like “oh, okay, that’s me in my underwear. Cool.”  I would have felt so much WORSE if someone had taken them and “corrected” them to give me a flat stomach and bigger eyes and a longer neck and erased my dimples– like, what, am I not good enough for these pictures just the way I am?  I’m only worthy of a nice picture if I look like someone else entirely? Eff that.

Model: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Peignoir: Dottie's Delights. Hold-Ups: Gaetano Cazzola. Slippers: Pleaser.

Model: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Peignoir: Dottie’s Delights. Hold-Ups: Gaetano Cazzola. Slippers: Pleaser.

Part of why I decided to share the pictures now, after a year and a half of keeping my face off the blog, is precisely BECAUSE I had some mixed feelings about them.  How can I sit here behind my computer screen and say “all bodies are beautiful”, if I couldn’t be a body-positive warrior for myself?  If I couldn’t admit that I was scared to reveal myself?  How dishonest would I be, if I hid the fact that sometimes it’s hard to practice self-love?

Model: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography.  Lingerie: Parfait (c/o).  Peignoir: Dottie's Delights.

Model: Sweets, Sweet Nothings. Photographer: Caryn Leigh Photography. Lingerie: Parfait (c/o). Peignoir: Dottie’s Delights.

Even if my pictures had shown someone with a flat stomach and smaller boobs and large eyes and no wrinkles or dimples wherever, that particular someone would have been no more (or less) deserving of beautiful, sexy images than I am, or than any of us are.  One of my biggest struggles with my body has been working to love it no matter the number on the scale or the size on the tag.  It’s fine to want to change your body, to set goals for yourself, to embark on new routines or lifestyle choices, but if you can only say “my body will be worthy of love” instead of “my body is worthy of love right now, and will be tomorrow too”, then what kind of self-love is that?

ALSO (omg, I swear I’m almost done navel-gazing), it occurs to me that maybe looking at yourself with love takes practice.  My sister, mother, and I spent time over the summer clearing out the attic, and we found boxes of photos from when my sister and I were little all the way through college.  Photos that made me weirdly sad, they were SO CUTE and from so long ago.  Photos that made me laugh, because sometimes children are awesome (there’s this one of my sister and me “baking” around age 5 or 6, and you guys there is SO MUCH FLOUR on everything).  And then there were the photos that made my heart ache, because I remember that when I saw them shortly after they were taken, I felt ashamed of and horrified by my appearance. I look at those photos now, after years have passed, and I can’t believe I treated that girl with such unkindness, such scorn, such derision.  I can’t believe I treated that happy, healthy, smart, passionate girl like she was worthless, because she didn’t live up to self-imposed standards of impossible physical perfection.

I share all my mixed emotions about the experience not to try to scare anyone away from doing it (far from it: more pretty pictures for everyone!), but to try to come to grips with the idea that it’s okay if you don’t fall in love with your pictures right away.  There’s a narrative that any type of makeover or photoshoot will IMMEDIATELY reveal a beauty that the subject never knew was there, and that from the moment she sees her “new” self she will live happily ever after.  That might happen, sure, but if it doesn’t?  If seeing your pictures is hard, or just one small step on your journey towards self-love?  That’s okay too.  But I think from here on out I’m going to try to imagine what my future self might say to me, once time has passed and the pictures faded from her memory.  If she were to look at them again in five, or ten, or thirty years, how could she look at them with anything other than compassion and love?

*****

A huge thanks to all the lovely lingerie bloggers and photographers who shared their work this week.  In case you missed them, check out Part I, Part II, and Part III.  An especially huge thanks to Caryn, for being such a great artist and friend.

More about Caryn:

Caryn Leigh Photography Official Site
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Good Girl

So, it’s been a fun couple of weeks, right?

A lady on the internet told us all about how she sits down with her teenage sons to teach them how to judge their female peers’ Facebook pictures, and she implied that said teenage hussies were directly responsible for her sons’ moral weaknesses. I read several blog posts and Facebook discussions in succession moaning about “vanity sizing” and how the fatties were ruining clothes for everyone else (really). Caroline Criado-Perez, who successfully campaigned to have a woman make an appearance on an English banknote, still receives horrific daily rape and death threats via Twitter, accompanied by police incompetence and a chorus from the indignant self-righteous who ask her not to swear. Kate Upton announced she was interested in designing lingerie for slender women with bigger boobs, and her Elle magazine interviewer snarkily implied that there wouldn’t be too many women who’d need it. My UVA Alumni magazine included an article detailing the shameful, embarrassing, hateful addition of “not gay” to the school fight song. SMU has a similarly charming problem of a “rape song” that was taught to incoming freshman. I got yelled at on my way home from the gym by a guy who wanted me to join him at a bar, sweat and all. I got wolf-whistled on my way to work. I switched cars on the subway to get away from a group of drunk students. Someone yelled “LEGS!!!” at me from across the street on my way to the grocery store.

It’s times like these, when I’ve clicked link after link and read article after article and one hate-filled tirade after another, that I just want to quit the Internet.  I’m worn out. I’m tired of speaking up, fighting back, and taking a stand, and I’m sore in heart and mind from reading about what other men and women have to deal with from their harrassers. It feels like it’s only making matters worse when women (and others) protest against injustice, and I’m so SICK and TIRED of explaining why something’s unfair, or why, that is, in fact, body snark, or pointing out inequalities, or explaining that, yes, bigotry is a problem THIS TIME TOO. I’m over feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in my own body.

Here’s where I offer the standard disclaimer: I could absolutely have it worse. I could be out of a job. I could be unloved. I could be hungry and cold. One of the men who yelled at me could have touched me, attacked me, hurt me. I could be damaged. I could be dead.

BUT FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

After weeks like these, I can’t help be feel like I’m being swallowed up by a tidal wave of misogyny, body snark, agism, homophobia, and racism. These are entrenched, deep-seated, powerful forces, and it sometimes overwhelms and frustrates me when I try to figure how to fight them, or if I even can, or should.

When the Lingerie Addict recently published her contribution to the #DiversityinLingerie campaign, Why I’ve Been Scared to Talk About Diversity Lately, it opened my eyes to an unfortunate coping mechanism I’ve adopted, both in terms of how I engage in Big Issues and in terms of how I function in relationships: I don’t. That is, I withdraw, I sit down, and I shut up.

There have been days lately when, apart from answering the phone at work, I don’t speak. At all. Well, I might chat at the cats, ask them how their days went, that sort of thing. But I don’t talk much anymore, unless it’s superficial patter designed to fill awkward silences. See, I’ve learned not to respond honestly to challenging situations. I learned not to say “please don’t do that. I don’t like that.” When all you hear in response is “why? You’re wrong. You’re overreacting. You’re too sensitive. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a joke. You hurt my feelings by standing up for yourself. Lighten up. Let it go. Don’t get mad. Why don’t you smile more?” you learn to sit down and shut up and close off.

