I have debated whether or not to respond to the ongoing kerfuffle about the snarky essay I wrote about bra fitting and vanity sizing and as a dishonest sales tactic back in April. The piece ran months ago, with generally positive feedback and thought provoking discussion in the comments. That is, until some people in the bra blogging community (which I didn’t even realize existed) read it, decided it was offensive, and a launched full scale (and in my opinion, misinformed) attack against me.
In a nutshell, the essay describes how proper bra fitting has descended from an art form into a cheap sales tactic where vanity sizing is often used to bolster profits (in the US, at least). I’ve met countless women who have encountered this while shopping at lingerie stores like Victoria’s Secret, and my suspicions are backed up by Brighid‘s recollections of working for the chain:
We were instructed to try to sell women into new sizes in order to increase our own sales. It was really common to “fit” 36C women into 34Ds, or 38C into 36D. Women thought they lost weight AND grew a cup size. Just like fitting into a smaller size of jeans, that type of sell worked wonders.
I compared this anecdote with my experience shopping for bras at Nordstroms, where I was fitting into a band a full 4″ smaller that what I normally wear, as well as an H cup, after comfortably wearing a DDD bras for years. Part of the reason my cup size jumped so dramatically was because I was trying on European bras, and it’s entirely possible that I usually wear a smaller cup size than ideal because it’s the biggest size I can find in brick and mortar shops. However, I do feel like I get decent support and coverage from my DDD bras, so I’m not going to kill myself seeking out H cups if I don’t have to.
The speculation I put forth in the article was that the salesgirl was putting me in a bigger cup/smaller band for the same reasons that Victoria’s Secret does- because it sounds more flattering (thinner rib cage and bigger tits= societal ideal), and to sell me a bunch of bras in my new size. Many commentors have insisted that this was not the case, but to be honest, these bras were so tight that they gave me back pain and were uncomfortable to wear. So it’s possible that this wasn’t a case of vanity sizing, but I was nevertheless dubious when she measured me at the same band size I wore 60 pounds ago.
So, fast forward three months. Bra bloggers HATE this essay, and fur is flying. I have attempted to reply to some of the commenters in a civil fashion without much luck, even contacting bloggers and asking a prominent bra blogger if she’d like to have us re-post something on MsBehaved about how to get properly fitted for a bra, if she thought it would put things right. (I fully admit I am relatively ignorant to the finer points of bra fitting, and am happy to share the perspective of someone who specializes in that sort of thing.) The irony was that while she was happy to drag my name through the mud on her blog and twitter, but couldn’t be bothered to follow up when I politely offered her a chance to share her perspective on the matter on my own website.
I have stopped bothering reading the comments and blog posts shredding my essay, because they stress me out, and I have bigger fish to fry. I’ve stopped responding to individuals, because the impression I get is not that these people want to actually relate to me as a human being, but pick a fight and paint me as a big, body shaming meanie. As a public health student and body positive advocate who writes extensively on this topic, this admittedly pisses me off, and I decided I need to write a general response on Ms. Behaved, for my own mental health, if nothing else.
Here are some of the accusations that have been flung at me based on my essay, and my responses:
1. I think ALL bra fitting is a scam.
I think people are coming away with this assumption based on the title of the article alone. There is nothing in this article that implies that I am opposed to the practice of bra fitting done properly, as opposed to unethical practice of using vanity fitting to drive sales (which, as Brighid explains above, is very real). Putting profits ahead of service is a problem across the board in American corporate retail, and I don’t think that readers in the UK really understand what it’s like to shop for a bra in the United States, not to mention differences in our sizing system.
I’m also accused of “discouraging women from finding proper fitting bras.” Actually, this is what I say at the end of the article:
“I suggest, instead, trying on several dozen bras until you find a few that actually fit well. ”
This strategy has generally worked MUCH BETTER for me than working with sales people. Sad but true.
2. I think all women with large breasts are porn stars with implants.
Based on the following passage:
The young, eager saleswoman at Nordstrom whisked me away to a dressing room where I presented my boobs, and she got to work with a measuring tape. “Okaaaay,” she trilled, after punching some magical rib cage to bust ratio into her pocket calculator. “You’re a 38 H!”
WAIT, WHAT? I hadn’t worn a 38 band since I was in high school, and although my friend had warned me about their extended cup size system, I wasn’t exactly ready to be an H cup either. H cup was bra size no-woman’s- land, inhabited by porn stars with massive implants who looked like they might fall over from the weight of their breasts. I sucked up my pride tried on a handful of bras in my “new size.”
