Monday, 3 March 2014

Fear And Loathing In Bra Fit And Body Image

When I was born I weighed barely over 5lbs and fitted into the palm of my big sister's hand. A couple of years later a health visitor told my mother that I'd never be any more than 5 feet tall. In school I was always one of the smallest by far, and it wasn't until about age 15 that I finally caught up. Now, at age 20, I am a quite comfortable 5'5", UK dress size 8-10, and at a healthy weight. For most of my childhood however, although being perfectly healthy, I was slightly underweight and very very slim.

My weight was to be expected really. I've always had a small frame (likely due to being born so tiny), and I ate healthily throughout my childhood. I loved swimming and would go at least once a week as I started doing junior lifesaving at my local pool. When I first started to wear wired bras at around age 11, my mother took me to get measured at M&S. I measured up as only being an AA or A cup, which wasn't surprising as I hadn't really started to develop yet, but despite still being too skinny to even fit into a woman's size 6, the shop assistant put me straight into a 30 band. Even now, although I find a 30 band to be a comfortable fit, it's still one band size up from my recommended ideal fit of a 28; and I was much smaller back then.

Me (Far Left) With Friends, Age 13

My mother was a strong believer in getting professionally measured on a regular basis, as she understood my body was going through a lot of changes. By age 14 I was told I needed a 34B and by 17 a 34C. By this point I had begun to get severely frustrated by my bras. I could see that they didn't look the same on me as the girls on the websites and in the adverts, but I'd been fitted by a professional so I felt that it was my body that was the problem; not the bras. At age 18 I started to experience bad pain in my back and breasts that I eventually realised was down to my bras not fitting properly. I used Google to find a bra size calculator, which told me I should be wearing a 32D, but when I tried one on in New Look; even to my bra-fit ignorant self, it was obviously too tight. I settled for a 34D, which although still didn't fit well, did cause an end to my chest pain.

For a while after that I stuck with buying bras in a 34D. It bothered me that I didn't quite fill out the cups, resulting in gaping at the top; but a 34C had been painful, so I thought it was just something I'd have to live with. On a couple of occasions I even resorted to sewing the cups a little tighter to stop the gaping, thinking this was just an inconvenient fact of being "between cup sizes" or having breasts the "wrong shape". I always blamed my body rather than the bras and actually started to dislike and resent my boobs.

Since becoming a teenager I'd understandably put on some weight, and despite the fact that I'd never been more than a size 8-10 I still found this hard to come to terms with. As a pre-teen I'd had a perfectly flat stomach and slender, toned limbs; but had longed to grow up and have "womanly" curves. Now I had these painful breasts and ill-fitting bras that looked nothing like I'd imagined; it seemed like a poor trade off for a washboard stomach and thighs that didn't wobble. I missed my figure of the past and started to develop body dysmorphia. I began to buy clothes that were too big; buying for the body that I thought I had, rather than the one of reality. It took me a few years to snap out of this habit, though my body issues are something I still haven't fully come to terms with. Posting pictures to this blog is going some way to help me with this; taking me a little out of my comfort zone and teaching me to accept my body how it is. Before now I could probably count on one hand the number of people who had seen my bare stomach in my adult life.

Body Dysmorphia Image Via

As I mentioned in my review of the Claudette scoop neck bra, last time I got professionally measured I was told I was a 32B; which I didn't believe for a minute, but since then I had stuck with 32 bands rather than 34s. With the Claudette bra I found through trial and error than the 32DD was the size best suited to me, at least as far as 32 bands go. It's only very recently that I've had my Epic Bra Fit Revelation, as I've been reading more and more blog posts on the subject. Suddenly everything made sense to me.  Most high street fitters still use the +4/5" measuring system, which is now outdated since modern bra bands are much more stretchy and sizes directly correspond with the underbust measurement. I'd always found myself automatically using the tightest set of hooks to close my bras from the word go, which I shouldn't have needed to do if the bands were the correct fit on me. However even when a fitting room assistant saw that I had done this and informed me that I should be using the loosest hooks, it didn't occur to her that I might be better off in a smaller band.

My underbust measurement where the bra band should sit comes up as 28.5", meaning that my "idea fit" is a 28 band rather than the 34s that I was told I needed for many years. Given that this is two band sizes smaller than the 32DD that I was comfortable in cup-wise, I'd need to go up two cup sizes, resulting in a 28F. This puts me firmly in the "full bust" bracket, and quite frankly makes high street fitting services seem laughable. Using the exact underbust measurement to choose the band size needed isn't foolproof though, as all bodies are different. For those with particularly muscular or bony ribcages (I fit into this category), going up a band size may be more comfortable as their bodies have less "squish" to them. For me this means that I am actually more comfortable in a 30E; a sister size to a 28F. Curvier women may find that the opposite is true; they may be better suited to a band that's a size or two smaller than their natural measurements in order to get a snug fit as their bodies are more malleable. In the end you have to trust what feels most comfortable; if your bra band is bothering you then it's not the right fit, regardless of what any measuring system or chart might say.

All  this raises a question though. If the way the bra sizing works has changed, then why are supposedly professional fitters using outdated methods and recommending the wrong sizes? I haven't been able to find a concrete answer to this but it seems likely that there are many contributing factors. I imagine that a lot of adult women would be too stubborn to accept that they might be a different size to the one that they know they've "always been". Creating a standard between all the different boutiques and department stores that offer fitting services also seems like it could pose an issue. It's no good one shop updating their methods and telling someone she's a 32F if she's just going to go and shop elsewhere and be told that she actually needs a 36DD. The main factor however seems to be the range of sizes that retailers stock. If they can group as many women together as being an "average" size such as a 34C as possible, then they can increase the number of sales whilst only stocking a limited size range. This is backed up by the fact that when using the +4 measuring system, inches are added to those with an underbust measurement of below 34", but not to those measuring 36" or above; a clear indication that fitters are trying to squeeze a large range of women into a small range of sizes.

It seems that sadly the main focus of most retailers is still making the maximum number of sales possible as opposed to genuinely offering a helpful service to their customers. A lot of shops that offer a fitting service have posters on their walls warning you of the negative side effects that wearing the wrong bra size can cause; yet they don't practice what they preach. I can't help thinking that when I was last measured (and told I was a 32B), that if the fitting room assistant had told me I was best suited to a 28F it would have been a negative result for the store as it is a difficult size to find and it's likely that they didn't have any in stock. It seems to be in the best interests of the stores to sell a woman a poorly fitting bra rather than identify her as a size that they can't provide. And of course, it is cheaper for the store to stock a smaller range of sizes.

Unfortunately for me, since my Epic Bra Fit Revelation there are a lot less options available to me, as being an E or F cup puts me in the full bust bracket which often means relying on specialist retailers; however not all of the full bust brands always cater for the smaller back sizes. 28 and 30 bands are not easy to come by. I'm always discovering new brands though, and luckily for the people in my predicament, there are plenty of gorgeous bras out there in every size range if you know where to look. Finding everything you're looking for on a small budget might not always be easy either, but I'm quickly becoming a strong believer that a good quality and well fitting bra is the most important aspect of any outfit, and an essential part of everyday life. Personally, I have no issue spending more on a really good bra than I would on a nice dress; I know which one I'll get more wear out of.

So although I still have trouble finding clothes that fit my awkward short-torso/long legged/between-sizes figure; after many years of stress and self-loathing I now feel that I have bras pretty much down, and am confident enough to know what fits me and what doesn't, regardless of what it may say on the label. Now just comes the fun part of expanding my collection!

No comments:

Post a Comment