Worse, I find myself self-censoring online, lest by expecting hate-free and respectful treatment I run the risk of attracting the attention of the sorts of vitriol that women “deserve” when they open their mouths. Careful, monitored speech isn’t all bad: I frequently re-write and reevaluate my posts to try to avoid any unintentional hurts or discriminatory language, and if it gets pointed out to me, I try to correct it. But sometimes I’m scared to say “hey, that’s not cool, that makes me angry, that’s unfair, that’s insulting, that’s uncalled for.” Hell, one of the primary reasons I’ve tried to keep my name and face off the lingerie blogosphere is to avoid the attentions of someone like Mrs. Hall, that policer of teenage boobs and selfies, who would doubtlessly look at my interest in lingerie and infer some sort of moral weakness. Promiscuity. Shame. Sin. I still haven’t told my father that I have this online writing project that I adore and want to make a permanent part of my life, and oh by the way it’s about underwear. He is a kind and loving man, but I was taught a few too many times about the Importance of Being a Lady.

I guess lingerie makes me a bona fide Shame Club member.  But frankly if anyone should be ashamed it's those doofy-looking shirtless smoking dudes.

This club looks ridiculous.

Ladies don’t swear. Ladies don’t get angry. Ladies stay fully clothed. Ladies smile graciously. Ladies don’t react or talk back when threatened. If they stay quiet, then they aren’t really bothered by threats. But if they do react or talk back, then they were clearly asking for it in the first place. Good grief, how can we win?

I’m sick of causing offense by existing. By having a tall (or short) and curvaceous (or slender) and 28 (or 13, or 54)-year-old body. By talking. By smiling. By frowning. By caring. I don’t understand why women are supposed to shut up all the time, and I don’t understand why women’s issues, women’s thoughts, women’s presences, women’s very EXISTENCE manage to stir up so much controversy and anger. We’re half the population! 1 out of every 2 people you meet is a woman! Why is it so unthinkable that a woman (besides the monarch) should appear on a banknote? Why has it sparked so much anger and vitriol and evil? And the injustices don’t just affect women– look at UVA’s fight song, and the anger some people express when they’re told to stop chanting “not gay”. As Caroline Criado-Perez wrote of her campaign: “It was about the criteria we so unthinkingly use, for so many decisions, that shut out over half of the population – make no mistake, these criteria don’t just discriminate against women.”

Sure, Mrs. Hall’s post, which was riddled with pictures of her shirtless teenage sons (originally; she has replaced the earlier pictures), posing and flexing for the camera, was hilariously hypocritical in its chastising of teenage girls’ flirty, sultry selfies. But what struck me in reading the piece was an astonishing and profound lack of empathy, particularly coming from someone who works for a faith-based organization and counsels teenagers. Mrs. Hall, do you know why teenage girls take sultry, red-carpet-posing selfies? Because they have these new bodies and these new hormones, and they’re being told to grow up, and they’re trying it on for size. Your sons try on the personas of athletes and muscle men, and you praise and admire them. Their female friends, who are told to be pretty and sexy at all costs, lest they cease to matter, try on the poses they see in movies and magazines, and you scold and shame them. Sure, the internet is forever and it’s hard for them to see, at that age, why a silly picture could come back to haunt them.  I, for one, am relieved I didn’t have Facebook until college, because who knows what sort of cringingly earnest selfies I might have uploaded in my teen years. I remember posing in my pajamas or a towel and making faces in the bathroom mirror, and I’m sure other women do too: did Mrs. Hall just forget?

I don’t want women to feel like they have to be Good Girls all the time, just as I don’t think anyone who’s been the victim of hurtful, hateful language has to be a “well-behaved” victim. I don’t want them to feel trapped or stifled. I don’t want them to feel like their bodies have to be a certain way (thin, curvy, tall, short, young, muscled) before they are deserving of acceptance and love. By the same token, I don’t want to institute some kind of Internet Police that attacks any non-feminist, non-inclusive writing. As much as it infuriated and saddened me, Mrs. Hall’s post, and the some of the funny, thoughtful, insightful responses it inspired, peeled open what was presented as a simple problem– troubled (?) teen girls– to reveal the very layers of complexity and emotions that make us all wonderfully different and human. I liked that. The responses that told Mrs. Hall she was a bitch and evil and awful, or the ones that agreed that Teenage Girls are Harlot Jezebels of Sin? Yeah, those responses need to go.

We can disagree. We can disapprove. That’s called free speech, and discourse, and debate, and it’s the beginning of understanding. But we cannot disenfranchise, debase, or silence. More wisdom from my new BFF, Caroline Criado-Perez:

“But the reality is, I love free speech. I am grateful for it every day. I love how the internet and feminism have given me the permission to use my voice, in a way I didn’t dare to in the past. But this free speech I’ve discovered, the free speech of women, is under attack. And it’s under attack as much from people who tell us not to feed the trolls, to stop attention-seeking, to keep quiet and not be controversial, as it is from men who send us rape threats every time we open our mouths, or those who call us Nazis for objecting to this.”

Reading those words was a big wake-up call for me.  Shutting up might keep me “safe”, but it might not, and it certainly won’t do anything to support those who are speaking up and getting attacked for it.  Sure, I may not engage on every issue every day. Some days I’ll continue to be quiet. But I, and others, should be able to stick up for ourselves and those around us, without incurring unfair judgment or vicious attacks.  It’s not just about women, or body snark, or diversity, or homophobia, or any one single issue.  It’s about people.

I don’t have much more I can add, except to remember what my other BFF and Imaginary Drinking Buddy, Caitlin Moran, has to say in How to Be a Woman: “I’m neither “pro-women” nor “anti-men.” I’m just “Thumbs up for the six billion.””

Us Beautiful People

The fabulous Bras and Body Image shared this lovely post on Facebook this week:

Us Beautiful People

Obviously I love this.  I kind of squealed in delight.

I am also being 100% serious when I say that this simple, cheerful, polite, utterly badass response to common, run-of-the-mill trolling kind of rocked my world. Last week I was having some anxiety/icky-feeling flare-ups, and was sitting weepily at my desk thinking “whyyyy am I such a mess?”, and then Friday I got my period, and I swear every month I’m all “what is wrong with me I’M A MONSTER— Oh.” Like at age 28 it’s a surprise. ANYHOO. The point is, I have been struggling to love my body lately.

Not when I’m out doing things, mind you. When I’m walking around or doing my thing in my pole dancing classes or messing with the cats or cooking or what have you, I feel grand about my body! I love feeling tired and sore after a dance class, and sleeping the sleep of the physically fit. I love having the energy to run around the city. It’s when I look in a mirror or try on clothes and see myself through the lens of models and magazines and diet ads and other people’s eyes that I falter. I don’t think I’ve ever once looked in a mirror and said “Yeah! Right on.” Never. I have been self-conscious about my weight since I was five or six years old. I look back at pictures of myself as a child and think “ahhhhhh you scrawny little moppet with dimply cheeks you are perfect!”, and I look back at pictures of myself in college and think “well, your hairstyles certainly had quite a time, but you yourself are Fine!”, but I truly can’t remember a time when I looked at myself in the present moment and thought that I, as a whole, looked good.

