I had some free time before my first MIFF film on Friday, so I went to Target where they are currently having an underwear sale. I urgently need to buy a plain, everyday pale-coloured bra – white, cream or pale pink – because mine are so old their elasticity is almost gone and they are that sad grey colour. I came away empty-handed, of course.
You can see from this instore display that Target is buying into that oft-cited statistic about the percentage of women who wear ill-fitting bras. I tracked down the journal article they cite; I can't read it without an institutional subscription (paywalled academic publishing is a GODDAMNED RACKET) but it charmingly says in the abstract: "women were found to have a poor ability to independently choose a well-fitted bra, which was not improved by trying on several bras or using bra-sizing measurements."
Women's ignorance is the key message conveyed by this "wrong bra size" statistic when it's cited in the popular media. We are portrayed as idiots who blithely squish or flop our boobs into ill-fitting bras, and who need the assistance of 'expert' bra fitters and extensive how-to literature.
Here is Target's 'checklist' for well-fitting bras:
1 The band sits horizontally around the body.Women are not idiots. We know all this stuff. We know it because we are constantly reading a bazillion media articles telling us we're doing it wrong.
2 The centre front panel sits flat against the chest.
3 The cups are smooth and wrinkle-free.
4 The breasts are fully contained within the cups – no bulging or spilling out of the top or sides.
5 The underwires surround the breasts without digging into the breast.
6 The straps are secure but not tight – the main support comes from the body of the bra, not the straps.
Here's an alternative view: what if women just want to come home with a new bra? Like other heartache-causing garments including swimsuits and jeans, bras are something women go on missions to buy, knowing it will be no fun but suffering through it because they need the garment and don't want to go home empty-handed.
What if women get so fed up with the poor selection available that they pick the best of a bad lot and learn to live with it?
I really want to hammer home that so many of the problems we face with clothing size and fit are retail issues. For instance, negative experiences with customer service (and my survey unearthed some heartbreaking stories) deter us from seeking 'help with sizes', and poor stock replenishment means we can never access a complete size range in the one store.
So many times I'm forced to settle for a bra I don't really like because they don't have a suitable size in the one I do like. On Saturday I went to Big Dubs, where I tried on various styles of bra in four different sizes. The store didn't have my preferred size in any of the styles I liked, and none of the ugly bras I tried on fitted me either.
I turned myself over to the 'expert' advice in Target's 'bra book', and measured myself according to the instructions. The size chart tells me I should be wearing a size 22B. That is interesting, since Target does not make such a size and nor does anyone else. I am not the only one to call bullshit on Target's bra sizing.
Target recommends solving fit problems by trying larger or smaller cup or band sizes, or trying on a style of bra you wouldn't have picked yourself because it's frickin' ugly. For instance, if underwires are jabbing you, they recommend "a minimiser style as they are designed for a wider breast shape." Too bad if you don't have big boobs that you want to minimise, or if you like to wear low-cut tops.
Target also advocates 'swing sizes' – rather than a 12C, try a 14B or a 10D. Good luck trying to find those in the store in the style and colour you want. But swing sizing only works if you stay within the conventional 10A-16D. If a 16C doesn't fit, you can't try an 18B because there is no such size.
Indeed, it is very hard to find bras with small cup sizes in relation to the back size. I'd be interested to see the percentage of women who have this body shape because I imagine it's quite low – too low for brands to be bothered trying to market to it.
There is, however, a market for fashionable lingerie for small-bodied women who have comparatively large breasts for their size. Culture is beginning to normalise (rather than fetishise) this body shape, although large-breasted women get slut-shamed and female politicians including Julia Gillard and Angela Merkel have been criticised for showing cleavage.
Yet there isn't a complementary bra market for large-bodied women who have comparatively small breasts for their size. They get the obesity stigma of plus-size, yet they lack the bountiful 'curves' that plus-size women often use to combat obesity stigma by associating themselves with retro-styled pinup glamour.
Judging from Target's plus-size range, fat chicks must clamour for either nanna-beige minimisers or 'sexy' bras in bold prints and bright colours, doused in cheap-looking machine lace. Target did not stock any plain, pale-coloured bras in sizes outside 10A-16D. They were black, red, purple and leopard-print vampish styles with lots of lace and satin.
My search for a plain, pale-coloured bra that doesn't make me look like a trussed ham continues.