What a bunch of boobs

Those "expert" bra fitters hyped by Oprah and women's mags turn out to be not so accurate. No surprise for this 34H

Topics: Fashion, Broadsheet,

What a bunch of boobs

Did you know that something like 85 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra? Yes, you probably did, because Oprah and women’s magazines and makeover reality shows and even mainstream newspapers have all been beating that drum for years. Like getting dressed and eating food, choosing a bra has become something only the foolish attempt without expert supervision. Browse the Target lingerie section at your peril, ladies; the only way to be sure you’re not unwittingly looking 10 pounds fatter and possibly setting yourself up for permanent back problems is to go to a specialty store where nothing costs less than $50, invite a stranger to fondle your breasts, and take her word for what size you really are. Even if, as the Telegraph has recently reported, that specialty-store employee has no idea either.

Before we proceed, let me tell you a little about my boobs. Like Broadsheet editor Sarah Hepola (who wrote about her bra fitting for Salon a few years ago), I currently wear a “34 ridiculous” (H, actually) — so before the internet brought me a glorious smorgasbord of lingerie retailers with inventories as huge as my rack, my options were squeezing into the one 34DDD minimizer Macy’s carried at any given time, or going to one of those specialty stores, permitting a stranger to feel me up, and paying between $85 and $200 per bra for the pleasure.

And while I’m deeply grateful that specialty lingerie stores exist at all, here’s the problem: About 50 percent of the time, the “expert” — who insists that women never know their true size, because she watches Oprah, too — eyeballs me at a larger band and smaller cup size than I claim. I suspect this happens because, despite what my bra size suggests, I am not built like a porn star: I’m a short, fat chick who happens to have a surprisingly small frame, which means the “experts” frequently assume I’m delusional until I try on every freakin’ bra in the store and eventually demonstrate that yes, 34 ridiculous is the correct size. Worse yet, once when I told a saleswoman that a larger band size just rides up my back — which anyone who’s read one of those “85 percent of women” articles can tell you means it’s too big — she replied, “Well, that means it’s too small!” I was dumbfounded. This woman was A) telling me something that’s the opposite of true, B) trying to sell me an even bigger band to solve the problem of a too-big band, and C) most disturbingly, the “expert” in this transaction. To insist on my proper size was to challenge the authority of an Expert Fitter and be judged as just one more woman too incompetent to figure out what size bra she wears.

Which, of course, is exactly what I did, but… awkward. And not the first time I’ve been hassled at a store like that for having the gall to say that, yeah, after 20-odd years of living with these breasts, I actually do have a pretty good idea of what size bra will hold them up without causing back pain or quadriboobage, and although I might be a little off or a different size in different brands (sizing above a DD is notoriously inconsistent), maybe we could start there instead of with your assumptions? I’ve heard even worse stories about mainstream retailers that only sell lingerie as an afterthought, where “expert fitters” will authoritatively wrap a tape measure around your chest, then keep trying DDs with larger and larger bands, rather than admit that they simply don’t carry your cup size. So I was not at all surprised to read that large-busted secret shoppers working for UK consumer watchdog Which? recently found that out of 70 stores offering supposedly expert bra fittings, not one did the job well enough to earn a recommendation. “Some of the women were sold wildly different sizes by different shops, in one case this varied by seven sizes from a 34FF to 40D. Another was sold the same bra in two House of Fraser branches, but in sizes 34C and 34F. Both were deemed a terrible fit.” Says Which? spokesperson Jenny Driscoll, “If stores are going to offer this service they need to up their game: do it properly or don’t do it at all.”

And if women’s lifestyle gurus are going to keep insisting that 85 percent of grown women don’t know how to dress ourselves properly, they need to make sure that the “experts” they send us to for advice actually know what they’re doing; fancy-store bras — especially if you wear larger than a DD cup — don’t come cheap, and aren’t returnable once you’ve worn them long enough to know if they’re wearable. Even Hepola, for whom being professionally fitted was a revelation, suffered buyer’s remorse. She called me this morning to offer an update to her 2007 story: One of the $100 bras she bought was too uncomfortable to wear for longer than 5 minutes. “I don’t mind spending $20 on a bra that doesn’t really fit,” she said, “But that sucked.” Dude, I know. The first time I was professionally fitted, I bought a lovely bra that did amazing things for my boobs but had such a heavy pattern embroidered on it, I couldn’t wear it under anything thinner than a fisherman’s sweater. These aren’t problems you anticipate while standing half-naked in a dressing room with a stranger who just finished squeezing your tits and is now exclaiming, “Look how gorgeous!” And when you’ve been told that this person is an expert in sizing, you really don’t anticipate that there will be a problem with the fit of your new three-figure bra.

This isn’t to say that professional bra fittings are a waste of time; I never would have learned that anything beyond that one 34DDD at Macy’s existed if I hadn’t gone for one years ago. Hepola never would have learned what cup size corresponds to “pain in the ass” if she hadn’t. But like so many other services the Women’s Insecurity Industry tells us we shouldn’t risk trying to handle ourselves, bra fitting is now offered by everyone from committed professionals to poorly trained teenagers to charlatans whose primary goal is to send you away with the most expensive product. And like so many other services, the best way to find the good ones is to ask people you trust, then trust your own judgment when you get there. A friend of mine swears that Intimacy (“aka That Place Where They Send Chesty Ladies on What Not to Wear”) changed her life, so when I needed new bras recently, I headed there. When I told the fitter I’m pretty sure I wear a 34H, instead of raising an eyebrow and trying to find a delicate way to ask if I’m aware that I’m fat, she said, “Ah, you know what you’re doing. Anyone who says something above ‘DD’ has done this before.” I liked her immediately, and only liked her more when she said things like, “The only way to find out what fits best is to try a bunch on” and “If it’s not comfortable, don’t buy it.” An illusion of expertise is nice, but demonstrable common sense is even better.


Kate Harding is the co-author of "Lessons From the Fatosphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body" and has been a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>