The incredible Gabi Fresh, modeling one of her designs.

The incredible Gabi Fresh, modeling one of her designs.

I mean, lots of us have seen this gorgeous woman, right? This is Gabi Fresh, and I look at her in her bikini, and all I can think is “You look freaking amazing.” Her body is no better nor worse than a “mainstream” swimsuit model’s; she just looks like her, an absolutely awesome version of her, in a fantastic bikini.

I wonder sometimes why, if I think that Gabi, or a more “mainstream” model, or my girlfriends, or strangers at the beach look great in their bikinis, I can’t extend the same thumbs up to myself. I think it’s easy to get sucked into a “yes, but” mentality about ourselves. Sometimes it’s rooted in a natural desire for self-improvement, personal growth, and other aspirations. “Yes, I totally nailed that pole trick! But now I want more! For my next challenge, I will work on doing it on my non-dominant side, or from the air instead of the floor.” Or “Yes, I totally just ran three miles, but next I want to run a 10k!”  Goals and challenges can be fun and stimulating, so we say “yes, I did that, but now, I’ll do this.” Unfortunately that can easily become “Yes, my hair looks great today, but my face is being dumb,” or “Yes, my boobs look fabulous in this bra, but my belly is puffy and annoying.”

I don’t think I’d ever considered the possibility that my beauty wasn’t constantly in danger of disappearing. I have always had the mindset of looking for a specific point at which I’d be perfect, or finally be beautiful, or finally be attractive or alluring to someone I loved. What if I gained five pounds? I better hurry to fix it.  What if I lost five pounds? I better try to lose more.  What if, by some miracle, I got pretty, and then lost the pretty and never got it back?

20130517-101441.jpg

I ordered a bikini this summer (the one above, by Panache*), because my bra size has changed since last year and I want a swimsuit that fits properly and feels good to wear at my friend’s bachelorette weekend in June. It arrived this week, and with the triumphant images of  Gabi, Georgina, my gorgeous friends,and other awesome women in mind, I opened the box and tried it on. And then I crashed. I mean, really, just utterly crashed and burned. Every terrible thing I’ve ever been told or thought about my body just came roaring out: your boobs are too big to wear a bikini! Put them away! You have too much back fat! You’re too short-waisted to wear a high-waisted bikini bottom! Your middle’s too thick and your hips are too narrow! You look inappropriate! You’re too pale! You’re too wobbly! You’re not toned!  You’re too tall and you’ll attract too much attention! You’re too flashy in those bright colors! You should wear something more discreet!  P.S. Your hair is also stupid!

GOD, BRAIN, SHUT UP.

I aspire to the (seemingly) effortless self-confidence and self-love of someone like Ianthe, and the grace with which she schooled her anonymous troll.  Comments like “you’d be so pretty if you lost weight” are designed to destabilize, to hurt, to make the recipient shrink back, to tell her to disappear, to discount her.  They’re designed to reinforce the idea that a woman is only worth as much as her beauty, which is in turn solely dependent on her weight.  I talk a lot about beauty coming in many different forms because I genuinely believe that it does.  I believe because I have seen it.  I have tangible proof: in movies and magazines, yes, but also in my friends, my co-workers, the women in my dance classes, in my family, in women I’ve met through writing the blog.  Really, just knock-your-socks-off beauty: it’s there, and it manifests so differently and magnificently in every woman.  I talk about it over and over and over again in the hope that I can re-route the thought patterns that years of judgment and criticism have carved deeply into my brain.  What I know to be true about others, though, I still struggle to apply to myself.  I accept any criticisms or negative feedback as absolute God’s-honest-truth, yet hear compliments and assume the giver is lying to “be nice”.  Which is ultimately hugely disrespectful to the giver, but never mind.

So yeah, when I saw myself in my bikini, I got mad at my body first, and then I got mad at my brain, for not walking the walk when my goal in life is to talk the talk as hard as I can.  Why couldn’t I tap into the same self-love Ianthe, Georgina, Gabi, and others have shared so beautifully before me?  Why DIDN’T I feel like life sure is a breeze?

I don’t have a good answer, except to give myself the space and the time to keep working on it.  The same thing happened the last time I put on a bikini, and I’m sure it will happen again before all is said and done.  The dark and cranky pathways in our brains have years and years and years of nasty thoughts and words crowding out the good stuff, and it will take time before the healthier, more reasonable, and more loving thoughts are strong enough to stand their ground.  I thought about returning the bikini and looking for something more “discreet” and “appropriate”, but I’m going to keep it, if only to have as my next personal challenge.  I’m going to wear it.  I’m sure I will feel self-conscious, and I’m sure there will be some nasty thoughts that pipe up, but if I want to be one of “us beautiful people”, I want to wear something fun and bright, and I want to learn to enjoy it.

*     *     *     *     *

*Quick review: dang, this bikini top rules.  The fit is PERFECT, 100% true-to-size, and majorly comfy and supportive.  My only minor quibble is that based on the promo images I thought the straps and band would be a bit wider, in keeping with the retro look, when in reality they’re both quite thin.  I don’t mind this in a bra, but I do think it would be both more comfortable (bigger boobs can be heavier boobs) and more flattering to have a bikini top with wider straps and a deeper band that didn’t dig in as much.  The colors are fantastically flattering to my pale skin/dark hair, I love the sweetheart neckline, and the briefs are very comfy as well.  They’re maybe a teensy bit big through the hips and rear, but I wouldn’t want to size down, because I don’t want a lot of digging at the waist.  They come up REALLY high on me, as I’m short-waisted, so they’ll keep the retro look very nicely on longer-waisted women too.  I ordered mine from Breakout Bras, which has a lovely selection of bras, maternity needs, and swimwear,  and which offers fit advice on every product page, as well as free (and fast– ordered Sunday night, arrived Wednesday) shipping and fantastic service.  Both bikini and store get a big thumbs-up from me!

The Perils of Ice Cream Socials

[Possible Trigger Warning-- I'll be discussing relationships with food, very cursorily and probably superficially.]

It was Staff Appreciation Week at my office last week, and I can’t lie: I generally feel super-appreciated each year.  Last year they hosted a cupcake-decorating class (still the best frosting job I’ve ever managed); this year they kicked things off with an in-office visit from Coldstone Creamery.  Sugar and Circuses, that’s the Firm’s motto.

Did I deliberately eat a small but healthy lunch, the better to save room for afternoon deliciousness?  Did I zoom downstairs to the conference room as soon as I got an email with “ice cream” in the subject line?  Did I ask for a cup with pretty much everything in it, even though the flavors did not, how should we say, “go together”?  Did I savor every over-the-top, sweet, delicious, ridiculous bite?  DUH.

DID PRACTICALLY EVERY SINGLE OTHER STAFF MEMBER TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FREE ICE CREAM TO BITCH ABOUT CALORIES, SUGAR, FAT, AND DAIRY?  Of course they effing did.

