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Until last year, when, armed with a wad of birthday cash, I made my way to Intimacy, a purveyor of high-end lingerie and other lady things, and received my first proper fitting—which is where I learned two shocking facts. One, I'm not a 34D, but a 32F. As in F cup. As in, are you fucking kidding me? And two, just because I'm a size F doesn't mean I need a bra that can stand up on its own.
A cursory glance at my figure suggests I'm mildly stacked, but an upper-alphabetical goddess I am not. I had to scoop my jaw off the floor while the saleswoman kindly pointed out how many American women wear the wrong bra sizes: too large in the band, and too small in the cup. Apparently, I was guilty as charged.
The letters didn't lie, though. For the first time in my life, I eased into and out of bras that fully encapsulated my breasts, allowing them to lie still and not create a meniscus of gelatin-like boobage at the top. (There are bras that do that on purpose, of course, but these aren't the kinds of bras larger-breasted women are typically after.) I tried on pink bras and yellow bras, cream-colored numbers printed with little daisies that put the ratty nude Gap Body number I strolled in with to shame (but gracefully so, as expensive things tend to do).
All of them fit like gloves, though none as well as the last bra the saleswoman handed to me: a lacy Italian model, with tiny bows at the straps and a sheer mesh panel across the decollatagé. It was beautiful, it was elegant, it was sexy—and it was without an ounce of padding or lining.
I handed the bra back to her, explaining my preference for a "smooth" look. Nipples have a time and a place, but visible through a blouse in a meeting is not it. The saleswoman pushed back, insisting I give it a go. And so I did, and once again found myself awestruck, this time by how good I looked. It was me, but better—sort of like a delicious meal emphasized by a sprinkling of seasoning. The inevitable cleavage that accompanied even the most modestly-lined bra was gone, replaced, instead with the natural slope of my breasts, which peeked through the oh-so pretty lace.
Even with my top on, the bra looked good, and I reasoned that if nothing else, I could keep it as a method of seduction for a prospective male suitor. I found myself shocked (again!) when I walked to the register with three bras in tow—total cost: $400 and some change—which included the lace number, a sign of my utter impracticality and femininity in one neat package.
Image via Cosabella
A year and a half later, I've lost track of how many times I've worn that gray lace bra, while the other two sit idly in my underwear drawer. Once I got adjusted to how I look pretty much as-is—which, I won't lie, took a bit of time after almost two decades of wearing bras equipped with unnecessary bells and whistles—I couldn't see myself looking any other way.
This isn't an argument for expensive underwear, though I'd argue that treating yourself to something special, even if you're the only one who sees it, does wonders for self-esteem. And it's not a PSA for you to go and get a proper bra fitting (though, again, it is kind of life-changing). Rather, it's an a challenge: For more undergarment manufacturers to step up their game and make unlined bras that aren't matronly, don't break the bank, and that are sexy and fit well. And for the women who wear them to truly love themselves, unlined, unprimed, flaws and all.
I know of few large-breasted women who stroll into Victoria's Secret, or any store, for that matter, and thinks to herself, "Yes, thank God! A company that understands my needs and has built a synthetic layer of flesh into each and every bra." But we've become so accustomed to how we look with a little something extra, from primer built into our makeup to Lycra sewn into our jeans—not to mention the relentless promotion of dermatological injectables, blow-outs available 24/7, and the ability to Photoshop from the convenience of our iPhones—that, I'm afraid, we've left behind a little piece of who we are in the process of getting dressed.
It's not that wanting to look our best is bad, or that we need to become earth mothers who reject the conveniences of modern times. But I question the belief that we're not already at our best without the aid of technology. It's those little pieces of ourselves—our distinctly loud laugh, ability to remember birthdays, willingness to offer a shoulder to a friend in need—that make us the most beautiful. Not the illusion of perfect breasts.