A lot of women have taken this as a personal affront to their H-cup breasts, asserting that they are not porn stars, and that their boobs are real. Now, if I were a small-busted women asserting that only porn stars with fake boobs have H-cup breasts, I would understand this sentiment. But it’s pretty clear from this statement that I also have H cup breasts, and that I am not a porn star nor do I have breast implants. (And there’s nothing wrong with either of these things- I am lucky enough to count some awesome porn stars among my friends!) I assumed from the context of this statement that it was pretty obvious that this was a humorous description of my visceral reaction of horror when I jumped up 4 cups sizes in one fell swoop of a tape measure. One blogger even admitted that this was also her initial reaction to being sized as a larger cup, yet still interpreted this passage as an offensive, body shaming condemnation of large breasted women. Was my reaction offensive? Perhaps. But it was intended as a commentary on how society views women with H-cup breasts, and how I’d unwittingly internalized that, even as a person who is generally body positive. Truth be told, this was in fact the first time I’d EVER seen an H cup bra outside of a porn film. Thanks to copious feedback bra blogging community, I realize that a lot of women in DD or DDD cups maybe should be wearing F+ cup sizes, but don’t, because most US stores carry a very limited range of sizes.
A lot of people are asking me to re-write the piece to “clarify” that this reaction is not meant as a personal attack on large breasted women. When I wrote the piece I thought it was fairly obvious that I was describing the experience of big boobed woman having an insecure freakout during a bra fitting that might be relatable to others in it’s cringeworthy honesty. It was a reaction to what I perhaps mistakenly perceived as vanity sizing, not a condemnation of large-breasted women. I totally own that it’s cringeworthy. But the truth is, once I got past the initial shock of being a handed a H-cup bra when I had never encountered one before, it didn’t bother me. I have big boobs, period, and I’m comfortable with that, regardless of my cup/band size. But that’s not really what this essay is about, and I’m sorry if that was unclear. I have no interest in shaming myself, nor the bodies of others.
Thing is, a lot of people did take it personally. I read a piece about someone feeling insecure or uncomfortable about gaining weight, I wouldn’t view that as a personal attack on my fat body, I would see that as their personal process informed by a body-negative society, and would try to offer encouragement. I don’t take other people’s body issues personally, because I’ve done a lot of work on my own self esteem, and feel secure in my body. I get that that if you’ve been teased or harassed about your breasts, or if you feel like you have to defend or justify your unusual bra size, that this might be a sensitive topic for you, and that’s valid. But also realize this sensitivity going to effect how you read this essay, and that your emotional reaction might blind you to the subtler nuances of what’s actually being said.
The thing is, none of the commentors replied with “I can see how it might be surprising or initially upsetting to realize you wear an H cup, but it’s actually more common than you think, and nothing to be ashamed of,” but instead, the response was overwhelmingly defensive and accusatory.
Although I am offering this response for consideration, I am choosing not to rewrite my essay, for reasons I outlined on a post I wrote a while back:
I’m a writer. I write like I talk. If you don’t know me, you might misconstrue some of the things I say. I’m happy to explain my intent, if you’re actually willing to listen to me. But I am not going to contort my voice to the point of extinction to attempt to avoid offending your easily-provoked sensibilities. Mutual respect is the name of the game. If you really think I’m truly being an ignorant asshole, call me out on it, but don’t fucking attack me based on assumptions about who I am when you don’t know me, and accept that I may have a totally different (and valid) take on things.
Admittedly my writing can be a weird mixture of blunt/bitchy and empathic/loving (I am a big hippy that loves humanity like family, even when we fight like family). I have strong opinions and I don’t sugar coat things, but my heart is generally in the right place. It just makes me intensely uncomfortable when people seek to police my words and opinions when they really don’t know the first thing about me, my values and my writing.
3. I am convinced that all women are lying to themselves and wearing vanity sizes.
I DO believe that many women who shop at chain stores are wearing vanity sizes, and I believe this is the result of aforementioned shady sales tactics that tinker with cup to band ratios. However, I don’t think that a small band size/large cup size=vanity sizing by definition, especially if you’ve been fitted by a competent professional. Nevertheless, certain bloggers have gone as far as posting photos of themselves in various sized bras as “proof” that they are not a victim of vanity sizing. If you care enough about bras to dedicate an entire blog to writing about them, I am certain you’ve done your homework and are wearing the proper size, and there’s no need to prove that to anyone, especially not me. Your bra size is your business, and while I do think vanity sizing is a real problem, I’m commenting on a larger issue related to bra shopping in general, not accusing women with unusual bra sizes of lying to themselves. If anything, I am asking the average woman to STOP listening to manipulative salespeople, and wear bras that fit properly without worrying about the number and letter on the bra.
I honestly don’t expect any of the angry commentors from the original essay to read this response, because most of them don’t actually read Ms. Behaved on a regular basis, or have any context of who I am as a writer and human being. I stand by my essay, snark and all, and I have no problem with dissenting opinions expressed. In fact, I’ve learned some new and useful things about bra shopping from the feedback I’ve received.
However, I do have the problem with the way I’ve been demonized as a horrible body-shaming monster based on the ways people chose to interpret what was ultimately a flip bit of snark. Try reading some of my MANY other essays on body image (there’s ten right there), or actually TALKING TO ME DIRECTLY before ripping me to shreds. I’m all for thought-provoking, productive discussions with room for different opinions, but this seems like a pretty stupid thing to fight about.