Ohhh, I got mad.  In two minutes I decided that all of my co-workers were Food Police Minions of Awful.  Did they not realize that situations like this, of fun treats laden with guilt and judgment, led to terrible, horrible, no-good very bad messed up feelings about food and our bodies?  I was so angry, standing there, eating my ice cream, not saying anything in response to the “I’m trying to be good” and “Sugar is really just poison” and “I’m so fat, I’ll have to go the gym for longer” and “If only they’d had sorbet” flying around me.  I was all set to yell and scream about people who were so self-centered they decided to show up to something very clearly called an Ice Cream Social in order to sing their own praises while simultaneously making themselves and everyone else around them feel bad about their life choices. Man, I was gonna show it to them.  I was gonna BLOG THEM A NEW ONE.

And then, while I was merrily criticizing the Most Annoying Co-Worker (the most martyred martyr of them all, she who told us how bad the ice cream we were enjoying was and how she was trying to be “a good girl” and who plaintively whined “is there sorbet?”), I realized A) I was being an insensitive asshole, and B) judgment goes both ways. I wanted to scream “Will y’all just shut up and eat the freaking ice cream and chill out already?”  It’s just not that simple.

Look, I understand food preferences and aversions very, very well.  I am deeply sympathetic to people who have food allergies.  If I was allergic to chocolate or dairy I would be the saddest, mopiest person ever, yet somehow there are people who carry on bravely, without Friend Ice Cream by their side.  I also absolutely salute the Most Annoying Co-Worker for making her own choices and for wanting to take care of her body. I totally think, despite my username and raison d’être, that I could do with a little less sugar in my diet. I make a point of trying to include leafy vegetables, fruit, and protein in my meals. Healthy choices get a huge seal of approval from me. I CANNOT sign off, however, on her 1) phrasing food choices in terms of “I’m good” or “I’m bad” and 2) attending an event called an “Ice Cream Social,” only to shame anyone (read: everyone) else who indulged.  I may not have liked it, but I needed to step back and acknowledge whence cometh the Crazy.

It’s not really news that our relationship with food is messed up.  I get that we’re bombarded with confounding, conflicting messages every day about industrial farming, healthy fat, cholesterol, wheat bellies, poisonous sugar, 10 quick tips to a flatter belly, juice cleanses, eating everything in moderation, cutting out processed foods, dark chocolate’s being good for us, eating seasonally, paleo/gluten-free/dairy-free diets, ice cream will help you over that breakup, wine is good, wine is bad, our blood type can determine our diet! etc., etc. etc.  Is it really any wonder if we feel overwhelmed, or discouraged, or frustrated, and that sometimes we don’t react well to, you know, food?  Of course it isn’t.  It can be hard to sort out the sound advice from the silly advice, and ultimately, much like bras and bra fitting, the best solution is going to vary wildly from individual to individual.  So when faced with a big empty cup and two strapping gentlemen waiting to fill it with ice cream and cookies, our first reactions are often panic, instead of delight.

Sure, Coldstone Creamery’s offerings aren’t healthy.  We all know this.  But do we eat ginormous helpings of ice cream crammed full of cookies and candy every day of the week?  We do not.  I think the last time I had Coldstone was . . . last year, during Staff Appreciation Week.  So yeah, I knew exactly what I was eating.  And I just ate it.  It was delicious, it was a once-in-a-blue-moon treat, and I refuse to feel badly about it.  You guys, don’t apologize for showing up to an event you were invited to.  Don’t feel the need to tell us how many extra crunches you’re going to do tonight.  It’s really okay.  You weren’t invited here as some sort of sting operation to catch you in the Act of Eating Sugar.  You were invited here as a thank you.  It’s just a treat  You can eat it.  You can abstain.  It’s your choice, it’s really not a big deal, and if someone makes it a big deal, that’s literally their problem, not yours.

I’m not sure when and why other people’s food choices became acceptable social conversation.  It’s like how it’s acceptable to discuss, in terms of virtue, the size of pregnant women’s bellies (ugh, come on, it’s NEVER acceptable).  Just as I know that other people have dangerous food allergies, or choose for a variety of reasons to abstain from consuming animal products, so too do I know that other people choose to abstain from certain foods for a variety of health or other personal reasons.  While my gut reaction last week was to scream “just eat the freaking ice cream!”, this week I’m feeling a little calmer and, I hope, a little more understanding.  So I’ll say this:

Eat what you want.  If someone questions you, either for indulging or for abstaining, just say “it’s delicious!” OR “eh, I don’t really want any.”  If someone says “ooooh, you’re so good,” “tsk, tsk, you’ll have to work hard to burn that off,” “aw, come on, you don’t need to lose weight,” “oh stop it, just eat it!”, “don’t you WANT some,” etc., just demur.  Say “okay” if they praise you and “no thank you” if they press you.  If they continue to comment, just say “if you don’t mind, I’d rather change the subject.”  Then change the subject.  Having conflicting feelings about certain foods is natural in this day and age, but someone who continues to comment on and analyze your choices is straight up rude and insensitive.  You do you.

But seriously, if you tell me how many calories there are in anything I’m eating, our friendship is dead.

What Do I Call These Things?

I tend to say “boobs” a lot. I mean, not ALL THE TIME, jeez. I’m not parading around the office blathering on about boobs and underwires and bra manufacturers, or anything. But when the topic does come up, my word of choice, especially with my peers, is boobs. “Breasts” can feel clinical or medical, even though it’s technically appropriate. I know we’re all supposed to be mature about our anatomy, and say “penis” and “vagina” and “breast” and “testicle” without getting all coy and giggly (remember when we all said va-jay-jay, and that led to idiotic words like “vajazzling”? Kill me now). I do say “breast” a lot, especially when it comes to talking about some of the more technical aspects of fit, but I kind of like “boobs”.

“Boobs” is a fairly innocuous word, like a goofy friend, and I usually hear it in cheerful, friendly situations. “Tits” and “cans” are really off-putting to me, as I associate them with situations where I’ve been ogled, commented on inappropriately, or catcalled, but I remember when I first discovered Bravissimo, and along with adorable, smiley models, the website’s copy talked cheerfully and kindly about our “boobs”. Beautiful bras for big-boobed girls! It was sweet, enthusiastic, and didn’t have any sort of weird, sexualizing undercurrent that I’d associated with “big-boobed” lingerie in the past. It also came with really awesome English accents.

I realized this month when I started fitting women that I used “boobs” not only on the blog, but also in conversation.

Everyone approaches bra fittings differently. For some women it’s fun and interesting, but for others there’s a lot of defensiveness, shame, self-consciousness, and uncertainty that goes along with asking someone to help you with your bras. I mean, we’re adults, right? How can we be so dumb as not to know how to wear a basic item of clothing? Alternately, we may feel angry or defeated: We’re [x] years old, goddammit, and bras are the worst! They’re uncomfortable, and they’re not made for our shapes! Why should we expect this shopping trip/fitting experience to be any better? Also, Victoria’s Secret said we were [x] size, so if you don’t make that size work, we’re leaving!

