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.
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”.
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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.