• Thu, May 26 2011

Sex and the Sixties Girl: The Breast Years of My Life

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate thing going on with my boobs.

First came the hate: they arrived early and they arrived big: I had full-blown 34-C knockers at 12. All I wanted was to be like Margaret in Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret: to pine for breasts and my period and to go behind the A&P with boys. But I was saddled not only with the first chest in Marin Country Day School’s seventh grade class that year but also its first (or so my extremely unscientific research determined) menstrual flow. And we didn’t even have A&P’s in California, nor did I completely understand what it meant to go behind one with a boy.

All I wanted was to be normal and suddenly I had two things—two enormous things—that made me different. I come from a long line of big-breasted women—big-breasted women who haven’t appreciated their big breasts and have, in fact, done things like reductions in order to get away from them. But I didn’t know that then because the last thing on earth I was willing to do at this point in my life was talk about my breasts (and luckily my mom didn’t force any awkward conversations on me, Eugene Levy-style).

The kind of attention my breasts netted me wasn’t the kind I desired. Joe and Paolo, two boys who I’d long taken the school bus with, suddenly started teasing me mercilessly. My girlfriends didn’t understand my discomfort (though, to be fair, they may have had I been able to articulate it). Judy Blume didn’t have any books about teenage girls who performed exercises and chanted, “We must, we must, we must decrease our bust!”

And then, of course, things changed. At a certain point in early adulthood having big boobs became, undeniably, something positive. I began to realize that, used productively and/or efficiently, they could completely distract or charm a man. I began to appreciate them.

But that still didn’t mean I knew how to treat them right. And with each passing year, treating them right became increasingly important because, of course, boobs age and they show their age by descending.

One could never accuse Helen Gurley Brown of being breast fixated—boobs get nary a mention in Sex and the Single Girl. And while it makes me feel a little creepy to be talking about an 89-year-old woman’s breasts, it’s worth noting she seems to have always been fairly flat chested. So while my mentor seemingly never had to concern herself with issues like drooping, my desire to craft myself into the sort of together single woman she would approve of meant, I reasoned, that I should.

When I first moved to New York, I met a girl at a dinner party who told me about a guy who was known as The Bra Man and who, with a measuring tape and sewing machine, could transform women’s tired brassieres into garments that would improve the look of their breasts even more than a boob job. It sounded like just the sort of only-in-New-York tip that I’d always imagined all insider Manhattanites knew about and we made plans to go visit him together. But I never got the girl’s contact information and all efforts to look up what she might have been talking about online only brought me information about a jazz group called the Chuck Braman Trio.

Then one bright day, I was walking on Madison in the 20’s when I noticed a sign in a lingerie shop window that said “Custom Bra Fittings.” I was inside before I’d even consciously made the decision to enter.

I soon discovered that a custom bra fitting, at Ripplu, meant, in my case, this: you go in a dressing room with a kind but no-nonsense Asian woman who shakes her head at the bra you came in wearing before measuring you and informing you that you’re not actually wearing the right size bra. While you wait, half-dressed, in the fitting room, marveling at the fact that you’ve spent decades describing your boobs as a cup size smaller than they actually are, she rustles up the right size. You put it on while she smiles encouragingly and you feel a mixture of excitement and horror over how much better it fits than the bras you’ve always worn. Then she suddenly trills, “We have a system here!” and before you know what’s happening, she’s reaching into your bra and hoisting your one boob up and over to one side of your body before doing the same thing to the other. She does the “system” several more times before leaving the dressing room. You put your shirt on and walk out into the main part of the store where a group of Asian ladies—you’re not certain if they’re customers or employees or some combination of the two—ooh and ahh over how terrific your breasts look. You look in the mirror and are shocked: you look like you’ve had a boob job. You buy several of these bras and listen as the woman who felt you up explains things that shock you: that you’re supposed to wear your bra 10 times on one hook, 10 times on the next and 10 times on the third (you nod like someone who actually would count how many times she wore a bra on a certain hook), that when you’ve reached the 10th time on the last hook, you need to bring the bra back to the store for alterations (bra alterations!) and that boobs are 80% fat (you smile a bit coldly at this information in an effort to make it clear you wish to hear no more similarly disturbing facts).

While no one came rushing up to me in the days or weeks or months afterwards and asked me what my secret was for making my boobs look so great, I immediately became a Ripplu disciple—performing the “system” on myself several times after putting on my bra each day and taking the bras back for alterations (alas, I was to learn later, each bra can only be altered once, after which a new bra should be purchased). Great boobage, as it turns out, is something of an investment and I’d guess that I’ve since then spent as much on bras as I would have had I gone for a boob job instead.

I’m not certain what Helen would make of all of this, though I’d imagine she surely would have supported the surgical route. (Sample line from Sex and the Single Girl: “I had my nose revised last spring and couldn’t be more delighted.”) But delight, for me, meant keeping what had always been mine and learning to love it just the way it was.

With, of course, a little help from some no-nonsense Asian ladies.

Anna David is the executive editor of The Fix, as well as being the author of Party Girl and Bought. Her newest book, Falling For Me, wherein she tries to follow the advice in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, is due out October 11th.

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  • alexandra

    omg I went to mcds!

  • Anthony Mark

    this was so beautiful to read!

  • Marc

    This is like a tactical primer for Bras, I love it. I’m suprised you didn’t keep a bra-hook log to chart use. Comfort is everything.