With all of these emotions coming into play, I think it’s particularly important that I use language deliberately and sensitively. We’re dealing with really personal shit, here, and I want to do my best to make sure that any volunteer or customer who’s getting fitted feels comfortable and at ease. Therefore, I ask you: how do you feel about the word “boobs”?

For example, I never really liked calling breasts “The Girls”. I used the phrase jokingly for a while, largely because it’s what Stacy and Clinton said on “What Not to Wear”, and I adore Stacy and Clinton, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes me feel uncomfortable. I remember feeling utterly divorced from my breasts when they first started growing. I know it’s not everyone’s experience, but I felt so powerless when my body started changing. My ideal of beauty was the long, sylph-like ballerina’s beauty, and these . . . THINGS just showed up and kept growing and people felt the need to comment on them and look at them and evaluate them and I hadn’t wanted them in the first place and UGH. Saying “The Girls”, to me, feels like continuing to separate myself from my breasts. There’s my body, and then there are “the girls,” with a mind of their own, ruining my life and my shopping. It took me a very long time to accept that my breasts were a part of me, and even more time to accept that they don’t define me (I still struggle with that one). So they’re not “the girls”, to me. They’re my boobs.

I made a list of some common slang names for “breasts”, and I gotta say, there aren’t many I like:

Breasts
Boobs
Boobies
Bosom
Tits
Titties (are you a ten-year-old boy? No? Then don’t say “titties”, come on.)
Knockers
Nips
Globes
ChaChas
Biscuits
Set
Dugs (ughh, ick)
Honkers
Tatas
Bust
Melons
Bangers
Bazongas
Cans
The Girls
Stack
Rack
Chesticles (absolutely not. No. I refuse.)
Jugs (ewww, no, bleah)
Hooters
Mammaries
Pips
Bazookas
Bazooms
Gagas
Muffins

It’s interesting looking at the full list. Lots of food parallels, as well as, weirdly, machinery and mechanical allusions. Mostly, for me, this list is a list of words that majorly, seriously rub me the wrong way. God, if someone asked me about my “cans”, I swear I would punch them in the face.

Seeing how strongly I feel about most other-words-for-breasts, I wanted to open it up to you: what nicknames would make you feel uncomfortable during a bra fitting? How do you feel about the word “boobs”? Does it bother you when I say it on Sweet Nothings, and is there a word or phrase you’d prefer I use? Let me know!

Sweet Talking: Phoenix

Today’s Awesome Lady is Phoenix, who’s quite literally been a loyal reader since Day 1.  We went to the same high school, appeared together in a production of a Stephen Sondheim musical that I, at least, had no business being in, sang in the school choir together, and generally made it out alive.  Phoenix works as a librarian, which she’s hinted to me sounds sexier than it might necessarily be.  She reached out to me in early days of the blog to commiserate over the hell young girls and young women sometimes go through coming to terms with bodies that change outside of their control and in ways they never anticipate.  In Phoenix’s case, these changes were magnified, complicated, and generally turned upside down by illness shortly after she graduated from high school.  She’s Been Through Stuff, y’all, and she has had the incredible grace to offer to talk to us about it, in case there are others out there who are feeling alone and broken and unsure.

Hi Phoenix!

How do you feel about your boobs today?  I like my boobs today.

That’s what I like to hear.  Have you always felt the way you feel now about your boobs?  If not, what changed your feelings?  I’ve gone through phases of feelings about them in the past.  My life is broken up by pre-cancer and post-cancer.  As Sweets mentioned, I was diagnosed with cancer shortly after high school.  I had CML (Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia) and underwent a bone marrow transplant.  It was a pretty rough few years of treaments, setbacks, triumphs, and disappointments.  I’ve gotten to the point now where I don’t think about having cancer all the time, but there are times where the ramifications of it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Anyway, pre-cancer my boobs were just there.  I really didn’t think about them that much to be honest.  During cancer I was mostly concerned about them when I gained and lost about 65 pounds.  I got stretch marks in several places but the weirdest ones are around my boobs.  These aren’t normal stretch marks.  My gyn even commented that she had never seen any like them before and didn’t really believe me that they WERE stretch marks until she examined them more.  She used to work at a hospital in England for women’s cancers.  So, the fact that she thought I was weird is saying something.  (This is the story of my life when it comes to doctors.  I am that person who, if there is a 1% chance that some kind of symptom, condition, or medication reaction will happen, it will happen to me.  I feel bad for my oncologist.)  Anyway, now I like my boobs again.  BUT, that is mostly because my husband likes them.   I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me.  I know I should be proud of my body without anyone else’s opinion making a difference.  I am a feminist, after all, and I know better.  But, having him reassure me that they’re really great even though my whole chest is really scarred has helped me come to terms with it and appreciate my boobs.  Dear ladies everywhere: having a partner who not only loves you but who also helps you love you more is perfectly feminist.

When was the last time you bought a new bra?  I bought a new bra after your shapewear post and it came in the mail today!  It’s not shapewear, but there was a sale on the site I was looking at shapewear on, and, well, these things happen.  I know how that goes, trust me.

Where do you shop for bras?  I used to shop at Nordstrom but now, thanks to you, I mostly shop online.  God bless the internet.

One of Phoenix’s favorite new bras: “Tanzania Stripe” by Bravissimo

What do you look for in a bra?  Right now I’m looking for pretty bras because I’m beginning to realize that they do exist for 34DDs!  I also look for how well it fits.  I’m learning to experiment with non-padded bras.  I never bought push-ups since I really don’t need them, but I really dislike having my nipples show through my clothes.  That’s why I’ve been buying bras with just enough padding to keep that from happening.  I’m still deciding whether I like the non-padded ones, though.  My boobs are really round and don’t really taper so I’m finding that they don’t always fit right in the non-padded bras.  That experimentation is necessary; it takes some figuring out to decide what you like.  There are so many styles available, and not every woman who wears, say, a 36H is going to like the same bra in that size, so we just have to keep trying different things.

What do you look for in a shopping experience?  I’d like shopping experiences not to be stressful.  Stressful shopping experiences are all that I’ve found in the past year or so with all clothing shopping, not just bras.  Shopping online helps that.

Have you been professionally fitted?  If so, when and where?  I was professionally fitted at Nordstrom about a year ago.  I discovered that I had been wearing the wrong bra size (1 band size too big and 2 cup sizes too small) (that is an astoundingly common discovery) for some time.  I finally went there because I had been looking for new bras and nothing was fitting right in what I thought was my size.  So I just decided to go to Nordstrom and figure it out.

Do you have a favorite brand?  Right now, Freya.  But, I’m kind of a newbie in shopping for the correct size in pretty styles so that might change.  Freya was my first favorite brand.  I’ve wavered in my affections since then, but I appreciate that they’re continually trying new styles, colors, and patterns.

“This is Dallas and he insists on being in my lap at all times.”

If you could change anything about bras, what would it be?  I wish the styles weren’t so confusing and that there was more awareness in the US market about larger sizes.  I wish I could just walk into a store and try stuff on rather than ordering things online from the UK.  I hope that’s changing, and that the day is coming when the major American department stores get a better grip on sizing.

What do you love and celebrate about your boobs?  I like that they’re really round and that even though they’re big they don’t really sag.  I hope the non-sagging stays true for a while but since I’m nearing 30 that might not be the case for much longer.  It’s so different for every woman.  Rock on with your bad self, lady.

Do you have a memory of an experience or an event or a day when your underwear made a difference?  Not really.  Though wearing a pretty matched set makes me happier, more confident, and makes me feel sexy.

Any dream underwear/fantasy that you wish you could wear?  Not that I can think of.

What are your thoughts on matching sets?  Love them.  AGREED.

Do you have a lingerie style?  Are you a silk and lace person or a streamlined and simple person or tough-girl person?  What makes you choose the bras you choose?  I don’t think I have a style.  I like silk and lace, but I also like streamlined and simple.  I sometimes like dark, sensual colors, but I also like cute flower prints.  I’m kind of like that in my regular clothing as well.  Some days are pencil skirts and blouses and some days are crazy multi-colored, multi-patterned floor-length dresses.  That’s kind of one of the things I love about lingerie.  Well, clothing in general, but especially lingerie.  It’s nice to give yourself the freedom to play with different identities and different aspects of your personality.  Almost like costumes.

“This is Gobo and he cannot be bothered to move most of the time. Also, he is never impressed by anything.”

So, as you mentioned above, you won the lottery in terms of devastatingly unpredictable illnesses.  Women’s bodies are always in flux anyway, which can be troubling or frustrating even to healthy women, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to go through your treatment and illness on top of that.  We’ve talked in the past about some of your hospital adventures, and I know that there are some, as you say, ramifications of the illness/treatment that will be with you the rest of your life.  Have there been any people, things, or words of advice that have guided you through the experience?  Anything that helped you come to terms with what you were/are going through?  Are there any ways in which your feelings about your body have changed for the better?

I can’t think of any words of advice that have guided me personally.  I have to admit that I’m still pretty pissed at all the changes my body has gone through because of cancer.  It’s hard not to buy into culture/the media’s ideal of beauty even though, because of cancer, I know I’ll never attain it.  It’s really the loss of the possibility of the mainstream beauty ideal that hurts the most.  I just try my best to accept how I am now.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned what to look for in lingerie and clothing to fit and flatter my shape.  Sometimes I want to cover my scars and sometimes it isn’t just a big deal (ever try to find a wedding dress with straps/sleeves/something! that covers your upper chest so your wedding pictures don’t have your scars all in them?!)

So, yeah, coming to terms with it just takes time, telling yourself you’re ok, and having people around you who love you for who you are.  Also, having wonderful lingerie blogs for cup sizes past D helps, too.

How did you pick “Phoenix” as your alter-ego?

I had a professor in college who called me a phoenix when she heard about my cancer struggles. I really liked that image and have adopted it.

One of her favorite phoenix images

Phoenix and are going to talk more at a later date, but I want to thank her for being so open about such a tough topic.  A lot of us have trouble talking about our bodies anyway, even if we’ve been mostly healthy all of our lives.  Your body can sometimes feel outside of your control, but please don’t forget that it’s a part of you.  You aren’t just your body, of course, but you also can’t detach it and leave it behind.  Anything you can do to love it more, whether it’s hearing your partner say he or she loves it, or supporting it in a good bra, or exercising and eating good food, you should keep on doing it. 

Phoenix, last question: in your professional opinion as a librarian, what’s the best book you’ve read recently? :)

Hmm, that’s a hard one.  I just re-read “The Princess Bride” which is a longtime favorite.  The other two I’ve read recently and really like are Caitlin Moran’s “How To Be A Woman” and Lizz Winstead’s “Lizz Free or Die”.

*     *     *     *     *

If you have any questions for Phoenix, feel free to leave them in the comments, and she or I will respond.  If you are an Awesome Lady who’d like to chat about your underwear, drop me an email at sweetnothingnyc[at]gmail[dot]com.

Congratulations, We All Win

Bra sizes are not a competition.

I cringe when I see how quickly a comment thread on a “celebrity bra size” article or a bust-related post on Facebook can devolve into an “I have it worse than you” contest. An article will appear suggesting, say, some curve-friendly button-down shirts. Commenters will immediately chime in that they can’t wear button-downs, because they are too curvy. The first wears a 36DD. Another says “oh, yeah?” She “has it worse.” She wears a 28J. Another’s plight is sooo much worse, she wears a 38K. One wears a 30A, and she thinks everyone else needs to count their blessings and quit whining. One wears a 34C, she doesn’t believe that these other commenters’ bra sizes exist, as she has enough trouble finding clothes as it is, and these other commenters must have implants (and therefore deserve condemnation). Then the whole conversation devolves into a series of angry, hurt, sad, and confused protests. The final straw is that these commenters will almost all say “I’m A [Bra Size]” instead of “I Wear A [Bra Size]“, which we know bugs the bananas out of me.

It’s really tempting to join in, isn’t it?  I know I’ve done it.  I’ve joined a conversation with women discussing their struggles with their breasts, and I’ve dropped my full-bust size on them without warning, just to provoke a reaction.  I did it . . . I don’t know why, actually.  The self-righteous side of me says I did it to startle the other women, to show them that there are sizes beyond D-cups, to educate, like the Bra Band Project does.  The more honest side of me says that I did it, frankly, to shame them.  “You think you have it bad?  Shut up.  You don’t know what I suffer.”

*     *     *     *     *

This week the Daily Mail published an article in which Linda Becker of Linda the Bra Lady fame allegedly claimed that modern bras are vanity-sized so that women feel like their boobs are bigger and their backs smaller than they really are. Now, look, call me crazy, but there is just the eensiest, tiniest chance that the Daily Mail exaggerated, sensationalized, and twisted Linda’s words to provoke emotional reactions and undermine the self-confidence of its women readers. This is a publication that red-pens every alleged flaw or indication of “excess” weight on a photo of a female celebrity while simultaneously concern-trolling celebrities who are “dangerously” or “scarily” thin. If you scroll down the sidebar on the Daily Mail site, most of the articles about female celebrities mention their age, bodies, weight, or some other physical attribute in the headline. So I’m not really inclined to respect their journalistic integrity, and considering Linda’s years of fitting experience and the incredibly vast range of sizes and styles she sells in her stores, I think it’s more likely that she was misquoted, or, at the very worst, that she misspoke. Update: Fussy Busty and Christina on Facebook directed me to the original article the Daily Mail appears to have used as its source, and to which, unfortunately, Linda proudly links on her own blog.  It does in fact appear that her words are less benign than I’d hoped.  Bummer.  Claire at Butterfly Collection has a great post up that clearly explains, in detail, the differences between bras manufactured today and bras manufactured earlier in the 20th century, which goes some way towards explaining what I suspect Linda was trying to say (be sure to click on her link to an article breaking down the very term “vanity size”; it’s worth your while).

Busty Girl Comics illustrates the competitive mindset for us. How lovely are both of these women? Very. But it’s excruciatingly hard to break free of the compare/contrast mindset. Caitlin Moran even talks about this in How to Be a Woman, which– have you read it? You need to read it.

The Daily Mail article is an example of the sort of messages women are bombarded with every. damn. day. that lead to competitive negativity. We are told our bodies are all that matter about us, and we are taught to break them down, belittle them, judge them, qualify them. We compete to see who can break herself down the worst, and we internalize the messages that say we have flaws. We have problems. Other people have it easier. Our breasts are problematic. I even heard it once at S Factor, after two hours of beautiful dancing: “No, seriously, my boobs are a PROBLEM”, and it broke my heart into thousands of pieces. Our breasts, NO MATTER THEIR SHAPE, SIZE, COLOR, OR CONSISTENCY, are not problems. They’re human. Everyone has them at some point in their lives. True, some breasts are small, big, scarred, tired, augmented, reduced, young, old, cancerous, or leaking (holla new moms!), but we all have them. Every single one of us (dudes too). And if we can tune out the shenanigans like the Daily Mail article that try to plant the fear in our minds that the lingerie industry is appealing to our “vanity” to disguise the fact that we are in some way flawed and deluding ourselves, we can better accept our own beauty and others’.

Let’s challenge ourselves to stop comparing and stop competing. Let’s remember that we wear bra sizes, we are not bra sizes. Let’s remember that all the extra numbers and letters allow us to calibrate fit for literally hundreds of different sizes and shapes of women, and that those numbers and letters aren’t there to threaten or challenge or insult or define or confine us. Someone has never heard of a G-cup, and thinks you’re exaggerating? Someone tells you your small breasts “don’t count”? Someone needs to look around and get a life.

Bra sizes are not a competition, because we all have a bra size.  We all win.  Competing for the best or worse is illogical.  True, you may find some things more difficult than another woman, but please remember that the degree of your struggles does not diminish any struggles she may face, and to imply that it does is hurtful and unfair.  Let’s change the conversation.  Let’s keep it positive, and let’s keep it encouraging.

P.S.  It’s October, and it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. The single most important thing you need to do this month, even more important than wearing pink or posting something on Facebook, is to perform a breast self-exam, encourage others to do the same, and make it a habit. I’m TERRIBLE about remembering to do this, but let’s all do it, and remind our friends to do it, too. Breast cancer affects boobs of every shape, size, and age, and dudes aren’t exempt either. Take care of your spirits, and take care of your boobs.

Rant for a Monday

So the always-on-the-alert Georgina at Fuller Figure Fuller Bust recently brought a ground-breaking piece of investigative journalism to my attention (sarcasm alert).  Read it.  It’ll take you like 30 seconds, and probably only kill 5 brain cells.

You’re back?

Hoooooooooookay.  Y’all.  I’m trying to be calm and measured in my response to this.  But can we get the obvious out of the way first?  This “article” is COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT.

Now, let’s get down to it:

First of all, a woman’s bra size is her own business.

Second, unless you are an experienced, professional bra fitter who is not employed by Victoria’s Secret, you will not be able to tell a woman’s bra size on sight.

Third, celebrities have been known to lie about clothing sizes before.  Probably to avoid being stigmatized and shamed in crap articles on the internet like, oh, I don’t know, this one.  So even if this article has been fact-checked (haaaaaaaaaaa!), it’s probably still only an accurate reflection of either A) the lie the celebrity/celebrity’s people told or B) the (incorrect) size the celebrity buys because she doesn’t know better.

Fourth, the alphabet doesn’t end at D.

Fifth, a bigger number doesn’t mean your boobs are OMG huge.  The number part of a bra size represents the approximate dimensions of your ribcage.  Everyone’s different, of course, but generally your band size will be around +/-1-2 inches of your underbust measurement, if it differs from your underbust measurement at all.  Many of the celebrities pictured in this article are curvy, yes, but they also have slim waists and narrow ribcages compared to their busts and hips.  I’m going to contradict myself and size them (partially) on sight, but I would guess more of them are in the 28-32 band size range rather than the 34-36 range.

Sixth, articles like this perpetuate the myth that D-cup bras are enormous and shocking.  Y’all, no matter the number/letter on the tag, your boobs are not shocking.  They’re your boobs, and they’re totally lovely (they really are.  Small, large, veiny, perky, droopy, stretch-marked, scarred, whatever: they are a part of you, but they do not define you).  There are over 100 different bra sizes readily available for sale all over the internet.  Very slim women can wear D-K-cup bras, full-figured women can wear A-C cup bras, and vice versa.  Your overall shape or clothing size in no way dictates your bra size.

Seventh, this article is sexist and size-ist.  It seems to be measuring female pop stars’ merits by the size of their chests, reducing their bodies to one isolated physical trait, and ridiculing anyone who dares to have excess flesh like the unfortunate gentleman in the last picture.  Haha, you’re so hilarious, article writer.  Really, shame the man for having boobs.  Guess who has boobs?  EVERYONE.  BECAUSE WE ARE MAMMALS.  IT’S SCIENCE.

Eighth, I remind you again that bra sizes, and indeed clothing sizes in general, are arbitrary.  They are averages.  They are mass-production conveniences created for manufacturers and retailers and, in an ideal world, for shoppers, so that we can guess at our best fit.  The use of standardized sizes streamlines the retail process, but it’s not Divine Writ.  Fit and size vary from brand to brand, item to item, and even sometimes from color to color.  Sizes don’t define us as types of human beings.  We are more than our clothing sizes, and we are more than our bra sizes.

In a world before mass-production, clothes were literally made-to-measure, and we had to find things to obsess over and fetishize other than our clothing sizes, because there was no such thing as a “size 4” or a “size 18”.  I absolutely and 100% do not care what size you wear, and I’m working hard not to care what size I wear.  I care about fit.  Your clothes should fit you well and make you feel good.  Period.  People will want to size-shame you, probably because they have unresolved issues of their own or because all they see are idiotic articles like this one, which they accept as gospel truth.  They will tell you that a size 10, 12, 22, whatever is “fat”.  They’ll tell you that a size 0 is “anorexic.”  They’ll tell you that “A-cups don’t count.”  They are full of it.  You wear what size fits you, supports you, and makes you look and feel fabulous.

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Further reading: Busts 4 Justice’s excellent post on the idiocy of cup-size shaming by a lingerie shop

Compliments, Again

I keep thinking about compliments and our reactions to them. I’ve been having a hard time accepting compliments recently (well, actually, ever) without some twinge of discomfort, whether I’m aware of the discomfort or not. For a while I thought compliments themselves made me feel bad about myself (which makes sooo much sense), but then I realized that it was just my particular brand of Crazy making sure that my knee-jerk reaction to a positive thought or comment would always be a “yeah, but”. Crazy paved that road a little too well, y’all; I’m STILL dealing with it. I’ll look in the mirror and think, “Oooh, look at your skin! It’s behaving so well! How nice,” only for my brain to go “yeah, but YOUR NOSE IS GETTING WEIRD. PROBABLY AN AGING THING.” In other words, my default is not to accept a compliment, but to let it fly right by so that Crazy has room to work.

I read a lot on the internet about how to talk and think about sensitive issues: race, religion, sexuality, body image, class differences, different abilities, illness and wellness, etc. Sometimes I hit a pocket of the internet that saddens and freaks me out, but mostly I hope I’ve learned some really good and inspiring things, things that improve my understanding and open my mind to other ways of seeing the world and the people in it. I once read somewhere (and I can’t remember where now, of course) a question on a blog about “appropriate” compliments: how do you give one without risking offense?

For example, saying “Oooh, you’ve lost weight! You look amazing, and I’m so jealous” to someone who might be coping with a private illness that resulted in the weight loss has the potential to wound deeply where the compliment-giver meant only to praise. Or what if the recipient is proud of her weight loss, but she struggles with a person in her life who constantly expresses jealousy? That little jokey “I’m so jealous!” tag-on could feel like more than a joke. The blogger responded with the suggestion to make sure your compliment is 1) for the benefit of the recipient, and not the giver and 2) aimed at what someone DOES, not what someone IS.  Congratulate someone on a successful project at work, thank her for some help she’d provided, mention how much you love how she accessorized her uniform, or praise her for her skills at Taboo, rather than blurting out “you’re so tall!” or “I wish I had your shiny hair”.

Well, I thought this suggestion was pretty genius. I still think it is; who wouldn’t want to be praised for her accomplishments? But in the last few months, when I’ve been having to work harder to get through the Crazy, I decided it would be best to take it one step farther: no compliments at all. I found myself loading any compliments or comments directed at me with meanings I’m sure the giver never intended. Were they comparing me with themselves? What weren’t they saying about me? Were they silently judging me? How dare they invade my privacy by noticing me! (Sweets, no one is as obsessed with you as you are. They’re all too busy obsessing over themselves.) Over the course of several months I stopped wearing certain shoes to work, because I knew I’d have to fend off multiple comments about them throughout the day. I gradually decreased the amount of makeup I wore to my bare minimum, because I felt like when I tried to mix up my routine or experiment with a new color, all I’d hear all day long was “oooh, you got a date tonight?” I stopped curling my hair occasionally, because I didn’t want to have to respond to “Are you growing your hair out?” over and over again.  The comments were all positive, but I was feeling cornered, trapped, and exposed every time one of them came up. I repeated outfits and wrapped up in scarves, because I was terrified someone would comment on my changing figure. I thought I’d just feel easier about life if no one ever talked to me about anything I was or did ever again. I guess we’d all just talk about the weather.

I announced my brilliant No Compliments Manifesto to my therapist, ending with a comment about how it all tied back to my dislike of cat-calling, because a cat-call is a comment about what someone IS (booby, thin, pretty, bootylicious, etc.), not what she DOES (getting off the train, going to the grocery store, etc.), and waited for my therapist to praise my progressiveness and respect for personal pivacy. Instead, she said “Isn’t it interesting that over the last few months you’ve tried to make yourself invisible? I think we should talk about that instead.”

Oh.

She was right. I was building up an anonymous online identity (well, anonymous except to my Facebook friends. Sorry about all the boobs in your newsfeeds, fellas), carefully removing any personal information that got a little too specific. I was struggling with a changing body: I have new muscles in some places and new curves in others. I was dealing with getting older and job ennui and loneliness. I didn’t want to be seen, because it would expose me to potential evaluation and judgment, so I tried to move through my daily life completely unnoticed. No wonder I was trapped in my own head.

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Clearly, there’s middle ground. We don’t have to limit ourselves to discussing the weather. We also don’t have to scrutinize each other’s bodies and outfits and hair and nails and every little detail. I’m going to have to let some of my defenses down to get to that middle ground. I don’t want to feel (Crazily) bothered by compliments from, say, my fellow dancers. We cheer and praise and whistle and applaud for each other; we honor each other’s accomplishments, and it feels good to be on both sides of that give-and-take. I want to be in a place where I accept compliments, and where I can THANK my friends, fellow dancers, or co-workers for their generosity. Look, a compliment does mean that someone has noticed something about you. Yes, you have drawn attention. It does NOT necessarily mean that someone has analyzed, evaluated, and judged you. When I compliment my fellow dancers on their openness in their dance, or my friends on their haircut or on how nice they look, yes, I’m noticing something about them physically, but I’m not honoring just that physical thing. I’m responding to something in their spirit, aura, mood, energy, soul, call it what you will, that has revealed itself. I’m responding to a joy, a brightness, an openness, a loveliness about them as whole people that has attracted my attention, and not responding just to them as bodies.

Our bodies are wonderful things—this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics are proof of that. Every hug, every laugh, every smile is proof. Our bodies are also the vessels that hold our joy, our laughter, our smiles, our loves, our courage, our tenacity, our strengths. We shouldn’t honor one without honoring the other.

Also, your friends love you.

On Shapewear

I’m deeply ambivalent about shapewear.  For years I thought it was the worst thing that had happened to the 21st century woman.  I felt like there was a campaign to convince us that we all “needed” to be wearing Spanx, all the time, no matter what.  I’d hear women in fitting rooms moaning about various body parts and how they were going to have to “fix” them.  There is a shapewear garment of every possible permutation: control-top tights, bike shorts, unitards, smoothers, shapers, cinchers, even “shapewear bras”, at which I scoff, because well-fitted bras will be much more flattering than bras with weird back panels of shaper mesh.  There are Spanx-like garments for your ARMS.  The more shapewear products that are available, the more I stop in my tracks and think “Oh god, am I supposed to worry about my butt/ thighs/ back/ belly/ boobs/ arms/ elbows/ ankles now?”  Ugh.

Speaking of Spanx, I went into Saks Fifth Avenue in Richmond when I was home for a wedding desperately looking for stockings with a back-seam.  I was SURE Saks, of all places, would have some swanky hosiery.  They had one display with Wolford and Hue control-top tights, and the rest of the hosiery section was Spanx.  Spanx-brand tights, leggings, stockings, and shapewear, all designed to “solve problems.”  The only problem I had was a bra-sized shaping slip with suspenders that needed some stockings, and hoity-toity Saks failed me.  (I went to Victoria’s Secret.  Turns out she’s good for something.)

Oh.  See what happened?  I was mentally railing against Spanx, but I wanted to find real stockings because I was already planning on wearing shapewear.  But I wasn’t hating on my body!  No!  Um, it was “vintage-inspired”.  And I was wearing a softly draping silk blouse.  And I kind of adore the retro look of classic shapewear.  And I wanted a smooth line under my clothes, and . . . um. Continue reading